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The Devastating Impact of Ending Affirmative Action on Individuals Like Me


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The news alert consisted of just six words, but they made my stomach sink: “Supreme Court Strikes Down Affirmative Action.”

Please don’t let it be true.

I clicked through
to find
that the court
had ruled
the affirmative action programs
at the University of North Carolina
and Harvard
the equal protection clause
of the Constitution
and are therefore unlawful.

I never attended college.
But I was 6 years old
when I first walked through the doors
of the Friends School
a Quaker-based private school
in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

I remember how cold the monkey bars
on the playground
were, even with mittens.
I remember having my first scones
when my teacher brought lemon ones
in for snack one day.
And I remember how the other girls
wore their long, glossy hair
while my coarse curls
tamed into two fat braids
barely touched my shoulders.

My mother removed me
from that school before the year was over
because I was the only Black child there.
I would go on to be removed
from two more schools
for the same reason.

Wanting me to have the best education
she had carefully selected schools
with excellent reputations.
But she was unwilling to accept a school
that didn’t make diversity a priority.
These schools would have to do better
than offering me scholarships.
They would need to ensure that I saw myself reflected back
in their classrooms.

As I understand it
one of the early references to affirmative action
in the U.S. was made by President John F. Kennedy
in 1961 in an executive order
directing government contractors
to take “affirmative action
to ensure that applicants are employed
and that employees are treated during employment
without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin.”

President Lyndon B. Johnson spoke
about the idea of affirmative action
in a 1965 speech
shortly before issuing executive order 11246
to establish enforcement guidelines
and documentation procedures for federal contractors.

In an America where, from its inception
discrimination was not only “best practices”
but the law
affirmative action was viewed
as our nation’s effort
to make good on harms done
and level a distinctly unlevel playing field.

By 2017
when my youngest was applying to colleges
two of the five schools to which he was applying
still had dismally low percentages of diversity.
I encouraged him to include the Black American experience
in his college essay
not because I wanted him to be only one, or one of a few
as has been my experience for my entire life
but because I hoped that affirmative action
could create a pathway
for someone who looks like my son
to gain access
to the elite college campuses
that have traditionally excluded us.

During his junior year
there was a backlash
or as some of us called it, a “Blacklash”
against his school
regarding its nationally ranked basketball team
of which my son was a member.
Rumors swirled around
about how Black players were “recruited”
and financial aid dollars were unfairly distributed
to certain members of the team.

Despite the fact that affirmative action
is intended to guarantee equal opportunity
for all qualified persons
my son knew
there would always be people
who believed he got in “just because he was Black.”
No matter how qualified you are
or what you are able to achieve
if you are Black
you are not safe from this insinuation.

I was reminded of this on Thursday
when I saw former first lady Michelle Obama’s Instagram post
in response to the Supreme Court decision.
“Back in college
I was one of the few Black students on my campus
and I was proud of getting into such a respected school.
I knew I’d worked hard for it.
But still, I sometimes wondered
if people thought I got there because of affirmative action,”
she wrote.

This assumption
that an accomplishment by a person of color
must be due to receiving an unfair advantage
is par for the course
despite the fact that the group
that has actually benefited most from affirmative action
is white women.
With affirmative action helping to level the playing field
for decades
white women today are more educated
and make up a bigger slice of the workforce.
And yet, no other group
has done more to challenge these policies.

This ruling is sure to have a ripple effect
beyond college campuses.
In 2003
when I enrolled my two sons
in a Los Angeles independent school
I was dismayed
to find that decades after my own private school experience
some things hadn’t changed.

When we found out
one of our sons was the only Black student in his class
their father and I considered pulling them out
and placing them in a school
where they would have other classmates of color.
But instead, I joined the school’s board of trustees
in an effort to affect change from the inside
not just for my kids
but for all the kids to come.

At the beginning of my tenure
I created what is now
a nationally recognized committee
on diversity, equity, inclusion and justice.
At first, it was just me
the lone Black board member
asking the


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