The Supreme Court’s recent decision on affirmative action was a blow to the “equity-industrial complex” and Ibram X. Kendi, the best-selling author who is one of its key architects. The concurring opinion written by Justice Clarence Thomas was a full-throated rebuke of Kendi, his supporters, and the institutions that promote “equity” in ways that rob black people of agency and dignity.
The belief that black Americans need different rules and standards than other groups because of historical oppression and current discrimination is the silent “separate but equal” doctrine of the modern left. It is also the raw material powering the equity-industrial complex seen in the explosion of “diversity, inclusion, and equity” bureaucracies in universities, government, media, and corporate America.
Kendi’s views on race and outcomes are straightforward: “Individual behaviors can shape the success of individuals. But policies determine the success of groups. And it is racist power that creates the policies that cause racial inequities.”
While Kendi struggles to define “racism,” he believes discrimination is a good thing — as long as it is “anti-racist” — and he approves of its outcomes. This idea is reflected in his proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Kendi also recommends creating a federal Department of Anti-racism made up of “formally trained experts on racism” empowered to punish policymakers who do not adhere to his vision of racial equity.
Kendi’s amendment has never been proposed in Congress, but he does have some very powerful advocates in federal office.
Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson is 12 years Kendi’s senior, but her dissenting opinion in the recent affirmative-action case sounds like it was written by one of his students. She cited black-white disparities in wealth, homeownership, Covid mortality, small business failure, and cancer survival to justify the continued use of racial preferences in college admissions. She also combined the fictional family backgrounds of two students — one white, one black — with North Carolina’s history of slavery to explain why the state’s flagship university should be permitted to use race to evaluate applicants.
An interesting picture of racial dynamics — past and present — develops when the scenarios Jackon made up are combined with the real history of discrimination at Ivy League schools. Thomas pointed out that Harvard discriminated against Jewish students in the 1920s to “perpetuate the purity of the Brahmin race—New England’s white, Protestant upper crust.”
What many people may not know is that Jackson’s husband, whom she described as “quintessential ‘Boston Brahmin,’” comes from the type of family Harvard’s discriminatory policies were meant to benefit. In fact, Dr. Patrick Jackson’s fifth great-grandfather, Jonathan Jackson, graduated from Harvard College in 1761.
Justice Jackson’s justification for the continued use of affirmative action today is that her daughters should receive preferential treatment from Harvard as black girls — not to mention legacies because of slavery, Jim Crow, and the black-white wealth gap. When this “reverse Robin Hood” mindset is applied to race, poor black families in Baltimore are used to explain why African Americans who vacation on Martha’s Vineyard need racial preferences to get into Ivy League schools.
Justice Thomas, by contrast, understands that equality is impossible when society imposes different sets of standards for people based on skin color.
During the 2018 federal court case on this issue, Harvard’s dean of admissions acknowledged that the university sends recruiting letters to black, Hispanic, and Native American students with top grades and combined math and verbal SAT scores of at least 1100 out of a possible 1600. Asian American women needed a combined score of 1350 to receive a similar letter. Their male counterparts had to score at least 1380. The school’s two-tiered ranking system is reflected in who it admits.
Public school districts across the country are eliminating standardized tests, gifted programs, advanced courses, and graduation requirements in the name of “equity.” It’s easy to understand why. Eliminating the tools that measure performance is much easier than doing what is necessary to improve performance.
The people arguing for lowered standards in the schoolhouse apply the same logic to the courthouse. In Washington, D.C., more than 90 percent of both homicide victims and suspects are black. It’s hard to imagine the city would call the men most likely to commit violent gun crimes “People of Promise” if they were primarily white.
The belief that black Americans can’t succeed playing by the same rules as everyone else is demeaning. Justice Thomas’ frequent citations of Frederick Douglass in Supreme Court opinions show he rejects any attempt to repackage condescension as a force for social justice. His dissent in Grutter v. Bollinger includes a powerful quote from the abolitionist:
[I]n regard to the colored people, there is always more that is benevolent, I perceive, than just, manifested towards us. What I ask for the negro is not benevolence, not pity, not sympathy, but simply justice. The American people have always been anxious to know what they shall do with us. … I have had but one answer from the beginning. Do nothing with us! Your doing with us has already played the mischief with us. Do nothing with us! If the apples will not remain on the tree of their own strength, if they are worm-eaten at the core, if they are early ripe and disposed to fall, let them fall!
Douglass understood that pity and paternalism don’t lead to equality. Thomas understands that equality under the law can’t be achieved when race is used to advantage some groups and hold back others. His opinion in Students for Fair Admissions quoted Justice John Harlan — the lone dissenter in Plessy v. Ferguson — who wrote, “Our constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens. In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law.”
Clarence Thomas has spent over 30 years enduring accusations of racial treason from the left. He’s been accused of selling out black Americans by people who think personal responsibility and self-determination are tools of white supremacy. His precise legal arguments are drowned out by the chorus of pundits on cable news whose “equity” advocacy robs black people of dignity.
He knows racial equality will never be achieved through the law or in the culture by using skin color to determine standards. That’s hard to understand for the Kendi disciples who treat melanin like a birth defect.