By eliminating racial preferences in university admissions, the Supreme Court has finally exorcised a baleful spectrum that has haunted the country for over half a century. We should all take a moment to celebrate this de facto Brown v. Board of Education decision 2.0. We must then quickly pivot to the hard work of removing obstacles to opportunities for everyone.
The court was right to note that racial preferences violate the Constitution. Using race to decide who gets into college—to decide anything in the public sphere, for that matter—is not just unlawful but morally wrong. Never again can we allow this to happen. Since the court in its 1978 University of California v. Bakke decision opened the door to the nefarious use of race, too many Americans have twisted themselves into rhetorical pretzels in the dogged pursuit of justifying equal outcomes by crook or by hook.
For starters, in what ended up being the controlling opinion in Bakke, Justice Lewis Powell rightly found racial quotas unconstitutional—thereby earning the enmity of the academics who would go on to found critical race theory. Yet Powell maintained that universities could use race as one of several factors in "holistic" admissions decisions, which helped institutionalize quotas for the next five decades. In an opinion that concurred with key aspects of Powell’s decision, Justice Harry Blackmun stated that, "In order to get beyond racism, we must first take account of race. There is no other way. And in order to treat some persons equally, we must treat them differently."
Just a few months earlier, McGeorge Bundy, then head of the Ford Foundation, wrote ponderously in the Atlantic that "To get past racism, we must here take account of race." And as recently as January 2020, author Louis Menand actually wrote in the New Yorker that, when writing the Civil Rights Act in the 1960s, "We took race out of the equation only to realize that, if we truly wanted not just equality of opportunity for all Americans but equality of result, we needed to put it back in. Our name for this paradox is affirmative action."
These contradictions have been so numerous, so twisted, and so persistent over so many years, that we are now inured to them. We no longer experience the system shutdown that contradictions are supposed to have on our brain, a great gift that Western linear thinking has conferred on civilization (without which bridges couldn’t be built, nor open-heart surgeries performed). Instead of stopping and saying to ourselves and others, "No, we cannot treat people equally if we purposely set out to treat them differently," we listen to illogical statements and just move on.
No longer. We are now going back to the simple and elegant logic expressed by Chief Justice Roberts in the 2007 Parents Involved decision, in which he wrote , "The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race."
The view that disparities, in educational attainment and elsewhere, are prima facie evidence of something called "systemic racism"—another idea virtually signaled without factual support—stands behind this idea of getting a quick fix on results. It runs counter to the actual data. For example, 52% of U.S.-born Venezuelan Americans have at least graduated from a four-year university, a much higher rate than the 23.5% of all Americans. Other "Latinos," a victim category according to the theories peddled by those who have pushed for racial preferences, also have high levels of educational attainment. Better evidence yet comes from Nigerian Americans. At least one study shows that 73.5% of U.S.-born Nigerian Americans are college graduates. That is compared to 32.9% of U.S. whites. Ghanaian and West Indian Americans also do well across a number of indicators.
No one can argue that these groups are "underserved" or "marginalized." They are very much represented in colleges and universities, and are achieving the American dream. Their success lays waste to the "systemic racism" explanation for racial disparities. It also shows that the country needs to drop our current monolithic census racial categories. "Hispanics" and "Asian Americans" are synthetic categories that throw off more heat than light. The category of black Americans, without cross-referencing with nation of origin and family intactness, also does not help us address the causes of the disparities, rather than try to paper over them by fixing outcomes by fiat. Louis Menand was at least honest enough to admit that he just wanted equality of results, fixing the causes be damned.
For after celebrating this decision—and celebrate we must—we should now pivot to considering the effects of family formation. Family intactness is closely correlated to good life outcomes. Nigerian Americans have rates of family intactness that are nearly equal to that of whites. Let’s go back to teaching the success sequence (graduate, get a job, get married, have a baby—in that order) in schools and all areas of life. This is how we can start to fix the problems that racial preferences in school admissions never did.
This piece originally appeared in Restoring America by the Washington Examiner