Most efforts to secure reparations for U.S. slavery and racial subjugation have focused on the federal government—whether Callie House’s organizing among her fellow ex-slaves for taxes on seized southern cotton to be repaid to former slaves,1Berry, Mary Frances, My Face Is Black Is True: Callie House and the Struggle for Ex-Slave Reparations (New York: Vintage, 2009). Representative John Conyers’ proposed congressional commission to study federal reparations (which he introduced in every Congress starting in 1993 until his death in 2019),2See Robinson, Randall, The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks (New York: Plume, 2001), p. 238. author Randall Robinson’s best-selling The Debt in 2000,3Robinson, Randall, The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks (New York: Plume, 2001). or writer Ta-Nehisi Coates’s 2014 article “The Case for Reparations” which succeeded in persuading swathes of the white intelligentsia of the need for some form of reparation.4Coates, Ta-Nehisi, “The Case for Reparations,” The Atlantic, June 2014.
In 1969, however, James Forman led a very different effort. The National Black Economic Development Council (NBEDC) was a group of black churchmen and business leaders who had gathered in Detroit in 1968 to consider how to advance the cause of black economic progress. Forman led them in developing the “Black Manifesto,” which was directed not at the federal government but at the leading mainline Protestant churches and white Jewish synagogues.
After writing the manifesto, Forman and the NBEDC sought for a suitable place to make the first public presentation of the manifesto. They settled on New York’s Riverside Church. Riverside was a cathedral to both U.S. Protestantism and U.S. capitalism. With its Art Deco-Gothic style and deep pockets, both funded by the devoutly Baptist John D. Rockefeller, it had a reputation as a center of political and social action. Just the year before Martin Luther King had announced his opposition to the Vietnam War from its pulpit, and its weekly broadcast of the Sunday sermon was heard throughout greater New York. If the manifesto’s claim that “the white churches are another form of government in this country,” was true anywhere, it was at Riverside.
Though Riverside’s minister, the Rev. Ernest Campbell, had agreed to allow Forman to present the manifesto during Sunday service, he had not envisioned Forman’s disruptive takeover. Forman interrupted Campbell, seized the mic, and presented the manifesto’s demands: reparations of $500 million from white churches and synagogues. Well before Cedric Robinson made a systematic case that capitalism itself was a racializing and racist system,5Robinson, Cedric J. Black Marxism: the Making of the Black Radical Tradition (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000). Forman and the NBEDC made a case that white churches and synagogues owed reparations specifically because they were “part and parcel of this system of capitalism” and therefore owed $500 million in reparations—as the Manifesto drily points out, “a mere $15 per black brother and sister in this country.”6The Black Manifesto, The Church Awakens: African American Struggles for Justice, Archives of the Episcopal Church. In his remarks that Sunday, Forman criticized Riverside’s relationship with Rockefeller, charging that Rockefeller used “money stolen from the poor to build this great cathedral. . . and [his] money is still exploiting people of color all around the world.” Forman then demanded a list of all of the church’s assets. It was at this point, remembered Forman, that Campbell asked the church’s organist to attempt to drown him out.7Forman, James Forman, The Making of Black Revolutionaries (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2000).
According to the manifesto, the money was to be used for ten purposes, including black-owned newspapers, television stations, research institutes, and funds for striking black workers. Fully $200 million was designated for a southern land bank and $130 million was to be used to establish a new, radical black university in the south.8The Black Manifesto, The Church Awakens: African American Struggles for Justice, Archives of the Episcopal Church. The NBEDC was to manage the money under the supervision of a committee of black leaders including Forman.
Within a week, black students at the adjacent Union Theological Seminary had endorsed the manifesto, occupied the administration and classroom building, and demanded that the seminary pay up. Seminary president John Bennett at first refused, saying it was outside his legal purview. Bennett relented the next day and requested an emergency convening of the board. The Board of Directors at Union said no to the specific demands of the occupying students, but made several alternative commitments totaling more than two million dollars in funds, to be controlled by black students, faculty, and alumni. The seminary ultimately paid a little more than a million dollars.9“Summary of Responses to the Black Manifesto of the NBEDC.” Board of Trustees Document, Union Theological Seminary Archive. 1972 file.
This proved to be the pattern: Riverside and Protestant denominational institutions, if they responded at all, increased investments in their own programs, but refused to turn any money over to Forman or the NBECD. The total investments made by Union, Riverside, and the Protestant denominations came to about $4 million.10Lechtreck, Elaine Allen, “We are Demanding $500 Million for Reparations”: The Black Manifesto, Mainline Religious Denominations, and Black Economic Development,” Journal of African American History, (Winter–Spring 2012), 39-71. The other $496 million remained unpaid.
The legacy of the Black Manifesto can be seen in recent actions taken by some institutions to atone for the benefits received from slavery and racial discrimination, including at Georgetown University (where the university’s Jesuits once claimed ownership of 272 enslaved persons), Boston University and Princeton Theological Seminary.11Lechtreck, Elaine Allen, “We are Demanding $500 Million for Reparations”: The Black Manifesto, Mainline Religious Denominations, and Black Economic Development,” 39-71. In 2019, Episcopal Diocese of New York set aside a million dollars to make amends for the ways in which it has benefitted from slavery.12Millard, Egan. “Diocese of New York establishes reparations fund, adopts anti-slavery resolutions from 1860” Episcopal News Service, 12 November 2019. The text and story of the Black Manifesto, implicate religious institutions in much larger forces of capitalism and white supremacy—neither making them solely responsible, nor letting them off the hook.
It came out of nowhere. When the Centers for Disease Control published its June 5, 1981 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), it unintentionally inaugurated one of the darkest periods in American history: the AIDS crisis. The report, written by UCLA’s Michael Gottlieb, noted that between October 1980 and May 1981 five cases of the rare (and usually fatal) illness pneumocystis carinii pneumonia (traditionally found only in extremely immunosuppressed patients, and often referred to by the acronym PCP) appeared in what had previously been healthy young men in the Los Angeles area.2Lillian Faderman, The Gay Revolution: The Story of the Struggle, (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2015), p. 415. Gottlieb and the CDC further observed that all the young men in question were homosexual. Rechristened as “gay pneumonia”, PCP helped cement Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) as an exclusively gay issue in the national consciousness. While AIDS affected many, it utterly decimated gay America.3A point of clarification: In this text “gay” (such as in “gay America”) refers to male homosexuals. It has killed hundreds of thousands (448,060 by the year 2000 alone), claimed the lives of much of the gay rights movement’s leadership, triggered widespread anti-gay violence, and opened the door to entirely new forms of government-sponsored oppression and discrimination.4“HIV and AIDS — United States, 1981—2000,” HIV and AIDS — United States, 1981—2000, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, June 1, 2001, https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5021a2.htm. Yet amidst such suffering, AIDS sparked a mass revolution. It radicalized gay activism, triggering a newfound wave of homosexual unity and mass protestation.
With the release of the July 3rd 1981 MMWR, the CDC acknowledged a new, rarely diagnosed illness (aside from PCP) was predominantly affecting homosexuals.5Michael B. Gregg, ed, “Kaposi’s Sarcoma and Pneumocystis Pneumonia Among Homosexual Men – New York City and California,” Morbidity And Mortality Weekly Report 30, no. 25 (1981), p. 305. Kaposi’s Sarcoma (abbreviated to KS) quickly became a media darling.6Gina Bright, Plague-Making and the AIDS Epidemic: A Story of Discrimination (New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), p. 77. Christened by the media as the “gay cancer,” KS caught the eye of the public due to its distinctive (and repulsive) skin lesions and its association with sex and homosexual deviancy. Few stories sell better than sex or fear, and the mysterious new GRID (Gay-related Immune Deficiency) offered both in equal measure. Media organizations large and small happily sensationalized the topic, claiming that the new malady would befall all who engaged in “risky” or immoral behavior. None other than The New York Times helped lead the charge, running numerous articles reporting that all infected patients were promiscuous homosexuals having sex with between fifteen and twenty anonymous men per night, and that the infamous gay bathhouses were the epicenter of the “Gay Plague.”7Lillian Faderman, The Gay Revolution, p. 416. The media frenzy only grew worse in 1983 following the realization that HIV could be transmitted via infected blood.8Dennis Altman, AIDS in the Mind of America, (Garden City, NY: Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1986), p. 74. Heterosexual Americans, now in the line of fire, feared for their safety. Conservative state legislatures profited from the media panic, using the momentum generated to pass draconian HIV-specific criminal laws. In total, thirty-three states would pass such targeted felony ordinances.9Teresa Wiltz, “HIV Crime Laws: Historical Relics or Public Safety Measures,” Pew Stateline, The Pew Charitable Trusts, September 6, 2017, https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2017/09/06/hiv-crime-laws-historical-relics-or-public-safety-measures.
HIV/AIDS truly could not have come at a worse time. Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980 heralded a sweeping victory for the New Right’s Christian conservatism. Incensed by the progressivism of the 1960’s and 1970’s, the Right claimed the Presidency and the Senate in the 1980 election, a year before American homosexuals began dying in droves. The New Right wasted no time ascribing blame. Consider Lawrence Lockman’s widely circulated 1986 book The AIDS Epidemic: A Citizen’s Guide to Protecting your Family and Community from the Gay Plague. The conservative columnist (and eventual member of Maine’s House of Representatives) not only held “the gay lifestyle” responsible for bringing AIDS to American shores – reiterating the popular notion that homosexuals are “extremely filthy and disgusting as well as unhealthy” – but went further and attacked heterosexual patients as well, accusing them of cavorting with homosexuals and living sinful, debased lives.10Gina Bright, Plague-Making and the AIDS Epidemic, pp. 83-84. Alternatively, revisit the work of paleoconservative (traditionalist conservatives reacting against the rise of neoconservatism in the Republican Party) Patrick Buchanan.11Samuel Francis, “The Paleo Persuasion,” The American Conservative, December 16, 2002, https://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/the-paleo-persuasion/. The Republican columnist, commentator, and politician authored the widely-circulated “AIDS Disease: It’s Nature Striking Back”. Buchanan’s piece echoed many of his fellows in calling homosexuals both a moral and public health menace. He then boldly pushed onward, articulating a policy of nationwide segregation, one that would forcibly remove suspected AIDS patients from public life so as to protect ‘innocent’ heterosexual America.12Dennis Altman, AIDS in the Mind of America, p. 59. The widespread (and completely debunked) belief that AIDS could be spread by casual contact only made it easier for local and state governments to encourage blatantly discriminatory practices. Individuals with HIV/AIDS (and homosexuals more broadly) could be barred from public facilities and transport, expelled from their schools, evicted from their homes, fired from their work, profiled and quarantined by the police, discharged from the Armed Forces, and barred from donating blood. Meanwhile, the CDC understood as early as 1983 that AIDS was not transmissible via simple contact, proximity, or shared use of daily items.13Institute of Medicine (US) Committee to Study HIV Transmission Through Blood and Blood Products, “History of the Controversy,” HIV And the Blood Supply: An Analysis of Crisis Decisionmaking, U.S. National Library of Medicine, January 1, 1995, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK232419/. Yet regardless of both CDC and activist attempts to spread awareness within the general population, these novel forms of discrimination intensified.14Gina Bright, Plague-Making and the AIDS Epidemic, p. 94.
Arguably, the worst effects of AIDS-based discrimination were experienced within the healthcare industry, the one realm of life exceedingly vital to people living with HIV. Physicians and nurses refused to treat or even touch patients. Orderlies refused to wash patients or change their clothes and dressings, leaving them to lie in their own filth and misery. Should a patient find their way to a clinic or emergency room, staff would simply ignore them until they either left out of frustration and shame, or simply expired. When patients did succumb to AIDS-related complications, morgue technicians and undertakers refused to handle their bodies, instead opting to throw corpses (dressings, bedsheets, and all) into heavy-duty garbage bags before requiring the friends or family of the deceased to remove them on their own.15Dennis Altman, AIDS in the Mind of America, p. 62. The paranoia reached such a level that medical facilities across the country refused to treat any individual of an “at-risk” group (often summarized as the 4Hs: homosexuals, heroin users, hemophiliacs, and Haitians).16Gina Bright, Plague-Making and the AIDS Epidemic, p. 85. Due to the effects of media-sponsored paranoia, as well as hate speech, the 1980’s saw rates of violence against gay men and lesbians skyrocket.17William R. Greer, “VIOLENCE AGAINST HOMOSEXUALS RISING, GROUPS SEEKING WIDER PROTECTION SAY,” The New York Times, The New York Times, November 23, 1986, https://www.nytimes.com/1986/11/23/us/violence-against-homosexuals-rising-groups-seeking-wider-protection-say.html. Spurred on by AIDS-related panic and homophobia, the storming of gay neighborhoods and gay-aligned events grew more common.18William R. Greer, “VIOLENCE AGAINST HOMOSEXUALS RISING”, https://www.nytimes.com/1986/11/23/us/violence-against-homosexuals-rising-groups-seeking-wider-protection-say.html. Take a quiet Sunday afternoon in San Francisco, for example. That day bore witness to a gang of twenty-odd drunken teenagers gather at the edge of Sigmund Stern Grove. Wielding bats, sticks, and rocks, the mob screamed and shouted “Faggots got AIDS”, “Unclean” and “You’re diseased” whilst brutally assaulting gay and lesbian attendees of a community picnic organized by Dignity (a gay Catholic organization).19Dennis Altman, AIDS in the Mind of America, p. 69. Some Conservatives openly advocated for abhorrent measures of controlling the potentially-infected population. Conservative author William Buckley proposed that every HIV-positive American be mandatorily tattooed so as to make their status readily apparent.20Lillian Faderman, The Gay Revolution, p. 424. Meanwhile, Californian multimillionaire Lyndon LaRouche went one step further, organizing his Prevent AIDS Now Initiative Committee (PANIC) to promote an initiative on California’s 1986 ballot.21Lillian Faderman, The Gay Revolution, p. 424. He and his seven hundred thousand supporters sought to forcibly inter all people with AIDS in quarantined concentration camps, much the same way the nation had done to Americans of Japanese descent forty-four years earlier.
AIDS defined an entire generation. The specter of death hung like a cloud over the head of every LGBT American during the crisis years.22Perry N. Halkitis, The AIDS Generation: Stories of Survival and Resilience, (New York City, NY: Oxford University Press, 2014), p. 1. Facing death and discrimination, impassioned activists such as Larry Kramer rose and tackled the problems born of the Crisis.23Lillian Faderman, The Gay Revolution, p. 422. By 1982, he found a number of similarly-minded allies.24Lillian Faderman, The Gay Revolution, p. 419. Bold new confrontational organizations such as ACT UP, the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, and the AIDS Network all promoted revolutionary programs, ranging from caring for people with AIDS to engaging in campaigns of mass civil disobedience.25Lillian Faderman, The Gay Revolution, p. 419, p. 422. They looked after their own, and took the veritable life-and-death struggle gays faced on a daily basis into the homes of the nation through orchestrated church and television station invasions.26Lillian Faderman, The Gay Revolution, p. 436. In the face of not just their own mortality, but also the risk of reprisal at the hands of their neighbors or government, six hundred thousand gays and lesbians from all across the country gathered in the nation’s capital on October 11, 1987.27Lillian Faderman, The Gay Revolution, p. 428. The Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights saw the grief and rage of the community on full display, mourning the loss of over forty-one thousand fellow gays and lesbians to AIDS, and to protest a government that did nothing but watch them die.28Lillian Faderman, The Gay Revolution, p. 429. The unveiling of the AIDS Quilt at the National Mall on live television made for a stirring, lasting moment that exemplifies the best of civil resistance. The AIDS generation lived through one of the worst epidemics in modern history. All who survived have been scarred by it, but came out the other side more resilient and stronger as a community.29Perry Halkitis, The AIDS Generation, p. 1. While many had perished, their sacrifices would be remembered, and the survivors have continued to resist Christian conservative AIDS-related policies well into the modern day.
Altman, Dennis. AIDS in the Mind of America. First ed. Garden City, NY: Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1986.
Bright, Gina M. Plague-Making and the AIDS Epidemic: A Story of Discrimination. First ed. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.
Faderman, Lillian. “Chapter 23: The Plague.” In The Gay Revolution: The Story of the Struggle, First Simon & Schuster hardcover ed. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2015.
Institute of Medicine (US) Committee to Study HIV Transmission Through Blood and Blood Products. “History of the Controversy.” HIV And The Blood Supply: An Analysis Of Crisis Decisionmaking. U.S. National Library of Medicine, January 1, 1995. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK232419/.
Affirmative Action. Frequently contested in public debates, it is often seriously misunderstood. Although the policy offers concrete benefits for marginalized minorities in the U.S., our nation’s deep entanglement with race and racism has made it difficult for affirmative action to battle its constant bedfellow: white privilege. After the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the creation of federal guidelines, affirmative action was developed to ameliorate the effects of educational segregation. Surprisingly, the charge was led by a former advocate for segregation, President Lyndon B. Johnson. The mandate of “nondiscrimination under a ‘race-blind Constitution’” was a fortunate byproduct of the tireless efforts of activists during the civil rights movement in the 1960s after years of Jim Crow segregation.1Hugh Davis Graham, “The Origins of Affirmative Action”, (The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 523, 1992), 50. Affirmative action attempted to correct the systemic racism that has always pervaded America. Today, affirmative action is most often debated when discussing admission to elite universities, especially the stubbornly low admission rates and retention rates of non-white students. Affirmative action critics and proponents however both need to remember the historical manifestations for white privilege and how its weight still silently controls which Amerians have the best chances to succeed in higher education.
I will start my discussion with the themes that most affect the affirmative action debate: the achievement gap; and white privilege. Next, I will explore the negative aspects of ‘color blindness’ as a solution to the racial achievement gap in college admissions; and historians’ arguments that the history of American racism has led to the gap. I will then transition to the importance of understanding affirmative action as a history, including the effects of the U.S. Supreme Court case involving Allan Bakke. Finally, I will conclude with a contemporary look at the challenges that admissions offices face, a personal account on class and racial discrimination during one man’s path to earning degrees from elite universities, and my final thoughts on this debate and its (lack of) mention of the lingering specter of white privilege.
Affirmative action addresses two themes: the academic achievement gap; and the privilege of “whiteness”. Who has historically had the best chances for success in American society? In a 1965 public debate between the politically conservative scholar, William F. Buckley Jr., and the renowned African-American author, James Baldwin, Buckley argued that black Americans needed to “aspire” to the conditions of whiteness…however unattainable”.2Thomas Meaney, “When James Baldwin Squared Off Against William F. Buckley Jr.”, (The New York Times, 2019). He implied that African-Americans must rise up, despite impossible socio-economic obstacles and a history of mistreatment, to the standard of “whiteness”. His statement also exonerated white Americans as the gatekeepers for whiteness. To be “white” often implied than an individual could possess increased opportunities for upward social mobility. Baldwin repudiated Buckley’s ideas and countered that it is imperative that white Americans recognize their own role in propping up racism for the past three centuries. Whiteness is an inherent privilege.3Meany. It is a privilege that is still visible in higher education. The introduction of affirmative action was an attempt to reorient the American past and create a more prosperous future for those that had been discriminated against.4David Roediger, Working Toward Whiteness (Basic Books, 2006) , 8.
However, affirmative action has left something to be desired. The racial gap in higher education has a complicated, historically contingent set of causes including: disparities in family income; the lack of a college-going culture in some communities; and the harmful stereotype of the diminished academic potential of non-white youths. Race remains integrated into our norms. The average non-white American college applicant faces steep obstacles when creating an ideal college application. As Noel Ignatiev and Cheryl Harris, have noted, “whiteness”, the factor that privileges one race over another, is a form of power. The advantages of “whiteness” were immediately visible to recently arrived Irish immigrants in the 19th century who saw the benefit of presenting themselves as “white” to assimilate into “white” culture in the U.S. This is unfortunately “something in the atmosphere of America” that Irish immigrants to America, with no previous understanding of whiteness as a social status, wryly noted.5Roediger, 31. Whiteness as a privilege implies that one “has a master…and has to beg for the privilege”.6Roediger, 79. Buckley heralded this aspect of “begging” in his sparring with Baldwin when he stated that whiteness is not a privilege “attainable” for all.7Meaney. White privilege has benefited a large portion of white Americans in their ability to apply to college, pursue careers, and own a home. Erasing America’s racial past by declaring affirmative action as the new beginning to a “colorblind” America is naive at best, and destructive at worse. Although minority representation in higher education has increased since affirmative action’s debut in the 1960s, there is still work to be done. By having college campuses that are less racially diverse than the actual representation of our nation, our educational leaders decrease the chances that white Americans will recognize their white privilege and that both white and non-white Americans will communicate and engage more meaningfully and regularly.8Ignatiev, 5.
Colorblind policies are ineffectual because they negate race as a factor of consideration in admissions. Instead, racially conscious admissions policies offer a way to recognize the different experiences, stigmas, and obstacles that many non-white Americans face. One of these obstacles is the racial inequality in the caliber of American public schools.9Ignatiev, 57-62. Racial inequality in a student’s college preparation starts well before senior year. An average American student’s kindergarten to 12th grade education, tied with his or her socioeconomic background, is the most important indicator if he or she will be able to afford and attend college.10Ignatiev, 149. The college admissions process’ emphasis on standardized test scores and the paucity of financial aid decreases the chance that the average low-income, non-white student will even apply.11Ignatiev, 149-150. Universities also face steep challenges such as reviewing thousands of applications with a short-staffed admissions team; balancing tuition revenue and meeting enrollment targets; and battling their institution’s reputation as too homogenous or expensive for students to consider applying to.
Critics of affirmative action argue that the policy takes university seats away from qualified white Americans and subsequently offers them to less qualified minority students. Not only is this statement statistically false but it ignores the fact that white students’ ancestors have had “preferential treatment” in the realm of education, housing, legacy admissions, and wealth acquisition for decades.12Tim J. Wise, Affirmative Action: Racial Preference in Black and White. (Positions, Routledge, 2005), 4-5. In an infamous veto of the 1866 Civil Rights Act, President Andrew Johnson rejected the call for equality for African-Americans based upon the idea that developing a means of opportunity for blacks was “infinitely beyond any that the Central Government have ever provided for the white race”.13Wise, 29. This claim reveals the general ignorance of white privilege that has resurfaced in the arguments of affirmative action critics as well. By not discussing white privilege, affirmative action proponents are missing a pivotal opportunity for how to defeat the arguments of their opponents and debunk their misleading statements tied to historical advantages for most white Americans.Some of these quesitonable arguments include: that whites lose out on college spots; that colleges decrease the quality of their student body by increasing the representation of non-whites; that non-white students lose “sef-esteem” by being admitted to rigorous universities; and most offensively, that non-whites, especially African-Americans, are not admitted into select unviersities due to a “cultural deficiency”.14Wise, 69-70.
Historians, such as Ira Katznelson, in When Affirmative Action Was White, have recognized that racial discrimination towards non-whites is the primary reason for the racial educational achievement gap. The gap is interconnected to whiteness as a privilege as well as the disparity between white and non-white family incomes, access to equitable hiring practices, and opportunities for home ownership. Particularly after the Second World War, the racial inequality grew due in part to the uneven employment, financial, and educational application of the benefits of the GI Bill to non-white veterans.15Ira Katznelson, When Affirmative Action Was White: An Untold History of Racial Inequality in Twentieth-Century America, (W.W. Norton, 2005), 14-15. However, the debate often instead is unfortunately relegated to a handful of scattered Supreme Court Case decisions and the myths of the disadvantages conferred upon white college applicants from affirmative action.16Katznelson, 150-152. Affirmative action-related Supreme Court cases themselves are only one component and their complexities are often misunderstood. This has led to the unhelpful vague idea that employing colorblindness and introducing optimistic-sounding diversity initiatives are the best methods.
The 1978 Supreme Court Case of a white applicant, Allan Bakke, appealing his rejection to the University of California Medical School due to supposed racial discrimination, is often cited in the affirmative action fracas. Regents of the University of California vs. Bakke was noted as technically a victory for Allan Bakke who claimed that he was discriminated against in a post-affirmative action admissions tactic: the racial quota system. The decision was 5-4 in Bakke’s favor but the results also reveal something deeper about our nation’s public misconceptions about the unintended benefits of the policy.17Katznelson, 151-156. The court case was also a victory for affirmative action: the idea that race should be a conscious factor of consideration for elite universities’ enrollment practices even if the racial quota system itself was inadvisable. Several of the justices’ statements imply that race consciousness was the appropriate approach to carry out affirmative action. University admissions offices have made attempts to increase the representation of low-income, minority students in recent years but they are hounded by a legitimate fear regarding creating enough annual tuition revenue.
In September 2019, the New York Times focused on the admissions practices of an elite liberal arts, predominantly white institution, Trinity College, and its director, Angel Perez. Perez highlights the mismatch between enrollment managers’ intentions to increase the representation of minority students yet also admit enough affluent students to balance the budget. Perez notes he has to teach his colleagues “about the fact that you can’t have it all at some time. You’ve got to pick which goals you’re going to pursue”.18Paul Tough, “What College Admissions Offices Really Want”, (The New York Times Magazine, 2019). Perez’s view is one that is less publicized but shared among other racially conscious enrollment managers and affirmative action advocates. Low-income, minority students have been systematically disadvantaged by whiteness as a privilege in college admissions and enrollment.19Tough. However, Perez recognizes that admitting more low-income, minority students will lead to reduced tuition revenue, smaller budgets, and reduced services in order to offer more aid to these students. As more non-white college graduates have explained the difficult circumstances surrounding their journey to collegiate success, a clearer picture has emerged as to how race in America affects them daily. Anthony Abraham Jack, Amherst College alumnus, and Harvard doctoral fellow, explained how growing up as a low-income, black male near Miami was a constant battle against the effects of racial inequality in his community. He explained that students with similar childhoods have had an immensely challenging college application process. How do they voice their interaction with violence, hunger, financial insecurity, or low-quality schools into their college essay while maintaining their pride? How do they take on rigorous AP courses and extracurricular activities if their school doesn’t even offer them? How do they defeat the stereotype of cultural deficiency? How do they battle their own inaccurate perceptions of their potential success?20Anthony Abraham Jack,“I Was A Low-Income College Student. Classes Weren’t the Hard Part” (The New York Times Magazine, 2019).
In conclusion, the history of race and white privilege is essential for all policy advocates, scholars, higher education officials, and students to know. I admit that this is my own first intensive course on race in America as a graduate student. However, by recognizing my own white privilege, dissecting the impact of race upon America’s educational system and collegiate affirmative action programs, I can now see the historically influenced relationship between race, higher education and discrimination in my own country. The differing rates of university admission and campus representation between white and non-white Americans are the result of a protracted process of America’s history of privileging whiteness. This has unfortunately maintained a segregated America with a deep chasm between the haves and the have-nots.
Graham, Hugh Davis. “The Origins of Affirmative Action: Civil Rights and the Regulatory State.” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 523 (1992): 50-62.
Ignatiev, Noel. 1995. How the Irish Became White. Routledge.
Jack, Anthony Abraham. “I Was A Low-Income College Student. Classes Weren’t the Hard Part”.The New York Times Magazine, September 10, 2019
Katznelson, Ira. 2005. When Affirmative Action Was White: An Untold History of Racial Inequality in Twentieth-Century America. W.W. Norton.
Meaney, Thomas. “When James Baldwin Squared Off Against William F. Buckley Jr.”. The New York Times, October 18, 2019.
Park, Julie J. 2013. When Diversity Drops: Race, Religion, and Affirmative Action In Higher Education. Rutgers University Press.
Roediger, David R. 2006. Working Toward Whiteness. Basic Books.
Tough, Paul. “What College Admissions Offices Really Want”. The New York Times Magazine. September 10, 2019.
Wise, Tim J. 2005. Affirmative Action: Racial Preference in Black and White. Positions. Routledge.