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Clarence Thomas and His Friends Got it Wrong

Justice Clarence Thomas (front row, second from left) has opposed affirmative action in college admissions since his time at Yale and joined the conservative majority in killing the policy.

Sadly and unsurprisingly, the unpopular Supreme Court racked up one destructive tear-down after another this past week in its crusade against progress.

With three 6-3 votes from the court’s conservative majority, the court allowed store owners to deny business to customers over religious grounds and shot down President Biden’s popular student debt abatement program. But it began its attack with a decision that will increase racial disparities in many colleges and universities by striking down racial and ethnic considerations in college admissions.

What hurts when reading the SCOTUS most recent decision is the judges’ bad-faith denial of reality. Let’s talk about Clarence Thomas.

Judge Clarence Thomas, who, of course, voted with the rest of the Republican-appointed pack to shoot down affirmative action, is the philosophical antithesis to Thurgood Marshall, whom he replaced on the bench. While debating Solicitor General Ryan Park in the case, Thomas pretended—it had to be contrived—to be ignorant of what diversity even stands for claiming: “I’ve heard the word ‘diversity’ quite a few times, and I don’t have a clue what it means. It seems to mean everything for everyone.”

Park tried to explain to Thomas diversity on campuses “leads to ‘a deeper and richer learning environment,’” as well as “more creative thinking and exchange of ideas, and, critically, reduced bias between people of different backgrounds and not solely for racial backgrounds.”

Thomas’ African-American self accepted none of that, of course. “But you still haven’t given me the educational benefits,” he said. “I didn’t go to racially diverse schools, but there were educational benefits.”

In response, Park referenced “rigorous peer-reviewed literature” showing “that diverse groups of people perform at a higher level” in jobs like stock trading and other careers.

“… [T]he mechanism there is that it reduces group-think and people have longer and more sustained disagreement, and that leads to a more efficient outcome,” Park explained.

This got nowhere with Thomas.

“Well, I guess I don’t put much stock in that because I’ve heard similar arguments in favor of segregation too,” he answered.

Thomas went to Yale, and a PBS “Frontline” documentary reveals he despised Yale’s affirmative action policy. As a student, Thomas claimed the policy made prospective employers suspect the quality of his work.

“He thought that his degree was devalued, that he didn’t get the same kind of cachet out of the (Yale) degree once he was looking for a job and trying to move his career,” says Brown University Professor Glenn Loury. “He assumed that others were assuming that it’s a Yale law degree, but with an asterisk next to it [because of affirmative action.]”

Thomas uses his stack of employment rejection letters to argue his case but ignores critically important addendums, including the fact that Thomas was an uncharismatic character mailing out job requests in an era when many prestigious law firms despised him for his race.

Former Holy Cross student Orion Douglass, who “Frontline,” says shared “a strikingly similar educational journey” to Thomas, argues Thomas missed the most obvious clues.

“I disagree. I disagree totally,” said Douglass. “How are you going to blame affirmative action for not getting a job when you never were offered the job for 100 years before? The (racist) system was still there. The infrastructure for separation (and) discrimination was still there. It was still the segregated mindset of white America.”

Thomas voted with his conservative team to wipe affirmative action from campus decisions and will likely vote to destroy it in future rulings until Ivy League schools are nearly devoid of Black students, leaving our nation with a sudden, desperate need for countermeasures. Affirmative action is a necessary component for diversity in a society that spent centuries nurturing one race over others, and it needs to be preserved. While we labor to reverse the damage done by political ideologues on the Supreme Court, we must encourage Black participation in higher learning without heaping debilitating college debt on Black students.

While we labor to reverse the damage done by political ideologues on the Supreme Court, we must encourage Black participation in higher learning without heaping debilitating college debt on Black students.

It appears important to keep places like Harvard, Yale, and other Ivies from being whitewashed (again), but we also must be truthful about these schools being just another kind of brand. It works against our children’s interest to use capitalistic, patriarchal units of measurement to quantify success and growth in learning. While pressing for a healthy Black presence on prestigious campuses, it is also critical to help Black students attend Historically Black Colleges and Universities without fear of onerous, career-killing debt, no matter from which institution of higher learning they choose to attend (if they so choose).

High student loan debt is a burden that destroys hundreds of Black students every year. HBCU grads, in particular, face more debt than more affluent students, according to a report by the Center for Responsible Lending (CRL). Sadly, these graduates have an average debt load of $32,373 after graduation, which is 19% higher than their non-HBCU peers. Black students at HBCUs (and at other colleges) often walk away with mounds of debt because they start out poor, while other students benefit from parents who can afford to help. Black students generally take out bigger loans to finance living expenses, and as Black Girl Times has revealed, loan agencies and Congress have made sure those students will never escape them. And let’s not forget there’s no declaring bankruptcy on school loans, no matter how broke you are. Who cares that former president Trump declared bankruptcy six times. The whole point is for young Black people to shoulder debt, not wealthy television hosts and failed casino operators.


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