America's Cultural Workers
The Supreme Court, Joe Rogan, and Making Counterrevolution Irresistible
The Supreme Court announced on Monday that it will hear Students for Fair Admissions v. President & Fellows of Harvard College and Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina, two cases that present an existential threat to affirmative action in university admissions.
These cases are the culmination of a years-long strategy by conservative activists — and by one activist in particular — to win a court decision invalidating affirmative action. The president of Students for Fair Admissions, the lead plaintiff in the Harvard and UNC cases, is not a student at all. It is Edward Blum, a former stockbroker who was also the driving force behind several other lawsuits asking the courts to expand the power and influence of white people.
From the Los Angeles Times:
The long history of racial discrimination in the United States means that race-blind admissions would simply allow the effects of historic discrimination — embodied in racial bias in K-12 education, income inequality and segregation — to carry on, especially in elite colleges and universities. That has certainly been the experience in California and Michigan and every state that has eliminated affirmative action programs.
Eliminating race as a factor in admissions will significantly reduce minority admissions. We saw that happen in California when in 1996 voters passed Proposition 209, which banned state government institutions from considering race in public education, public contracting and public employment. At UCLA, for example, admission rates for underrepresented minorities plummeted from 52.4% in 1995 to 24% in 1998. As a result, the percentage of underrepresented minorities fell by more than half: from 30.1% of the entering class in 1995 to 13.6% in 2012.
Race in America has been rebranded. In the national imagination, race is no longer the property of whiteness, justifying institutions like slavery, segregation, and mass incarceration; but the property of Blackness, justifying policies like integration, affirmative action, and Obamacare. The African-American cultural workers (e.g. lawyers, artists, and organizers) who struggled to revolutionize the modality of race from a marker of inferior intellect and biology to a designation that oppressed people can leverage to create space for themselves, inspired a counterrevolution of conservative cultural workers (e.g. lawyers, judges, and public intellectuals), aimed at reversing the fruits of their labor.
For this reason, and this reason alone, conservatives (including those who prefer the term “libertarian”) like Joe Rogan and Jordan Peterson are sudden crusaders against the concept of race as a ridiculous fiction. As they sit and glibly opine about this fiction to an audience of millions, what they deliberately do not do is take seriously how the social construct of race exists in American society as a cultural fact. To be clear, race is ridiculous. For whiteness, it gives access to social power, legitimacy, and resources, and, for Blackness, it does not. But, to Rogan and Peterson, the fact that an arbitrary characteristic like skin color results in some people being subjected to various deprivations and predatory structures while others are not isn’t why race is ridiculous. To them, race is ridiculous because the color scheme is wrong — lots of people who are called white and Black are actually closer to “tan” and “brown.” To them, the real problem isn’t what we do to Black people, it’s what we call Black people. And, by extension, the real problem isn’t what we do for white people, it’s that we call people white. The problem isn’t actions or policies or systems or processes, it’s words and color coding. If white and Black can be phased out of the national lexicon, then everyone can shut up and just play the cards they were dealt. According to this line of thinking, those who are willing to be honest about what race is and what race does are denounced as intolerant, bigoted, and hateful. Of course, this is nothing more than high-level gaslighting. These enormously popular conservative cultural workers spout the rhetoric of race-blindness while sitting comfortably on the soil of an, arguably former, slave and apartheid state. But the real problem is that the Supreme Court basically thinks the same way.
Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (1978) is the landmark Supreme Court case that upheld affirmative action in college admissions policies, allowing race to be one of several factors considered when evaluating applicants. Instead of upholding the principle that race can be used as leverage for Black people by institutions that have historically discriminated against them, the Court upheld affirmative action on the condition that institutions only consider race if it contributes to classroom diversity—as an interesting feature like ethnic background or participation in extracurricular activities—and nothing more. In other words, the only lawful use of race is as decoration.
The story of the plaintiff in the case, Allan Bakke, really is the perfect story. Bakke was a white engineer and former Marine officer. He sought admission to medical school, but was rejected for admission due in part to his age. He was in his early 30s while applying, and told that he was too old by at least two institutions. The University of California, Davis was a school that he applied to and was rejected from twice. He wasn’t rejected from UC Davis because of his age, but because his application had come late in the year and his MCAT score was below the school’s benchmark. However, the school also had an admissions policy where it set aside 16 out of 100 seats for minority students. Instead of suing one of the schools that discriminated against him on the basis of his age, Bakke went after UC Davis’s affirmative action program. Because if race can’t protect whiteness, then race can’t protect anyone. And he won. While the Court ultimately supported the principle that considering race as a factor in admissions was lawful, it decided that UC Davis’s program went too far and struck it down. Even though Bakke couldn’t prove that he would have been admitted if the school didn’t have the admissions policy, the Court said that Bakke not having the benefit of applying “without regard to race” was a “principal evil.” Race couldn’t be used in opposition to the continued accumulation of white social power.
This, in a nutshell, is why reparations will never happen — racial justice has become a contradiction in terms. If race, the very conduit of racism, is dismissed as silly and irrelevant, then who is there to repay? And repay for what, exactly? Can white people receive reparations for having had to experience the ridiculousness of race, too (despite it being created and designed for their benefit)? The absurdities are endless. Whiteness prevails as the villain who lived long enough to become a hero.