Trump finally gets one right on race - but for the wrong reason
The Trump administration is taking the right stance in opposing race-conscious admissions policies in education. But it is doing so for the wrong reason.
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President Trump and Co. want to end what conservatives call "reverse discrimination" against what they consider to be a poor beleaguered class of victims: white males.
Trump owes his presidency to white people, and he takes care of his peeps. And if you're a Trump voter and your life didn't turn out to be a rose garden, why not blame minorities? Beats going to night school.
White males are doing fine. They no longer devour the whole pie, but they still get most of it.
Meanwhile, the best argument for ending race-conscious policies rarely gets made. Before I make it, let's look at how we got here.
In 1961, President Kennedy signed Executive Order 10925, which established the concept of affirmative action by ordering that projects financed by federal funds "take affirmative action" to make sure that hiring and employment were free of racial bias.
In 1978, in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, the Supreme Court ruled that 38-year-old white male Allan Bakke be admitted to the medical school at the University of California, Davis. Bakke had been rejected, he claimed, because of a set-aside for minorities. But a majority of the justices also found it permissible for a college or university to consider race or ethnicity among other factors.
In 2011, the Obama administration urged elementary and secondary schools, as well as universities, to achieve diversity by taking students' race into account in a "narrowly tailored manner."
Now the Trump administration is pushing educational institutions to use "race-neutral methods" for assigning students to elementary and secondary schools and admitting students to colleges and universities.
In a joint letter, the Education and Justice departments announced that they had revoked seven Obama-era policy guidelines on affirmative action. The Trump administration claims the guidelines "advocate policy preferences and positions beyond the requirements of the Constitution."
Don't be surprised if before long, lawyers for the Trump Justice Department are arguing before the Supreme Court in favor of race-blind admissions.
That puts new emphasis on the upcoming confirmation hearings for Trump's pick for the high court. U.S. Appeals Court Judge Brett Kavanaugh has said this:
"The Supreme Court has decided many cases on affirmative-action programs and, if confirmed, I would faithfully follow those precedents."
Following precedent brings us to two cases that the Supreme Court decided in 2003 involving the University of Michigan.
In a case about undergraduate admissions, Gratz vs. Bollinger, the justices ruled that the school erred in separating the applications of minorities and whites -- and awarding points to minorities.
Yet, in the case involving the law school, Grutter vs. Bollinger, the justices upheld the law school's attempt to achieve diversity on campus, which they considered more benign and not an unlawful quota.
This is foremost a clash between fairness and opportunity. Opponents of affirmative action say it is unfair to discriminate against white males. Supporters insist that rolling back race-conscious admissions limits opportunities for African-Americans and Latinos.
We've had this argument for decades. It gets us all worked up, but it doesn't really get us anywhere.
In fact, the very way we argue about affirmative action is outdated.
Talk about how white men can't catch a break, and African-Americans and Latinos are going to roll their eyes right out of their heads. Discrimination against nonwhites persists.
It's time for new language. Something along these lines:
The Trump administration is half-right. Someone is getting hurt by affirmative action, but it's not white males. Rather, it's the program's intended beneficiaries -- African-Americans and Latinos.
When practiced aggressively, affirmative action often lowers academic standards, stigmatizes recipients as undeserving, and papers over inequality at the crucial K-12 level caused by low expectations.
It also allows well-to-do minorities who have suffered little or no racial hardship to benefit while the truly needy are overlooked. In this way, it promotes elitism within communities of color by allowing into privileged spaces a select group of favored Latinos and African-Americans who hog all the benefits for themselves.
All the while, most folks in these communities are shortchanged by mediocre and underperforming public schools and will thus never be in a position to take advantage of one of these race-conscious programs.
Affirmative action is nearly 60 years old. As it approaches its golden years, it's time we retire it.