In a landmark decision handed down today, the Supreme Court ruled that the use of race in college admissions violates the 14th amendment––effectively ending “Affirmative Action” overnight. For some, this is a shocking step backwards. For others, it’s a long overdue endorsement of color-blindness and non-discrimination.
Great essay! Thanks for making such a concise and coherent summary. I'll be sharing this with many friends and colleagues.
Thoughtful and informative - Thank you Coleman
What's most patronizing about the ad-hoc diversity justification for racial preferences is that it robs minority applicants of their agency. They're objects, not actors. Black students are seen as a fungible commodity who are desirable because they make the campus community more diverse. End of story.
This mainstay of affirmative-action jurisprudence is fatally flawed because it hides the obvious: black students, like white students, want to attend elite universities because they are highly ambitious and seek the vocational advantages and social mobility that is almost universally believed to come with the diploma.
I have long maintained that elite universities are heavily complicit in creation of the college admissions rat race and the ecosystem of private preparatory schools and admissions coaches that have grown up around it because of one simple microeconomic factor: the demand vastly exceeds the supply. The schools themselves admit that when they say they could fill their freshman classes many times over with the applicants who meet the basic admissions criteria.
The primary reason is that no new elite, highly selective universities have been founded for over a century, and they have not increased the sizes of their freshman class in proportion with the growth of the population of the U.S. and the increase in the number of high school students seeking admission. According to some sources, the population of the United States has grown by about 330 percent since the end of WWII. Who wants to bet that the Yale's first-year class has?
Is it any wonder, then, that the admissions offices at Harvard and its ilk have to grind promising applications to dust in order to find the one or two particles that justify acceptance?
The New Yorker staff writer Jay Caspian Kang recently elaborated on this point to great effect:
"Harvard did not have to pursue such a comical vision of social justice. It could have vastly expanded its class sizes, relaxed its admissions standards, and cut off its pipelines from exclusive private schools. It could have opened its doors to hundreds of community-college transfers. If Harvard were truly committed to increasing access to an élite education, it could have invested a fraction of its fifty-three-billion-dollar endowment in free college-preparatory academies across America and guided hundreds of poor Black and Latino students through the university’s gates."
"Why the Champions of Affirmative Action Had to Leave Asian Americans Behind." 30 June 2023. https://www.newyorker.com/news/our-columnists/why-the-champions-of-affirmative-action-had-to-leave-asian-americans-behind
What do the elite institutions have to say for themselves?
Coleman, I’m humbled to know that you know that you are in the elite, and it makes me trust you more.
Just a meta-comment not directly related to your post but you, Yglesias, and Freddie deBoer—all on Substack—have today made posts of the form "N itemized thoughts about the Supreme Court ruling on affirmative action". What the heck is going on? Is this coincidence or is Substack driving editorial choices more than I realized?
Beautiful, well-thought-out analysis. You nail something fundamental about the problem with contemporary progressivism in general: They wrap bad ideas into phrases that sound positively good: “affirmative action”; “antiracism”; “inclusivity” etc. Oftentimes the words actually mean the opposite when it comes down to actual practice. I wish more people could grasp this. But critical thinking is at an all-time low.
Sincere American Writing
Somewhat surprised nobody has taken issue with your view. I’m mixed. To espouse color blindness, is to achieve what no civilization ever has; far beyond our innate prejudices to do. Skin color will forever be judged and categorized. You correctly see the foolishness of affirmative action, but nothing will ever eliminate the prejudice that affirmative action sought to overcome.
I think the economic class issue is much bigger problem. (I am an AA male from the south side of Chicago and graduated from an Ivy League school. I did not change majors and I am in the top 1% based on yearly income and top 5% of net worth)
Things to consider; only 38% of Americans have college degrees, 40% of recent college grads are underemployed, based on the Fed the top 10% of Americans hold close to 2/3's of the wealth while the bottom 50% owns a few percentage points, also according to the Fed, Whites own over 80% of the wealth in America
Most of the bottom half of America lives on about the same income if they are willing to go to work everyday and apply for every government program they would qualify for (Saiz, Zucman The Triumph of Injustice) - Meaning when I work in the service sector, I need government assistance to have a living wage. So welfare helps the working poor and the super-rich.
Best thing I've read this month. You're definitely providing value for this subscription. Thanks very much for this well thought out essay!
Very interesting, I love the quotes from Dr King, and I support your following and developing his ideas. A similar thing happened with all women shortlists in the UK, which didn't last long in general, because it caused resentment. It can work as a one off intervention as Tony Blair did in the 90s to get more women MPs, but the part still haven't had a female leader, and the Conservatives have had three (ok one didn't last as long as a lettuce) with no all women shortlists. Keep going this is all great stuff.