At this point, the only thing that surprises me is that I can be surprised by Trump’s racism.
Yesterday afternoon the New York Times broke news that the Justice Department’s Civil Rights division will investigate discrimination against white college applicants due to affirmative action. Education policy falls outside of Greenlining’s wheelhouse, but I am the self-proclaimed and undisputed Diversity Diva and so felt compelled to weigh in.
First let’s address the obvious. This affirmative action investigation is part of the larger, racist MAGA movement (which I previously wrote about here). As Van Jones said on election night “[Trump’s victory] was a white-lash against a changing country.” Trump appealed to millions of working class white voters — in fact 54% of all white voters still approve of him– because he evoked a mythical America that benefits many who now find themselves forgotten and struggling. Painting people of color as the culprits — whether as job stealers, bad hombres, or terrorists — gives this narrative an identifiable villain. It makes perfect sense that Trump would paint affirmative action in college admissions as an attack on white Americans. That’s why the Civil Rights division’s front office, where the administration’s political appointees work, rather than its Educational Opportunities Section, which is run by career civil servants and normally handles this type of work, is overseeing this matter.
CLICK TO TWEET: Trump just ordered to investigate discrimination against white college applicants. LOL REALLY? @greenlining
What really piqued my interest in this news, however, is the implication of affirmative action in this age of “of course I care about diversity!” Affirmative action pushed people’s buttons long before Trump or constant headlines on the lack of diversity in tech came along; every few years it seems like the Supreme Court takes up a case and the national dialogue gets ugly really quickly over the proper method to address racial inequality. On the other hand, you have the concept of “diversity and inclusion,” which is more of a fluffball topic that everyone generally agrees with.
Affirmative action serves as a great litmus test. That’s because we all love diversity as value– until it costs us something. America still largely regards race relations as a zero-sum game. Affirmative action threatens the sense of entitlement opponents like Trump feel over “their spot” being taken away, and quickly forces people to show how they really feel walking the talk. (Quick sidebar: Can we all acknowledge the irony of Trump — who’s practiced blatant nepotism and faced discrimination lawsuits in the past — pursuing this nonsense?) Data clearly tell us that Latinx and Black students face significant, additional obstacles to education. If this nation wants to rectify discrimination and disparate impact, we must act affirmatively (see what I did there?). This is what equity in action looks like. Opponents advocate for equality, which only furthers the status quo and rewards past discrimination by upholding persistent barriers. Anyone who supports that logic needs to seriously get in touch with their values.
I’ll end this on a personal note. I can say almost certainly that I benefited from affirmative action in the college process. I didn’t have the best tests scores. Heck, I hadn’t written a paper over 2 pages. I was such a bad writer that once a teaching assistant gave me back a draft with words etched in red “NO. Come See Me,” instead of a grade.
I also didn’t benefit from legacy status (where applicants related to alums get, um, affirmative action advantage), a family to foot the expensive bill, or the social standing to join powerful networks.
But I did have a nuanced view of the world because of my experiences and the hustle and determination of my people. That, combined with the acknowledgment and support of Stanford, allowed me to graduate at the top of my class and go on to fight against Trump’s racist policies.
For those who think people like me benefit unfairly from affirmative action policies, would you be willing to trade places? Would you trade your privilege for mine?
Don’t think so.
Danielle is Greenlining’s Diversity and Inclusion Director. Follow her on Twitter.