Berkeley universities

COUNTERPOINT: Race Blind or Racism Blind? Colleges must respond |

I believe in affirmative action, but it’s not made for Clarence.

That’s what Eminem taught us in his semi-autobiographical semi-autobiographical film “8 Mile” in 2002, when a poor white boy in Detroit, only a few miles from where I grew up, schooled a rich suburban black boy in a rap showdown.

“But I know something about you,

You went to Cranbrook – it’s a private school.

What’s the matter, man? Are you embarrassed?

Is this guy a gangster? His real name is Clarence.

Surrounded by black city kids who roared with approval when he won the rap battle, Eminem created a seminal cultural moment by showing that this spectacular new art form was not the exclusive preserve of rappers. African Americans. Economy class mattered more than skin color.

Coincidentally, I have personal ties to the two states that have given rise to the most significant legal challenges to affirmative action in higher education since colleges and universities began using race as a factor. admission more than half a century ago.

I was a new student at UC-Berkeley in 1977 when the Supreme Court took up the case of Allan Bakke, a white college graduate who claimed he was denied admission to UC-Riverside medical school because it reserved 16% of its places. for minority students. Bakke said he was more qualified than some of the applicants who were accepted.

In the great tradition of student activism at Cal — what its loyalists call the state’s flagship public university — there was plenty of political fomenting on campus. There were protests against investments in the apartheid regime of South Africa, protests which eventually forced the university to withdraw its funds. There were marches demanding a nuclear freeze and the closure of the university laboratory in Livermore, 40 miles southeast of Berkeley, which had helped develop the first atomic bombs. There were protests against the Shah of Iran, whose US-backed government would fall two years later in the revolution led by Ayatollah Khomeini.

Bakke’s case received less attention than these headline-grabbing issues, but there were angry protests on campus in June 1978 when the Supreme Court ordered Bakke’s admission to college. of medicine and overturned the strict racial quotas of the type he had used.

This ruling, which still allowed schools to consider race as one of multiple factors, did not satisfy opponents of affirmative action. A quarter century later, the High Court considered the case of Barbara Grutter, a white student who claimed the University of Michigan Law School rejected her over less qualified minority applicants. By then I was long gone from Berkeley, working as a political reporter in Washington. The Supreme Court again upheld affirmative action, but this time by the narrowest of margins, 5-4. Above all, its justification diverged from that used in the Bakke decision.

Then the judges said affirmative action was necessary to right historic wrongs suffered by black Americans, starting with slavery. In 2003, the divided court defended him on very different and, in the opinion of some legal experts, weaker grounds: Judge Sandra Day O’Connor, the first female judge after her nomination by Republican President Ronald Reagan , wrote for the bare majority that the university had a compelling interest in “achieving the educational benefits that come from a diverse student body.”

Shifting the affirmative action basis from indisputable historical wrongs to a questionable (if laudable) policy of promoting diversity has put the Supreme Court on a slippery slope that it must now navigate as it weighs two new challenges – admissions practices at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

With the Supreme Court having become more conservative, due to Senate Republicans blocking a Barack Obama nominee and their promotion of three Donald Trump nominees, the justices could further weaken affirmative action in admissions. university – or ban it altogether.

Unfortunately, previous High Court rulings in the California and Michigan cases had a backfire: taking advantage of the referendum process, voters banned the use of affirmative action by higher education institutions in those States. State law also prohibits college affirmative action in Florida, Washington, Oklahoma, and Nebraska.

In a more recent irony, the SAT cheating scandal the FBI broke in 2019, in which wealthy white parents paid impostors to take the exam for their children, helped historically underrepresented students and diminished the need for affirmative action. Thanks to the scandal, many colleges and universities have made the SAT optional, with some even refusing to look at test scores. The change follows years of research by education academics demonstrating that these standardized tests are biased.

As a final irony, Trump’s tenure in the White House and his frequent use of racist whistles have shown that five years after the departure of the first black president, we are far from living in the “post-racial America” ​​heralded by some. with the election of Obama. Whether it’s telling the Proud Boys to “step back and get ready” or declaring that there were “a lot of good people” among the white nationalists who marched in my new hometown of Charlottesville , Virginia, Trump reminded us that racism is alive and well in the United States.

Ultimately, the access of high school graduates to the most prestigious universities in the country depends on the quality of the education they receive before university. Property taxes fund public schools. Study after study has shown that property values ​​are always related to skin color; they showed that real estate agents list the same house in the same neighborhood at a lower price if it is black-owned than white-owned. These cruel realities reveal that race and upbringing are still inextricably linked. As long as this is true, admissions to “colorblind” colleges remain unfair and affirmative action remains necessary.



James Rosen received the top award for column writing in 2021 from the Society of Professional Journalists. He was a Pentagon correspondent and political reporter for McClatchy Newspapers. He wrote this for


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