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Ruben Navarrette

Columnist, host & author

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Opinion

Why the lackluster response to affirmative action ruling?

Sep 12, 2023

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Ruben Navarrette

Columnist, host & author

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The United States Supreme Court recently struck down affirmative action in admissions processes for U.S. colleges and universities. It was the biggest defeat for affirmative action advocates in recent history.

Straight Arrow News contributor Ruben Navarrette remarks on the unimpressive public response to such a historic defeat and explores some of the reasons why the public backlash against the decision has been relatively calm and quiet.

Supporters of affirmative action predicted that people of color, especially Latinos and African Americans, would take to the streets and express their outrage, why they might even, it was speculated, take their complaints directly to the steps of the Supreme Court and put the spotlight on the judiciary.

What happened? Not much. There was nary a whimper in response to this really momentous Supreme Court decision. Frankly, I myself expected more.

Affirmative action college admissions is a big deal. It’s been around for almost 60 years, starting up a few years after affirmative action contracting began in 1961. It was in the 1970s, and 80s, considered a very controversial topic. But time passes and passions cool.

In 2023, there are now at least three generations that have come along since the invention of affirmative action: Generation X, the millennials, and Generation Z. Why do you suppose affirmative action means so little to most of the people in those groups who are now between the ages of 15 and 55? Well, these generations never bought into affirmative action, and so they’re not invested in it.

The public reaction to the end of affirmative action and college university admissions was like the dog that didn’t bark or protest or complain or pushback or raise hell. What happened? Why wasn’t there more of an outcry when those who oppose taking race into account to ease racial inequity finally succeeded in toppling a policy they never liked? Not from the beginning? Well, I have a theory. Before I share it. Here’s a reminder of how we got here. It’s been nearly three months since the majority of the Supreme Court made up of six conservative justices bought in to the fantastical argument offered up by the conservative activist group students for fair admissions. The group claim that Asians who make up between 20 and 30% of the student population at many top universities are the new oppressed minority in suing Harvard and the University of North Carolina over their admissions policies. Plaintiffs demanded a colorblind process and a decision head down at the end of June, the right wing justices obliged, disregarding the facts and the law, they let politics be their guide in striking down the practice. Supporters of affirmative action predicted that people of color especially Latinos and African Americans would take to the streets and express their outrage, why they might even it was speculated, take their complaints directly to the steps of the Supreme Court and put the spotlight on the Judiciary. What happened? Not much, there was nary a whimper in response to this really momentous Supreme Court decision. Frankly, I myself expected more. Affirmative Action college admissions is a big deal. It’s been around for almost 60 years, starting up a few years after affirmative action contracting began in 1961. It was in 1970s, and 80s, considered a very controversial topic. But time passes and passions cool. In 2023, there are now at least three generations that have come along since the invention of affirmative action, Generation X, the millennials, and Generation Z. Why do you suppose affirmative action means so little to most of the people in those groups who are now between the ages of 15 and 55? Well, these generations never bought into affirmative action, and so they’re not invested in it. It was probably much different in the 1970s. When Black and Brown members of the baby boom now in their 70s, or the silent generation now in their 80s used affirmative action to break into the police department or state government, or maybe even a corporate job. They usually felt grateful for the opportunity and they created affirmative action for the break. By the time I entered the job market after college in the 1990s, the drawbridge had come up a bit. Corporations, media companies, law firms and alike had figured out they have to lower standards in order to sprinkle a little color in their workplace. They could just continue to hire badass super qualified people, including a few minorities here and there and call it macaroni. Consequently, those who got through the gate felt less and less indebted to affirmative action. They knew that they had gotten there on their own steam. And so they didn’t feel like they had to go through life bending the knee to white liberal bureaucrats. And there was another thing, the numbers and percentages, the population of Latinos and African Americans in the United States kept growing over the last 30 years. But only a relative few were admitted to university X or higher bike Corporation. Why? So the constituency of affirmative action began to shrink, relative to the overall non white population in the country. This meant that, unlike the current debate over easing student loan debt, in which 10s of millions of people feel as if they have a personal stake, the debate over whether or not we should preserve affirmative action is confined mainly to the elites at all up and it’s easy to see why, when the Supreme Court gutted affirmative action college admissions, few people were angry. Few people even noticed

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