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Edward Blum and the Fragile State of Affirmative Action: A Young White Man’s Perspective. Daniel Merritt, Gonzaga University, Intern.

        In 1935’s ‘The Black Reconstruction of America’, W.E.B. Du Bois describes the tragic nature of man to revert to what they know even if that knowledge is an atrocity: “The slave went free; stood a brief moment in the sun; then moved back again toward slavery”. Now, in a time of supposed modernization, we witness the Supreme Court behaving just as Du Bois indicates with respect to  Edward Blum’s reckless onslaught against affirmative action. Starting with Harvard and the University of North Carolina (UNC). America moves back towards the history we seek to escape. 

In two cases, Blum fought for the supposition that affirmative action actively discriminates against Asian students. As he stated in an interview with Time Magazine, “The mission of Students for Fair Admissions, the sole mission, is to end the use of race and ethnicity in college admissions. What happens after that is a different story.” (Carlisle.) Blum further clarifies that he wants to eliminate admission-discrimination favoring Asian students by dismantling the entire system of affirmative action erected over dozens of years. Overcoming numerous failed attempts, a conservative majority at the Supreme Court in 2024 finally validated Blum’s stance. Blum’s court victory resulted in money being pledged by Harvard and $4.8 million by UNC to cover his organizations costs and fees. 

        It seems the precedent of Blum’s victories continues to affect our country’s psyche, especially in the hiring and management environment. The research paper titled “Racism underlies seemingly race-neutral conservative criticisms of DEI statements among Black and White people in the United States” in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology outlines the results of various experiments in which the mental reception of potential hires to diversity policy was gauged. They found significant linkage between conservatism and distaste towards DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) protocols in the workplace. Subjects even went so far as to refuse jobs under the assumption that DEI policy meant poorer organization. Furthermore, the study concludes that these perceptions are not independent of racist ideology: in fact, they align perfectly with social dominance theory or subconscious discrimination. 

It has been widely posited throughout history that affirmative action is an inadequate form of racial equity. In many instances, affirmative action’s combatants have been proven right: the policy seems to be limited to filling racial ‘quotas’ at universities, thus preventing the most deserving students from seizing a spot at the admissions table (sometimes solely because of the ‘ethnicity’ box they check on their Common Application portal or sometimes because they are kept out by a "legacy" student.). In the same vein, Black, Hispanic, and Asian demographics have all experienced a 14 to 18 percent increase in college enrollment since the first major affirmative action court decision in 1978 (NAACP). It’s clear that the policy is far from perfect, but positive change has come from it. Furthermore, instances where affirmative action was banned, like California’s legislative decision in 1996, saw enrollment by students of color drop 50%. 

        Blum’s recent sweep indicates that America’s affirmative action dialogue has peaked. His approach seems valiant from his rhetoric, but taking a step back and looking at the situation from an outside perspective shows just how shortsighted Blum is. The solution is not to give justice to Asian students facing discrimination by stripping other minority students of equity. In a society built on racism, with discrimination structurally ingrained, a single policy cannot provide racial equality for all. Consequently we change and build upon the policies that point us in the right direction, take advantage of America’s living government, and use regulatory powers to remedy that which is unjust. The solution is not less but more. 

        Blum’s shortsightedness can be further confirmed when he asserts, in his discussion with Time Magazine, that ‘diversity does not contribute to the quality of the educational experience’. He claims  schools without a diverse pool of students can provide just as valid a learning atmosphere as those with one. While student-body diversity might not make a difference in the structure of a class, collaboration with people of various backgrounds absolutely contributes to the formation of the whole-person. Interacting with various ethnicities helps destigmatize the racial otherization built up in many existing American communities. Being in a racially-diverse setting helps to create a new generation demontribly better than the prior, and further incentivizes the next work-force to examine inefficient structural practices with knowing scrutiny… with the knowledge to reconstruct them if they prove antiquated. Asian students facing discrimination absolutely deserve to face an unbiased admissions-process, though as Du-Bois might say, we must seek more sunlit freedom rather than to abrogate that which we’ve already found. 

        We cannot fix problems simply by making more problems. 

References:

“Affirmative Action in Education Matters for Equity, Opportunity, and the Nation’s Progress.” NAACP, June 29, 2023. https://naacp.org/resources/affirmative-action-education-matters.

Carlisle, Madeleine. “Edward Blum on His Long Quest to End Race-Conscious College Admissions.” Time, October 27, 2022. https://time.com/6225372/edward-blum-affirmative-action-supreme-court-interview/.

Exclusive: UNC pays anti-affirmative Action Group $4.8 million after us ... Accessed January 31, 2024. https://www.reuters.com/world/us/unc-pays-anti-affirmative-action-group-48-million-after-us-supreme-court-loss-2024-01-30/.

Exclusive: UNC Agrees to Pay Group Led by Anti-Affirmative Action Activist $4.8M... Accessed January 31, 2024. https://www.blackenterprise.com/unc-agrees-pay-group-anti-affirmative-action-activist-4-8m/

EDITOR: William Michael Cunningham

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