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Taron Cunningham gathers with several hundred other protesters from a group calling themselves 'By Any Means Necessary' to rally in favor of Affirmative Action October 23, 2001 in downtown Cincinnati, OH. The rally was held to protest cases presented before the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals that could end Affirmative Action in Tennessee, Ohio, Kentucky and Michigan. (Photo by Mike Simons/Getty Images)
There’s a saying: “When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.”
I thought of that when I heard about the Trump administration’s recent moves against affirmative action.
According to The New York Times, the Department of Justice, led by Attorney General Jeff Session, is looking for lawyers to work on “investigations and possible litigation related to intentional race-based discrimination in college and university admissions.”
Well, that’s the point of affirmative action, right?
When President John F. Kennedy signed an executive order on affirmative action in 1961, the intent was to counteract discrimination that minorities faced in the job hiring process. Since then, many colleges and universities have instituted similar standards to make sure women and students of color are given a fair shot at receiving a higher education.
But the way Trump sees it, it’s white students who are discriminated against.
There have already been a number of cases where white students have challenged universities that implement affirmative action. But in 2016, the Supreme Court decided in Fisher v. University of Texas that affirmative action is in fact constitutional and doesn’t hurt white students.
End of discussion, right? Wrong.
After the 2016 presidential elections, a new poll was released by HuffPost/YouGovshowing that more than half the nation thought that blacks and Muslims faced a lot of discrimination. Yet the same report revealed that most Trump supporters believed white people were the real victims of racial bias.
Now, Trump’s Justice Department is trying to rally that base by arguing that affirmative action hurts white students.
This argument assumes that students of color no longer face discriminatory barriers. But if you read the news, it’s obvious that this isn’t true. The horrifying white nationalist rallyand domestic terrorist attack in Charlottesville, Virginia is more than enough to prove that minorities are still a target.
But beyond that, African Americans still face economic strains due to racial bias. A 2011 study, for example, found that the median white household wealth remains about 16 times greater than average black wealth.
Receiving a college degree is often touted as a pathway to economic security. But last year, a study by the National Center for Educational Statistics showed that racial divides remain. While college enrollment is increasing across the board, it found that enrollment rates for college-aged white students (42 percent) remain higher than for both black and Hispanic students (34 percent.)
White students also graduate college at higher rates than black and Hispanic students, according to a recent report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.
While affirmative action has helped lower some barriers created by racial bias, black and Hispanic students still lag behind their white peers in enrollment. Overall, can anyone really say the practice is keeping whites down?
Racism permeates every aspect of our economy and society — whether it’s police brutality, the criminal justice system, housing discrimination, the racial wealth divide, or college admissions.
Stripping away affirmative action, one of the only race-based practices meant to counteract these issues, would send a direct message to racist whites that the administration has their back — at the expense of the livelihood America continues to take from people of color.
Jessicah Pierre is the Media Specialist for Inequality.org.