As the Supreme Court moves towards its expected affirmative action ruling, a backlash among supporters of racial quotas is already brewing. One magazine, The Nation, suggests that the lawyer pleading the case for Asian American students is serving the cause of “white supremacy”, while top college presidents, interviewed on PBS, predict that any move to curb race quotas would constitute a “disaster.” Some schools are going a step further by exploring how to get around the potential new law — just as corporations, always keen to please the chattering classes, do the same thing.
Affirmative action is not a winning issue for progressives. Indeed, a majority of both Democrats and Republicans, as well as roughly half of African Americans, say that colleges should not factor race and ethnicity into the admissions process. Asian Americans are even more hostile to the idea: one recent national poll found that four in 10 of the group saw affirmative action as “racist” and more than half welcomed a Supreme Court ruling outlawing it.
The fundamental flaw with affirmative action is that it directly contradicts what the Swedish sociologist Gunnar Myrdal defined as “the American creed” — a notion, too often ignored, embracing equal opportunity for all its citizens. But where the early goals of the Civil Rights movement backed this ideal, the new affirmative action regime embraces race-based discrimination as an unadulterated good.
This approach has led to a rise in discriminatory policies against Asian Americans, now the country’s fastest-growing minority. Nowhere is this more evident than via the “Asian penalty” that comes into effect when applying for college: according to research from Princeton University, students who identify as Asian must score 140 points higher on the SAT than white Americans and 450 points higher than black Americans to have the same chance of admission to private colleges.
Like Jewish people before them, Asian Americans have benefited from the end of racial discrimination and the consequent rise of meritocracy. They have the highest per-capita income, lowest per-capita crime rates and highest rates of college education in the US. But instead of praising this group for transcending racism, affirmative action advocates prefer to attack them. They are now, it appears, the beneficiaries of “white privilege”, and dismissed as “white-adjacent”.
If the court rules in favour of Asian American students, don’t expect the Biden administration to embrace the decision. Racialism, along with climate change catastrophism, defines the current White House. The real focus, however, should not be on improving the lives of one racial group ahead of another but instead on helping those most in need. Ethnic minorities now constitute over 40% of the US working class and will soon be the majority by 2032. Their economic needs should be prioritised by creating better jobs, improving skills training and reducing crime. That will accomplish far more than helping the slim number of the more well-off minorities getting into the corporate suite or the great halls of Harvard.
This piece first appeared at UnHerd.
Joel Kotkin is the author of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Roger Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute. Learn more at joelkotkin.com and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin.