I wrote the bulk of the following a couple of years ago. I revisit it in light of the college entrance exam “scandal” that recently came up. Hint: it’s not a scandal, it’s how things have been for centuries.
The Curious History of Race Preferences
Their leaders seem more intent on vying with blacks for permanent victim status than on seeking recognition for genuine progress by Hispanics over the last three decades.
— Linda Chavez on Latinx people
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you no doubt have heard of the college admissions scandal that laid bare the elaborate lengths some wealthy parents will go to get their children into competitive American universities. In fact, federal prosecutors charged 50 financial elites on Tuesday in a brazen scheme to buy spots in the freshman classes at Yale, Stanford, and other big-name schools. In one instance, a teenage girl who did not play soccer mysteriously became a stellar soccer recruit at Yale. Cost to her parents: $1.2 million. All this reminds me of the decades-long anti-affirmative action attacks against affirmative action. Conservatives would have us think that Blacks, Latinx, and other people of color, are looking for handouts and preferential treatment. Ironically, it is they who have benefited professionally and financially by trading on their own white privilege.
Remember Abigail Fisher (aka Becky with the bad grades)? Using this same line of attack, Fisher1 filed suit against a Texas university which was eventually heard by a SCOTUS that ruled against her. Conservatives claim that segregation was defeated and white racism almost completely eradicated after Congress passed the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Her defenders go as far as saying that it has been liberals that have derailed civil rights progress. I call those who deny the quantifiable reality of racism racial conservatives.
You might know of Linda Chavez. She once testified against Supreme Court Judge Sotomayor (who is of Puerto Rican descent) during Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings. Chavez has a particular dislike for Latinx in general and specifically for Puerto Ricans, but I will not explore that today. What you might not remember is that Chavez had to step down as a nominee for Labor of Secretary under the catastrophe known as the Bush II administration because, yes, she hired an undocumented Latina immigrant. She denied knowing said individual was here illegally though the person in question contradicted that denial. Later, Chavez herself would issue an admission of sorts and forced by her boss, Bush II, to step down.
It is interesting to note in light of this more recent “scandal” that racial conservatives would have us believe the United States has made more progress in removing racial barriers than liberals will acknowledge. The shift began, they argue, during the 1950s. And when the Civil Rights movement succeeded in abolishing Jim Crow, white racism had all but withered away. As a result, at least according to Chavez and her masters, affirmative action programs are unnecessary and in fact are a form of “reverse racism.”
Ironically, the current debate over race-based solutions assumes that the only beneficiaries of these policies are blacks and other racial minorities. In fact, the biggest affirmative action winners are white women. However, if we define affirmative action as “race and gender preferences codified into law and enforced through public policy and social customs,” then it is indeed strange and peculiar to suggest that affirmative action began when in 1963 President John F. Kennedy issued Executive Order 10925. Taking the above definition, often cited by opponents of affirmative action such as those who supported Fisher, it would be more accurate to mark the beginning date for this legal policy as 1641. That is when laws specifying rights to property, ownership of goods and services, and the right to vote, restricted by race and gender, were first enacted. In 1790, Congress formally restricted citizenship by naturalization to “white persons,” a restriction that would stay in place until 1952.
Understood in this way, affirmative action has been in effect for 367 years, not 40+ years. For the first 330 years, the deck was legally stacked on behalf of whites and males (Fredrickson, 1988). Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney, in Dred Scot, didn’t mince his words when he said: “Can a negro, whose ancestors were imported to this country, and sold as slaves, become a member of the political community, formed and brought into existence by the Constitution of the United States, and as such become entitled to all rights, and privileges, and immunities guaranteed by that instrument?” Justice Taney’s answer to his own question leaves no doubt. We the people, he stated, was never intended to include blacks, slave or free. The authority cited by Taney in his ruling? The Constitution, the courts at every level, the federal government, and the states — all having routinely denied blacks equal access to rights of citizenship (Harding, 1983).
It follows, then, that from the inception of the United States, wealth and institutional support have been invested on the white side of the color line. This preference, in turn, has led to an accumulation of economic and social advantages for European Americans. On the black side, it has resulted in the systemic exclusion of equal access to economic and social benefits, leading to a disaccumulation for blacks. When Kennedy issued Executive Order 10925 in 1963, he was simply attempting to pry open the doors that had been sealed shut for more than three centuries. Now, after only four decades of “racial and gender preferences,” racial conservatives have launched a largely successful attack against affirmative action programs that were instituted to reverse three hundred years of disinvestment in black communities. Yet when power and wealth were being invested on their side of the color line, white Americans registered hardly any opposition to the arrangement, nor do racial conservatives acknowledge this historical fact (Steinberg, 1995).
As some have noted, the real victims in this case are the hardworking students who don’t have the financial resources and normally attend sub-par schools who were displaced in the admissions process by far less qualified students and their families who simply bought their way in.
I will add that if you’re angry about the college cheating scandal, wait until you discover that public school budgets are determined by local property taxes and that the privileged cordon themselves off into “gated communities” in order to hoard resources from poor communities of who are inflicted with the savage inequality of subpar schools and predatory charters.
We don’t have to go back three hundred years to find the roots of current white privilege. We can look at more recent policies that have been instrumental to racial inequality. But that’s for another post…
My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…
Fredrickson, G. (1988). The arrogance of race. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press.
Harding, V. (1983). There is a river: The black struggle for freedom in America. New York: Oxford University Press.
Steinberg, S. (1995). Turning back: The retreat from racial justice in American thought and policy. Boston: Beacon Press.
- Though Fisher claimed she didn’t get in the school because African-American students with lower grades and test scores were admitted, her mediocre grades would have disallowed her from being admitted either way. Of the 47 students that were admitted with grades lower than hers, 42 of them were white. On top of that, 168 black and Latino applicants who had better grades than Fisher were also turned down, according to ProPublica.