The debate over affirmative action, long quiescent if not thought altogether dead, heated up last week with oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court over a dispute between the University of Texas and a young white woman who claims she was — or might have been — denied entrance because of its policy to consider race in some cases.
Affirmative action started half a century ago as the idea that governments, including publicly financed schools, must make an effort to see that qualified minorities, including women, are actively sought out and encouraged to apply. The idea was to reverse, or at least chip away at, centuries of institutionalized racism and sexism.
It was intended to answer the oft-heard hiring manager’s whine that no women or minorities were hired because qualified ones simply couldn’t be found. Look harder, it said.
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But soon, and all too often, it became a quota system, demeaning to women and minorities and irritating to white males whose historic place atop the hierarchy was threatened by those who were often no more qualified than they were.
States began to find ways to move away from the practice with somewhat startling results.
Startling this week were the words of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia during oral arguments on the University of Texas case.
The university argued that it should be allowed to use race as one factor in admitting about 25 percent of its students; if it couldn’t, that 25 percent would be almost entirely white, it said. Abigail Fisher denied admission in 2008 — is challenging that use.
Scalia said “there are those who contend” blacks would benefit by attending “a less-advanced school” to avoid “classes that are too fast for them.”
“I’m just not impressed by the fact the University of Texas may have fewer. Maybe it ought to have fewer,” he said. “I don’t think it stands to reason that it’s a good thing for the University of Texas to admit as many blacks as possible.”
After that statement, “there are those who contend” that Scalia is a racist idiot.
But the world has moved on. Glass ceilings for women are cracking all over the place. There’s a black middle class getting its children into college.
Stanford’s Sean Reardon notes that 50 years ago, the test-score gap between black and white students was twice as large as the test-score gap between high-income and low-income students. Today, precisely the opposite is true.
States that have abandoned race-based affirmative actions for ones based on or correlating to income and household wealth are producing just as much racial diversity and more social mobility, reports Richard D. Kahlenberg in The Atlantic magazine.
That’s important in fighting the nation’s political and financial elites’ efforts to systematically eviscerate the middle class.