The Korea Herald


[Martin Schram] Enact re-affirmative action now

By Korea Herald

Published : July 4, 2023 - 05:29

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On Wednesday in the nation’s capital, officials at all levels were busily working on official papers that would have a lot to do with Jaylin Osborne’s hopes and dreams for a bright future in college and beyond.

Jaylin, after all, was the sort of slim 15-year-old who was known not only for looking good in dreadlocks but also for helping his eighth-grade classmates. He had every reason to dream big. “Bright student … a hard-working, curious scholar … a leader among his classmates,” was how he was being praised by the head of his charter school, just 11 blocks east of the US Supreme Court building.

Now, the Supreme Court’s justices were preparing to announce the next morning, that the court’s conservative majority had just decided, 6-3, that America’s hopeful, dreaming Black students just don’t need the help of “affirmative action” programs any more to get into colleges and universities. America 2023 has moved beyond a need for racially incentivized efforts. Start spreading the news.

Meanwhile, in her official role as founder and chief executive of the Digital Pioneers Academy, Mashea M. Ashton was spreading heartbreaking news to all her school’s parents. Jaylin was shot dead at 10:30 pm Wednesday as he stood outside the apartment building where he and his family lived. It is beyond tragic: He was the school’s fourth student to have been killed in this past academic year. He was also the fourth inner city DC youth to be shot dead in the last 10 days.

“The city is not safe,” the academy’s founder bluntly told the parents in her letter. “It’s clear that right now the city is in a crisis.”

What seems so damn incongruous is that we are getting similar heartbreaking news quite often about how hard life has become for minority students in many cities -- even as the Supreme Court is now telling us there’s no need for affirmative action, after all. We are seeing horrible news about death from guns. And there is news about run-amok police officers inflicting violent injustice upon a Black or Hispanic youth. Many of us end up realizing those kids wouldn’t have been treated that way if they were white.

And now this. The Supreme Court’s conservative majority has decided it is just the right time to move away from recognizing that America’s racial minorities may need some affirmative action to help them have an even playing field when they apply for college.

In 2003, the late Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote that while affirmative action in college admissions was presently justifiable, she added: “We expect that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary (to achieve student diversity).” But in 2014, a Black man was videoed being killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri -- and more controversial police actions followed nationally. In 2017, O’Connor told her biographer Evan Thomas that setting that 25 year expiration date “may have been a misjudgment.”

I respected her for saying that. And I don’t think today’s conservative court should have hit fast-forward and rushed to jettison all affirmative efforts even faster than O’Connor envisioned. Indeed, I think O’Connor would have thought it inconceivable that a major city northern police officer would murder a man in slo-mo -- by clamping a knee on his neck -- and be allowed to do it by other cops who watched silently.

So it is that most of us will admit that Black youths today face pressures that white Americans a generation or so ago never encountered. And that gets us to the place that a wiser, less politically determined court could have taken a grateful nation on this most inflammable issue.

Today’s need for some sort of affirmative action isn’t about correcting injustices inflicted by legalized segregation in the South. We are confronted today by injustices that occur due to unconstitutional discrimination that is baked into our culture and exists in all regions. That’s why we need to reform policing nationwide.

And it is why a former Senate Judiciary Committee chairman from long ago got it just right Thursday, speaking to reporters in his combination office and home.

“The truth is, we all know it: Discrimination still exists in America,” President Joe Biden told reporters at the White House, after the Supreme Court’s political overreach. “What I propose for consideration is a new standard for colleges taking into account the adversity a student has overcome … among qualified applicants. … The kid who faced tougher challenges has demonstrated more grit, more determination, and that should be a factor that colleges should take into account.”

It’s late, but not too late. We need affirmative legislative reaction. Call it Re-affirmative Action. Enact it now.

Martin Schram

Martin Schram, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive. -- Ed.

(Tribune Content Agency)