What conservatives hoped and liberals feared: the US Supreme Court has banned race-based affirmative action in college admissions. Membership in a particular racial or ethnic group will no longer hurt or help you get into an American institute of higher learning. At least not legally.
To which I say amen.
It’s not that I oppose the social, intellectual, or economic progress of historically disadvantaged people, far from it. My wife is Filipino, an ethnicity once scorned by Americans, including those in my home state of California.
As recently as 1930, in fact, 500 white residents attacked a Filipino dance hall, dragged immigrants from their homes, murdered a Filipino farmer, and destroyed an entire Filipino neighborhood in Watsonville, California. Three years later, the state legislature even passed a law barring Filipinos from marrying Whites.
All of which, of course, occurred after decades of agitation against Asian Americans imposing unfair taxes, banning their testimony in court, prohibiting their education in public schools, preventing white-owned businesses from employing them, and barring them from owning or leasing agricultural land.
The culmination came during World War II, when 120,000 Japanese Americans were involuntarily interred in relocation camps like California’s Manzanar, which appalled me during a journalistic visit there several years ago.
And yet Asian Americans are the prime movers behind the lawsuits resulting in last week’s judicial overthrow of affirmative action. “How could that be?” you ask. Simple: because permanent legal enshrinement of racial discrimination—even if aimed at empowering those previously victimized by it—eventually turns on itself, producing exactly the opposite effect.
Case in point: the would-be Asian American students at Harvard and the University of North Carolina who claimed—with valid statistical evidence—to have been disadvantaged in admissions by the legally sanctioned favor shown Black and Hispanic applicants.
But there’s another, even more sinister, impact of institutionalized racial discrimination: the implicit message to previously victimized groups that they cannot succeed on their own without special help. Which, in a word, is the definitive epitome of racism.
Affirmative action was never intended to be permanently embedded in the culture as a form of racial condescension. Instead, it was meant as a temporary band aid to help heal the afflictive sins of the past.
Proponents of racially based college admissions argue that those sins are still actively intact, pointing as evidence to the lower enrollment statistics among certain racial groups. My contention: that very few college admission boards still actively discriminate against ethnic minorities and, if they do, legally sanctioning discrimination will only encourage, not hinder, that practice.
No, to understand disparities in racial enrollment, one must look beyond historical or current discrimination to factors including culture, motivation, economics, and family. How else explain the phenomenal success of Asian Americans (whose per capita income and college enrollment exceeds that of Whites in the US) despite the relatively recent and serious racial discrimination they have faced?
My conclusion: kudos to the Supreme Court for finally mustering enough courage to do the right thing despite overwhelming political pressure to continue towing a line that has long-since outlived its usefulness.
David Haldane’s latest book, “A Tooth in My Popsicle,” is available on Lazada and Amazon. A former Los Angeles Times staff writer, he is an award-winning journalist, author, and broadcaster with homes in Joshua Tree, California, and Northern Mindanao, Philippines, where this column appears weekly in the Gold Star Daily.