Who will entitled white people blame now that affirmative action is over?

The Supreme Court just took away a major grievance supply for white Americans who believe they're victims of racism

By Chauncey DeVega

Senior Writer
Published July 7, 2023 5:45AM (EDT)
Updated July 7, 2023 11:26PM (EDT)
Donald Trump | Supreme Court (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Donald Trump | Supreme Court (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Last week, the right-wing justices on the Supreme Court killed affirmative action in colleges and university admissions. These five men and one woman are political hitmen. They are zealots and ideologues who were and remain totally committed to their mission. There was no evidence or facts that likely would have changed their minds; The outcome was a fait accompli. Their decision to end affirmative action was part of a larger political judicial massacre: that same week the right-wing majority voted to void President Biden's student loan forgiveness plan and to make it legal to use religion as a justification to discriminate against gays and lesbians (any by implication Black and brown people and members of other marginalized groups) – in violation of the country's civil rights laws.

In all, today's right-wing revanchist-controlled Supreme Court is doing the work of returning American society to the Gilded Age (if not before) as part of a neofascist revolutionary political project to end the country's multiracial democracy and pluralistic society.

In her dissent, Ketanji Brown Jackson, who is the first Black woman Supreme Court Justice in the history of that institution, focused on the absurd reasoning and claim that American society is fundamentally "colorblind":

With let-them-eat-cake obliviousness, today, the majority pulls the ripcord and announces "colorblindness for all" by legal fiat. But deeming race irrelevant in law does not make it so in life. And having so detached itself from this country's actual past and present experiences, the Court has now been lured into interfering with the crucial work that UNC and other institutions of higher learning are doing to solve America's real-world problems.

No one benefits from ignorance. Although formal race-linked legal barriers are gone, race still matters to the lived experiences of all Americans in innumerable ways, and today's ruling makes things worse, not better. The best that can be said of the majority's perspective is that it proceeds (ostrich-like) from the hope that preventing consideration of race will end racism. But if that is its motivation, the majority proceeds in vain. If the colleges of this country are required to ignore a thing that matters, it will not just go away. It will take longer for racism to leave us. And, ultimately, ignoring race just makes it matter more.

And in her dissent, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who is the first Latina on the court, wrote:

[T]he Court cements a superficial rule of colorblindness as a constitutional principle in an endemically segregated society where race has always mattered and continues to matter….The Court subverts the constitutional guarantee of equal protection by further entrenching racial inequality in education, the very foundation of our democratic government and pluralistic society. Because the Court's opinion is not grounded in law or fact and contravenes the vision of equality embodied in the Fourteenth Amendment, I dissent.

Of course, Donald Trump, the twice-impeached ex-president and presumed 2024 Republican presidential nominee felt compelled to issue a statement in response to the Supreme Court's decision to kill affirmative action. On his Truth Social disinformation propaganda platform, Trump celebrated that:

This is a great day for America. People with extraordinary ability and everything else necessary for success, including future greatness for our Country, are finally being rewarded. This is the ruling everyone was waiting and hoping for and the result was amazing. It will also keep us competitive with the rest of the world. Our greatest minds must be cherished and that's what this wonderful day has brought. We're going back to all merit-based—and that's the way it should be!

The never-magnanimous Trump would later claim credit for the ruinous Supreme Court decisions of these last few terms, declaring that "his" justices are "gold." 

Trump's "merit-based" society is white privilege, white power and white domination unrestrained and unchecked.

Trump's statement in response to the SCOTUS affirmative action decision is rife with white racist lies, white rage, distortions and abuses of historical facts, white racist fantasies and white victimology, prejudice, white supremacy, anti-rationality, ignorance, intellectual dishonesty, and a deeply held belief that any outcome in American society where a white person (or white people as a group) do not automatically "win" or otherwise get their way is somehow unfair and unjust. The unifying thread in Trump's statement and the racist imagination it represents is white entitlement. It is what American Studies scholar George Lipsitz has compellingly described as "the possessive investment in whiteness." 

Trump's statement proceeds from the racist fiction and lie that "affirmative action" is some type of "quota" for "undeserving" Black people. In a recent interview here at Salon, Berkeley law professor Khiara M. Bridges intervenes, explaining that, "Race-based affirmative action specifically says that we ought to be conscious of a student's race when making admissions decisions, because a student's race might help us understand their grades and standardized test scores. Race contextualizes those numbers. Despite what conservatives say about it, affirmative action is not some type of 'handout' like 'welfare' for lazy and unqualified Black and brown people."

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Unfortunately, Donald Trump is not just speaking for himself. He is a fountain and mouthpiece for White America (the not so "silent majority") writ large and the delusional and paranoiac belief that somehow it is white people, not Black and brown people, who are the "real victims" of racism in America. In the world as it actually exists white people in America control every major political, social, and economic institution, and by extension the vast majority of the country's income, wealth, and other resources.  

Donald Trump said that the Supreme Court's decision was a "great day for America." Who is included in his "America"? Who was it in fact "great" for? Most certainly not the Black and brown Americans and others who will be denied a fair opportunity to enroll in some of the country's most elite institutions of higher learning, and by doing so improve their chances of accessing the American Dream and contributing their talents and skills to the betterment of American society at the highest levels. It is also not a "great day" for the white students and others who greatly benefit from being in classrooms and other spaces with Black and brown people and other students from racially diverse backgrounds. Who are these people with "extraordinary ability" who have somehow been denied their "rewards"?

Donald Trump is most certainly not speaking about how American society from before the Founding to the present continues to deny equal and fair opportunities to extraordinary Black and brown people and members of other marginalized groups because of the color of their skin. Here Trump is also assuming that Black and brown people are intellectually inferior as compared to white people. The greatness that Trump is yearning for as the leader of the neofascist MAGA movement and larger white right is to end America's multiracial pluralistic democracy by returning the country to the "good old days" when Black and brown people were second-class citizens, women were not considered equal to men, and gays and lesbian people were disappeared from mainstream public life. 

Trump's "merit-based" society is white privilege and white power and white domination unrestrained and unchecked. America has never been a "merit-based" society. Moreover, Trump himself is a living embodiment of how American society is not "merit based". Trump inherited and was loaned large sums of money from his father that he in turn used to start his business(es). He gained admission to Wharton Business School, most certainly not based on intellectual merit or ability, but because of family connectionsOne of Donald Trump's professors at Wharton described him as "the dumbest goddamned student" he ever had. In many ways, Donald Trump's entire life is a story of the types of privilege and other unearned advantages afforded to rich white men in America.

He has also convinced himself that ending affirmative action programs will make America "competitive with the world." The actual data shows, however, that more diverse and inclusive groups, organizations and societies are more dynamic, innovative, successful and prosperous.

The real story of a given Supreme Court decision is in the footnotes. This is especially true of the recent decision to end race-based affirmative action in higher education. In that vein, the following footnotes and annotations would illuminate and rebut the incorrect beliefs and conclusions that Donald Trump's statements about affirmative action — and by implication the color line in America — represent.

In this 2020 interview, sociologist Joe Feagin explains how what he describes as "the white racial frame" distorts how (most) white people understand the realities of race and racism in American society:

For centuries, that white racial frame has provided a dominant worldview from which most whites (and many others) regularly view this society. While it includes racist prejudices, even more important are its racist narratives about society, its strong racist images, its powerful racist emotions and its inclinations to racist actions. Especially important is that this broad white framing has a very positive orientation to whites as generally superior and virtuous (a pro-white subframe) and a negative orientation to various racial "others" substantially viewed as inferior and unvirtuous (anti-others subframes).

This frame motivates and rationalizes white racist discrimination targeting African Americans, including police brutality and violence such as that involved in the cases of African American men and women that you mention, and hundreds of others. The likely motivation for such police malpractice is more than racial bias. These events typically involve a white racial framing that not only stereotypes and interprets Black people and their actions in negative terms as unvirtuous — e.g., dangerous, criminal, violent, druggies — but also portrays whites, including police officers, as virtuous, manly, superior and dominant. Also central in many such incidents appear to be white emotions of anger, fear, resentment or arrogance. The way in which whites view themselves in these settings is at least as important as their negative views of those they target with discrimination.

In her book "White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide", historian Carol Anderson highlights the power of white rage and the harm it causes Black and brown people:

The trigger for white rage, inevitably, is Black advancement. It is not the mere presence of Black people that is the problem; rather, it is Blackness with ambition, with drive, with purpose, with aspirations, and with demands for full and equal citizenship. It is Blackness that refuses to accept subjugation, to give up. A formidable array of policy assaults and legal contortions has consistently punished Black resilience, Black resolve.

In his essential book "When Affirmative Action Was White," historian Ira Katznelson details how government policies and laws have systemically given resources and other opportunities to white people and denied them to nonwhites, especially Black Americans:

When Affirmative Action Was White is one result of this endeavor. It reveals how policy decisions dealing with welfare, work, and war during Jim Crow's last hurrah in the 1930s and 1940s excluded, or differentially treated, the vast majority of African Americans. It also traces how inequality, in fact, increased at the insistence of southern representatives in Congress, while their other congressional colleagues were complicit. As a result of the legislation they passed, Blacks became even more significantly disadvantaged when a modern American middle class was fashioned during and after the Second World War. Public policy, including affirmative action, has insufficiently taken this troubling legacy into account.

I wonder who white folks will now blame for their life failures and other frustrations and disappointments now that affirmative action in higher education — and soon across American society — is dead? Who will they rage against when they and/or their "best and brightest" and so "very smart" and "special" and "unique" children don't get admitted into their first choice of a college or university? When they, who of course are the "best at their job", are not promoted because a "minority" supposedly "took my spot!"

Will that frustrated white entitlement shrivel and explode or will it become something else?

I know the answer. It will be the same one that it has always been for centuries in America. Nonetheless, the question still demands to be asked because of what the answer reveals about the character and nature of American society and the enduring power of the color line in these horrible days of the Age of Donald Trump and beyond.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article identified Ketanji Brown Jackson as the first Black Supreme Court Justice; she is the first Black woman to serve in that role. The story has been corrected. 

By Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega is a senior politics writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

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