On Tuesday, the Trump Department of Justice announced that they would move to combat the racism inherent in college admissions affirmative action. Instead of using the DOJ Civil Rights Division as a sort of defense mechanism for radical leftist groups, as the Obama administration did, the Trump administration will use the office to crack down on actual discrimination, pursuing “investigations and possible litigation related to intentional race-based discrimination in college and university admissions,” according to an internal document.
This is a welcome development, despite the Left’s quick move to demagogue the issue by claiming that this is somehow a white identity politics defense mechanism from the Trump administration. Often, the groups hurt most by affirmative action are minorities like Asian-Americans and Jews.
The Left, of course, complains that the DOJ Civil Rights Division should be specifically dedicated to the interests of particular minorities. As Kristen Clarke of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law told The New York Times, the Left believes that the Civil Rights Division was “created and launched to deal with the unique problem of discrimination faced by our nation’s most oppressed minority groups.” She called the move “deeply disturbing” and called it a “dog whistle.”
First off, affirmative action has done little or nothing to advance black economic interests. According to Stephen and Abigail Thernstrom of the liberal Brookings Institute, “not only did significant advances pre-date the affirmative action era, but the benefits of race-conscious politics are not clear. ... In the decades since affirmative action policies were first instituted, the poverty rate has remained basically unchanged. Despite black gains by numerous other measures, close to 30 percent of black families still live below the poverty line.”
In fact, very often those who make it into top universities through affirmative action are themselves hurt by the process. Let’s say a black student performed well enough to get into Duke University but not Yale. Putting that student at Yale means that instead of flourishing in an environment in which that student has earned membership, that student will now be the low man on the totem pole. In an article published in The Atlantic in 2012, Richard Sander and Stuart Taylor Jr. highlight some of the ways this “mismatch” issue impacts black students: “mismatched” black students (students who got in through significant affirmative action) are “twice as likely to be derailed” from pursuing a doctorate and an academic career; black law school grads are four times as likely to fail the bar as their white counterparts; black college freshman want to go into science or engineering more than white students, but are twice as likely to drop out; “about half of black college students rank in the bottom 20 percent of their classes (and the bottom 10 percent in law school).”
And, of course, affirmative action is unfair to those of other races who outperform the minorities who benefit. A Princeton University study showed that blacks received a “bonus” of 230 points on SAT scores versus their competitors on the old 1600-point scale; by contrast, Asians are penalized 50 points.
So this isn’t a dog whistle. It’s a solid policy aimed at ending the sort of discrimination that continues to divide us by race, assuming without evidence that a black kid who scores lower on the SATs than an Asian kid of the same socioeconomic status has somehow suffered more, and requires the open university slot. That’s pernicious, it’s nasty, and it should be fought.