Affirmative Action, Trump, and Politics

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August 2, 2017 (San Diego) The Donald Trump Justice Department has announced that they are going to go after colleges and universities that they claim discriminate against white students due to affirmative action policies. These are policies that have been deemed legal by the United States Supreme Court, most recently in Fisher v University of Texas, a 2013 decision.

This Supreme Court decision had some warnings as to policy, but it affirmed the goal of the University to create a diverse student body. The Justice Department has said that it is ready to ensure that schools do not violate the rights of white students.

This program will be run in the civil rights division, however in the front office, not in the educational opportunities department where career staff work. In other words, this will be done by political appointees. This is an attempt to undermine civil rights era legislation partly under the mistaken belief that this legislation is not needed. Or to be honest, the belief that we need to bring back an old order, the order of Jim Crow, or Juan Crow in California.

We are living in an era where segregation is on the rise. This announced policy from DOJ  is expected to be popular with a political base that does believe that their livelihood and white culture are under attack on all sides. This is coming from a political base that blames affirmative action for the inability of their poorly educated children from climbing the economic rungs and even going to a top notch college. This is the same base that cannot see those rungs were taken away by their social betters, that quite frankly despise them.

There is a reality that many whites, poor whites, who form part of the Trump base, have more trouble entering college than children of better economic backgrounds, white or black, or Hispanic. This is not because they are competing against people of color who enter school instead of them because of their skin color. In general poor whites are victims of the same economic system that relies on their distrust of the other, instead of their social betters. Poor whites also have poor college attainment, linked to poverty and poor schools.

Most of their problems are inherent in poverty, not skin color. Whether a young person attends college is also dependent on income level, independent of skin color. However, many whites blame affirmative action, not these underlying conditions for their troubles. If only those people knew their place, and more than a few want a return to a place where people of color, regardless of attainment, were considered inferior to them. This, to be clear, is not the majority of whites, poor or otherwise. But to the far right, race animates a lot of what they do. These measures are targetted at pleasing them.

This move from the Trump administration has politics, the worst kind of American politics, written all over it. It is one giant dog whistle. It emphasizes divisions of class and refuses to admit that race and ideology make it even harder for people of color to go to college. Affirmative action did not come from the other. It was an admission that as a society we were keeping people segregated by race and class. We continue to do so, and resentment is a strong tool to keep the poorest of whites looking down at minorities.

However, if our better angels ultimately prevail, we might start a conversation about class and educational attainment. We might also start a conversation about income unequally, and educational, medical and other forms of segregation that affect society. A white child attending a poor school in a rural area still has slightly better odds than a middle-class minority child. However, both white and POC poor form part of a social permanent underclass. Creating artificial divisions are a tool to keep people not looking at causes but to have a distrust of the other.

It is also time to start a conversation on class, and how it affects social order and social distrust.

let’s be clear. Schools are as segregated today as they were 50 years ago. Why affirmative action matters. This is a political move from an administration under siege with political polling. One that has yet to have any legislative win. One that lost a significant fight with the Congress over Russian sanctions.

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