President Joe Biden, the Anti-Defamation League and a host of left-wing organizations all agreed. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the case of Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College, handed down on June 29, was a blow against the effort to reverse racial inequality. The Democratic Party and its ethnic/religious auxiliary groups are fully committed to the notion that America in the year 2023 is not merely a nation with a tragic history of racial discrimination and bigotry. It is, in their eyes, one that remains irredeemably racist. And that’s why they supported the affirmative action admissions policies practiced by Harvard, as well as those in a related case involving the University of North Carolina, that were struck down by a 6-3 majority.
Their angry denunciations of the court and posturing about the plight of minorities should be seen for what it is: a mendacious effort to enshrine racial discrimination as a permanent feature of American life. The real problem is their support for a system that is not only discriminatory but fundamentally antithetical to the notion of individual rights, and of a country where race is the primary and determining factor that shapes one’s life, not the vestige of a long-disappeared past. Though they allege that systemic racism requires us to continue discriminating on the basis of race to correct for past injustices, the policies they are defending are the real systemic racism.
Yet important as it is, the court’s decision should not be seen as the end of this fight. Rather, it is the beginning of what promises to be a long battle against the effort to implement diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) policies that have taken the already misguided idea of affirmative action and turned it into a woke catechism for a new secular leftist religion of “anti-racism” that is itself racist. The Supreme Court has made it much harder for colleges to engage in overt racism in the name of ending racism. But the ability of leftists to impose DEI on academia, business and now the government in the form of the Biden administration’s decision to impose it on every federal agency and department has created a much larger and more dangerous challenge for those who wish to ensure individual liberty.
That’s particularly important for a Jewish community whose leading organizations, like the ADL, support the racialist DEI mindset and intersectional ideas that grant a permission slip for antisemitism.
Affirmative action was conceived and first implemented in the heyday of the civil-rights movement that, after much struggle, ended the era in which racial discrimination was permitted by the law in much of the country. The notion was that it was necessary to give those groups that had been the victims of America’s original sin of slavery and the subsequent century of “Jim Crow” laws that perpetuated its legacy a leg up in their efforts to achieve equality. But it didn’t take long to realize that however well-meaning this idea was, implementing it went against the very principles on which the achievements of the civil-rights movement had triumphed.
Affirmative action inevitably meant racial quotas. As Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas aptly stated in his concurrence with the majority opinion: “It is not even theoretically possible to ‘help’ a certain racial group without causing harm to members of other racial groups.” The facts of the cases decided in this landmark decision made that abundantly clear.
At Harvard, affirmative action policies meant discriminating against Asian Americans. An African-American student with grades in the fourth lowest decile of academic achievement had a higher chance of admission to Harvard than an Asian student in the top decile. And in order to fully implement this bias, they invented methods to besmirch Asians by consistently rating them as lacking traits such as a “positive personality,” likeability, courage and kindness without any objective basis for doing so.
This combination of open discrimination and deceptive labeling should have resonated with American Jews. Or, at least, it did for those with any sense of their own history and a commitment to fairness. A century ago, the same sort of methods were used to limit the number of Jews admitted to elite universities. Yet the ADL, which was created to fight against such bias, now supports it. The reason is that its leadership—like the rest of the liberal political establishment—is invested in the toxic ideologies of critical race theory, white privilege and intersectionality that claim that the impact of past racism is immutable.
Despite the abundant evidence that they result in new forms of racial discrimination and the unpersuasive and unfounded arguments of the court’s minority, these policies don’t actually help African-Americans. Just as important, they give up on even the ideal of a color-blind society that is the only true path to justice for all. The problem is that the political left is now so committed to the ideology of racialism that it no longer thinks such a society based on Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision of a country where his children “would be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character” is either achievable or desirable. Instead, they wish to lock Americans into a never-ending war in which race is the only way individuals are defined.
Were those, like Biden, the ADL and race-baiters like Al Sharpton, truly interested in aiding those who need help, they’d support the scrapping of racial schemes like affirmative action in favor of a system that would prioritize helping those who are on the lower end of the economic ladder regardless of race. Doing so would mean ending other practices followed by elite institutions like Harvard that benefit the children of alumni and wealthy donors. But as much as liberal elites seem determined to ensure that, as Heather Mac Donald’s excellent recent book argued, to replace merit with race, they don’t want to give up their own privileges.
The notion that the court’s decision will hurt African-Americans or set back race relations is entirely false. Nothing in the court’s ruling will prevent blacks from being admitted to colleges, which are eager to do so. But placing underqualified applicants in elite universities purely on the basis of their race only sets them up for failure, not success.
It’s equally true that such schools will do everything they can to evade or flout the court’s ruling, as schools in California did when its voters passed Proposition 209, which bans state institutions from using such discriminatory practices. And Chief Justice John Roberts’ majority opinion, which said students could speak of their personal experiences with racial discrimination in their applications, may have given Harvard and other affirmative action die-hards a way to continue to prioritize race. The exemption the majority gave to the military service academies also undermines the equality principle that is the guiding force behind all that the American republic has accomplished.
The question of who gets into Harvard or any other top college may appear momentous to aspiring high school seniors. However, it is merely a sidebar to the general campaign to implement a permanent racialization of American society that will, as with past quota schemes, hurt Jews whose accomplishments have been based on the idea of rewarding merit rather than the obsession with diversity.
Reversing the DEI campaign that seeks to make racial quotas the operating principle of American life to the detriment of the achievement of excellence in every field from the sciences to the arts will be much more difficult than winning a case at the Supreme Court. With the woke racialist mindset having largely taken over popular culture, as well as the academy and now dominating big business, ending DEI discrimination will require states to put in place bans such as the one implemented by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
More than that, it will require a generation of leaders throughout education, business and government to say that the obsession with race must end and be replaced by a new dedication to individual merit and fairness.
When they do, they will find that, contrary to Biden, the American people oppose racial quotas and discrimination, no matter their purported purpose. Indeed, even a recent New York Times poll showed that the overwhelming majority (69% to 74% depending on the way the question was worded, with 58% to 60% of Democrats among that majority) oppose them.
Jews should be at the forefront of that effort, but so long as their leading groups, like ADL, consider that staying in sync with fashionable liberal opinion is more important than defending the rights of individuals, that won’t happen. These organizations are out-of-touch with their founding principles, as well as the interests of their constituents. Like the affirmative action policies, the court just banned, they belong on the scrap heap of history.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.