Discover more from The Civil Conversations Project
Affirmative Action, part 2
The Respectable Racist Hiding in Plain Sight
Sometimes it can be difficult to identify a racist. They might be masquerading as your neighbor. Maybe even as your friend. But they give themselves away. I’m going to help you out.
In late June the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against Affirmative Action - the use of race to add points to a student’s application for college admission. There were two concurrent law suits, one against the University of NC and the other bought against Harvard. Were the law suits about fairness, or were they racism masquerading as a fairness doctrine?
Both suits were bought by the nonprofit Students For Fair Admission, or SFFA. The founder and driving force behind SFFA is Ed Blum, a White, 71-year-old financial advisor. Let’s peel back the layers on Mr. Blum, see where that takes us, and see if it provides any insight on what these suits were about. If you are of a certain age, you may remember radio personality Paul Harvey’s signature expression, “And now the REST of the story.” Here’s the rest of the story.
Mr. Blum – according to Mr. Blum – says he understands the academic playing field upon which students compete isn’t always level for children of different races. He believes poorly performing public schools should be improved. But he doesn’t believe racism can be legislated away through affirmative action and says those who are trying “are poisoning the body politic.” I have no idea what that means.
But that’s a straw-man argument. The number one predictor of school educational quality is zip code. Thus Gross Pointe, majority White, in 2017 had an average annual household income of $115,247 per the US Census Bureau. Grosse Pointe students score 68% proficiency on reading and 56% on math on their state reading/language arts assessment tests. The student/teacher ratio is 17:1, and the average 2017 teacher salary was $75,240.
Down the road in Flint, majority Black, the 2017 average annual household income was $32,358. Flint students score 8% proficiency in reading and 1% proficiency in math. The student/teacher ratio is 21:1 and the average 2017 teacher salary was $63,063.
But really all you needed to know to surmise the scores, classroom ratios, and teacher salaries was that the average household income in Grosse Pointe was 3.6 times the average annual salary in Flint.
Schools all across America are primarily funded by property taxes from the district they serve. For “poorly performing public schools” to improve, which is Blum’s solution – just perform better - property taxes need to increase to fund the improvements. Improvements like buying new books that aren’t out-of-date hand-me-downs from White schools. For property taxes to increase home values need to increase to justify the increased property taxes. For home values to increase money needs to be invested - and not only in the home itself, and the grounds around it, but in the entire neighborhood. More parks. More trees. More community centers. More recreational facilities. More swimming pools. More boutique businesses. More Starbucks. More owner-occupied homes. Fewer potholes. More off-street parking. More green-painted bike lanes and bike paths. More businesses owned by community members. More grocery stores. More street lights. More and better public transportation. More trash collection. More pothole repairs. Policing aimed at protecting, not containing the community.
All of these things require more income. Greater income is generally associated with a college degree. The better the school you graduated from, the higher the likelihood of being excepted at a college, especially an elite college, which actually does provide the most benefit. To increase the quality of the school, property taxes must be increased. For property taxes to increase in order to have better performing schools…well…see above. You get the picture.
Blum’s formula for improving the quality of Black schools, seems to imply, “America is a land of equal opportunity. Just work harder…get better teachers…improve the school’s performance.” That’s the thinking of a racist.
Blum – again, according to Blum - says he holds faith in the families who maintain high academic expectations for their children. He calls the family the “most important educational institution in the country,” and says he has received hundreds of letters from working-class families of all races whose children have outcompeted their wealthier peers in less-than-ideal circumstances. That happens. It’s not the norm.
He doesn’t mention the hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of letters that he has not received from single mothers – perhaps single due to the American justice system and the school-to-prison pipeline in Black communities - who between multiple low-wage jobs – due perhaps to the poor schools they attended and challenges they had to overcome which would have been foreign to their Grosse Pointe peers - simply do not have the time to help with homework, go to PTA meetings, or bake and sell cookies so their child can go on parent-funded outings or so the school can build a climbing wall.
Rising each day at 4:30 a.m., Blum, who’s day job is a part-time financial planner, spends about four hours reading news stories from around the country. He says he is looking for cases in which the law is leveraged to favor one racial or ethnic group over another. But so far, in 30 years of rising early, searching his heart out, and with 8 cases under his belt that he has driven all the way to the Supreme Court, he has only found cases that seemingly favor Black and Brown people and discriminate against White people. Search as he might, he has not been able to find even one case that seems to favor White people and discriminate against Black people.
Blum claims he also thinks schools should consider jettisoning legacy admissions, which disproportionately benefit White students. Yet he has not bought suit against any college in order to end the practice of awarding points to legacy applicants.
In 1992 Blum ran for congress in Houston on the Republican ticket. He lost by a wide margin. That experience acquainted him with and embittered him against gerrymandering and what he came to believe was a law that unfairly helped Black people at the expense of White people.
That belief is well…beyond belief. Thirty-some years ago, the Supreme Court expanded the meaning of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by prohibiting a then-common practice of spreading minorities across voting districts, leaving them too few in number and without the clout in any given district to elect their preferred candidates. The practice became known as "racial gerrymandering."
The court’s solution required that states create majority-minority districts — districts in which the majority of the voting-age population belonged to a single minority. With voting that occurred largely along racial lines, these districts allowed minority voters to elect their candidates of choice.
But by the time Blum ran for congress Republicans had figured out that by strategically “packing” minorities into one district - while that district generally elected a candidate favorable to minority issues - it left all the other districts with such a diluted minority representation that their vote held no sway and didn’t matter. They created a kind of “sacrificial district.”
Today racial gerrymandering is so widespread that it’s more or less a euphemism for ‘voter suppression’ of Black people. State after state has sued in order to bring their state’s districts into compliance with the spirit of the law. Voters in Florida are challenging the state’s congressional map as racially discriminatory and an illegal partisan gerrymander violating the Florida Constitution. Specifically, the lawsuit alleges that the new districts split Black voters in North Florida across four districts, depriving them of an electoral opportunity. Plaintiffs also argue that the map eliminates three Democratic seats and transforms two competitive districts into ones that favor Republicans.
Mr. Blum is correct. Racial gerrymandering does put one race at an advantage over another race.
Angered by gerrymandering that he somehow saw as giving an advantage to Black voters he next took aim at the Voting Rights Act which he saw as unjustly punishing some states, mostly in the South, for racist practices he felt they’d long ago abandoned. In a case he organized, the Supreme Court in 2013 nullified a core provision of the Voting Rights Act that required some Southern states to seek approval from the Justice Department before changing voting practices.
Blum believed that in America, as Justice Roberts wrote and read in the Shelby v Holder decision that defanged the Voting Rights Act, “Things have changed dramatically”.
Only a White person could believe that and not know that just beneath the surface, things haven’t changed much at all.
And even though conservative Justices Roberts, Alito, Thomas, Kennedy, and Scalia agreed with Blum that the pre-clearance provision was no longer necessary because “things have changed” - between 1982 and 2006 the Justice Department blocked over 700 voting changes based on a determination that the changes were discriminatory. At the exact time the court was busy striking down the pre-clearance provision, no less than 276 requests were pending at Justice from states under the preclearance rule.
The very same day that the Chief Justice uttered the words, “Things have changed dramatically”, two states, Texas and North Carolina moved to enact voter restrictions that a federal court would later strike down in North Carolina as having been written and designed to target African Americans “with almost surgical precision”. And just a little later twenty-four more states - including 10 that previously needed federal approval - passed their own version of restrictive voting laws proving that things have indeed not changed dramatically.
It's not clear where Mr. Blum and five conservative justices got that idea. But it’s telling the issues that attract their attention and ire.
Today it came to light that Blum is suing the Fearless Fund. Fearless Fund is an Atlanta-based venture capital firm that awards grants to Black, female, entrepreneurs who have had trouble securing funding. Last week Blum also bought suit against two corporate law firms alleging that their fellowship programs - aimed at students of color, those who identify as LGBTQ+, and students with disabilities - discriminate against straight, able-bodied, White men and woman. “Laws must apply equally to every racial and ethnic group in the country.” Once again Mr. Blum, despite his daily deep search for discrimination was only able to find White people being discriminated against.
In an interview with NYTimes columnist Lulu Garcia-Navarro published on July 8th, Blum is asked, in light of his success with Affirmative Action, what he has his eye on next. Blum’s reply, “If Google (for instance) says, “We need to hire in this capacity more, you know, African Americans,” or “We really have too many Whites, so we need more Asians.” All of that is currently illegal, but not challenged as often as I believe it should be.”
Well yeah…if Google had ever said that they could count on Mr. Blum making sure that White people continued to get their fair share. After all, fair’s fair.
It’s late. I’m tired. I’m enroute to join a team managing a wildland fire in the North Cascade mountains of Washington. I’ve been resisting the urge to be sarcastic, so I’m going to quit before I become unprofessional, proof read this a dozen times, press ‘publish’ even though I know despite my best efforts there will still be a typo or two, and then pour myself a gin and tonic. Maybe two. But to be clear I didn’t write this piece to rant against or belittle Mr. Blum. It’s to continue to point out to you how insidious…how everywhere… racism is. It’s not just those dangerous losers wearing white sheets and goofy looking SNL cone-head hats. They’re your neighbors. Your kids’ teachers and college professors. Your parish priest. They, like Mr. Blum, are your financial advisors.
Racism is everywhere all around you. Your job is to see it. Name it. Call it out – respectfully and kindly, but forcefully. I used to receive endless outdoor clothing catalogs. Almost all of them, including REI – my favorite place to buy stuff - presented only White models. (REI is MUCH improved) Every company that used only White models, including even an outdoor clothing company owned by a friend of mine, got a letter from me instructing the company to remove me from their mailing list. I’d explain why.
Racism is so much a part of America that people often don’t know they’re mouthing racist tropes. We can cure this disease, but we can’t end this simply by reading my columns and then charging forth and doing…nothing.
See it. Name it. Call it out. It isn’t really the meek who inherit the earth.