It’s affirmative action day today, with the Supreme Court taking up Fisher v. Texas and with it, the fate of race-conscious higher education admissions.
By now you’re caught up on the legal history that’s gotten us to this moment, where we may be witnessing the death knell of affirmative action in higher education. And we’ve discussed how affirmative action devolved from a measure of equity and became a tool of diversity, and what’s gotten lost in the conversation in between. There’s a separate point worth stressing: The affirmative action drama which has filled the courts for the last 30 years is actually far removed from the lives of students of color at the bottom of the educational stratum.
It was Harvard education professor Thomas Kane who found that race is of little or no consideration in the admissions processes of 80 percent of the country’s less selective four-year colleges. Because of the dazzling array of racialized structural inequities in this country, ranging from poverty to housing, joblessness and education, most students of color just aren’t headed for the flagship universities which are most fervently defending race-conscious admissions, and that denied white applicants are suing. A full 48 percent of black males who entered high school in 2006 didn’t graduate come 2010, the Schott Foundation found this year. Yet the heated emotion surrounding the topic has allowed affirmative action to balloon in our public imagination. The educational equity matters the majority of students of color in the country face are stuck at a much more basic level. And the affirmative action fight is but one sliver of that larger struggle.