Republicans Actually Love Affirmative Action (for Themselves)

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Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty
Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty

Republicans never miss an opportunity to clutch their pearls when a person of color is elevated to a plum position. But if they had a shred of honesty, the GOP would admit their position could more aptly be titled: “Affirmative action for me, none for thee.”

Even though Biden has yet to name his Supreme Court Justice nominee to replace retiring Justice Stephen Breyer, his mere pledge to nominate a Black woman for the first time in this nation’s history has made the right-wing ecosystem apoplectic, predictably leading to all sorts of racist dog whistles being fed to their base.

Put simply: they’re fine with special treatment and double standards that elevate white conservatives, but passionately oppose equity and opportunities for people of color.

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Sen. Ted Cruz—who wasn’t offended when he was berated by Tucker Carlson on live TV and who has been a loyal lapdog to former President Trump even after he disparaged Cruz’s wife’s appearance—nonetheless referred to Biden’s vow as “offensive.”

Cruz, absurdly, decided to speak on behalf of all Black women and declared Biden’s attempt to honor and elevate Black women (the backbone of the Democratic Party) an “insult to Black women.” This elite, Harvard-educated lawyer tried his hand at math and incorrectly stated that Black women represent 6 percent of the US population (the number is 7 percent), and furthermore concluded that President Biden is telling the rest of us, “I don’t give a damn about you, you are ineligible.”

That line actually hits close to home for people of color—who are not Cruz’s intended audience.

Historically, the United States hasn’t given a “damn” about elevating people of color to positions of power and equity. If conservatives ever paused and read history books (or at least the ones they aren’t trying to ban from schools), they’d actually admit they fully embrace affirmative action, which has overwhelmingly benefited white people.

America’s original affirmative action certainly didn’t help Black people, who were forcibly brought here against their will and built this land with their blood, sweat, and pain only to be rewarded with slavery and dehumanization.

In 1790, citizenship was given only to “free white persons” living in America, who were the only ones who could vote and own property. Affirmative action didn’t help Indigenous people, who were forcibly removed from their ancestral lands thanks to the 1862 Homestead Act. Their land was then given to white settlers, who were able to pull themselves up from their “bootstraps” thanks directly to “handouts” from the US government.

That same government has so been generous with its affirmative action policies towards white people that it even helped white families gain wealth through home ownership. Between 1934 and 1962, almost 98 percent of the $120 billion in federal government-backed home loans went to whites. That left 2 percent for everyone else.

Speaking of 2 percent, that’s the percentage of people of color who have served on the Supreme Court. Since 1789, over 115 justices have been appointed and confirmed, all of them white, except Justices Marshall, Thomas, and Sotomayor. For Cruz, what’s really “offensive” is the notion that people of color, especially women, are “replacing” white men and women on the nation’s highest and most prestigious Court.

Looking at state supreme courts, only 17 percent of justices are Black, Latino, Asian American, or Native American, far below the 40 percent they represent in the U.S. population. Unsurprisingly, there have been no news reports, hashtags, alarm, or outrage on Fox News about this “casual racism of affirmative action,” which has so clearly benefited white judges.

But because we’re talking about Black women, that’s how Tucker Carlson—an amplifier of white nationalist talking points—described President Biden’s recent commitment to diversity and inclusion by confirming a highly qualified Supreme Court Justice, who just happens to be a Black woman.

Since Sen. Cruz has inspired this English major to take out the calculator, let’s continue with math and provide some more illuminating numbers. Three. That’s the number of Supreme Court justices that President Trump—a racist who ran on banning visitors from Muslim-majority countries—was able to appoint in part thanks to the insidious political machinations of then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who once posed in front of a Confederate flag and recently referred to African Americans as separate from Americans—which is a synonym for white. One hundred percent of Trump’s three Supreme Court picks were white people, yet there was not a single peep, lament, or complaint from the right-wing chattering classes.

Overall, Trump’s judicial nominees were 85 percent white and 76 percent men. And yet, Republican Sen. Josh Hawley—a supporter of violent, domestic insurrections—didn’t denounce Trump as being “hard woke” and “race-obsessed, gender-obsessed.” Republican Sen. Roger Wicker didn’t refer to Justice Amy Coney Barrett, a white woman, as a “beneficiary” of an affirmative action “quota.” Ilya Shapiro, a Georgetown University of Law administrator, didn’t denigrate Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, chosen by President Ronald Reagan (fulfilling his own campaign promise to nominate a woman), as a “lesser” white woman, but he had no problem assuming that Biden’s pick would be a “lesser Black woman.” ABC News didn’t run a poll asking Americans if Trump should consider “all possible nominees”—even as he never so much as flirted with a person of color as a serious contender for the high court—but that’s the poll they conducted when Biden said he’ll pick a Black woman.

All of this is to say it is shameful, but not surprising, that during Black History Month, the shortest month of the year, Republicans are yet again using projection and racist, anti-Black dog whistles and bullhorns to fuel their destructive culture war as a tactic to win voters. Their attacks on Biden’s Supreme Court nominee, who hasn’t even been named, are paired with their assault on a ridiculously overbroad and inaccurate definition of “critical race theory,” banning books by Black, brown, and LGBTQ+ authors, and suppressing voting rights across the nation.

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Meanwhile, they still shamelessly claim perpetual victimhood, whining endlessly that the mainstream establishment is oppressing them, even as they continue to benefit from those very same institutions. When it comes to universities, affirmative action through legacy admissions has helped white families and generations maintain access to power and the most influential Ivy league schools, A 2018 lawsuit against Harvard revealed that 77 percent of their legacy admissions were white.

Instead of entertaining these hypocritical, right-wing attacks on Biden’s Supreme Court Justice pick, Democrats should turn the tables, flex, and go on offense.

Ask Republican elected officials and right-wing media personalities why they were OK with Trump nominating three white people and not even feigning an effort to diversify the court’s demographics? Are they fine with the historic lack of representation of women and people of color in power? Do they think it’s fair and equitable? Is an ocean of white faces in boardrooms, in Congress, and on the Supreme Court—occasionally peppered with a sole token of color—their vision of America?

The answer, tragically, would be “Yes.”

It’s up to Democrats to fight for multiracial democracy and remain steadfast in support of President Biden’s noble commitment to elevating a qualified, Black woman to the Supreme Court, even in the face of racist dog whistles. At the very least, maybe they can show Americans that the greatest beneficiary of government handouts remain the most ungrateful.

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