Life is Precious

Affirmative Action
We live in a racist society. I’m sorry, but we do. When the colonists got here, they treated the Native Americans like dogs. (Actually, dogs are treated better.) We have undergone more than 200 years of slavery and Jim Crow.

Heck, we treated the Irish immigrants, white Irish, like trash when they came over here in large numbers at the beginning of the last century. We were so racist that John F Kennedy, Irish Catholic, had to give a speech stating that he would not take orders from the Pope if elected president. It has only been in the 50 to 60 years that we have actively tried to reverse our racist tendencies.

Let’s be honest; the Supreme Court’s latest decision on affirmative action may be the worst decision since the Dred Scott case of 1857. Basically, Dred Scott stated that Blacks did not enjoy any of the rights and privileges that the Constitution bestowed on “normal” Americans. In a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court handed down the worst piece of nonsense that we have ever seen in the United States.

Not to be outdone by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, Chief Justice Roberts, in a 6-3 decision, determined that colleges cannot use race as one of the criteria for college admissions. To say that this is an awful ruling would be an understatement. Without affirmative action, I would not be here as a trauma surgeon, writing this column for The Urban News. (This is not an exaggeration. And in fact, Obama would have never been president. Joy Reid would not be on MSNBC, and Clarence Thomas would not be on the Supreme Court.)

In third grade, my mother decided I was not learning anything in public school. Because of affirmative action, I was able to transfer to an exclusive private school in Dallas, Texas. Now, I was smart, but I was never the smartest. I had solid grades and solid SAT scores, and again, affirmative action allowed me to get into Emory University.

Without affirmative action, I would have never gotten into Emory. But once I got in, I did well at Emory. And I did well on the MCATs. With those good test scores, affirmative action allowed me to get into medical school at the University of Texas Southwestern in Dallas. But without affirmative action, I would have been denied access to these elite schools even with solid grades.

This is a fact. This is the most important thing to understand. Affirmative action opened doors that were once closed.

In the 1930s, it did not matter if you had solid grades. If you were not a once-in-a-generation genius, you were not getting into Harvard, Yale—or Emory. Affirmative action gave people like me (Emory, UT Southwestern) and Barack Obama (Columbia College, Harvard Law), and Joy Reid (Harvard College) and Justice Sotomayor (Princeton, summa cum laude, and Yale Law), and countless others a chance at graduating from elite schools.

Diversity clearly makes our country better. It makes our schools better. It makes businesses better. Diversity can be thought of as our, the United States’, secret sauce.

I do not want to hear about unfair admission practices. Why? Because the Supreme Court has allowed legacy admissions—90-some percent of which are white people—to continue. If your daddy or granddaddy can pump millions into the school’s treasury, the school can admit you without a problem. If you graduated from the school, you’re an alumnus, so your kids can get in. As a matter of fact, they are on the fast track. This kind of discrimination—which almost exclusively benefits rich white people—is okay, according to the Supreme Court. So, this is NOT about fairness. It is about White privilege.

Interestingly, if you look at the effect of affirmative action on college graduation over the past 50 years, there was a clear increase in Black, Asian, and Latino graduation. But, by far, the greatest beneficiary of affirmative action has been White women. In the 1950s, white women made up a minuscule percentage of medical school graduates. Now, they make up over 50% of the class.

Sadly, this brings us full circle in the United States. The simple phrase—elections have consequences—is 100% true. Do you remember when Donald Trump was running for president in 2016? He was telling a predominantly black audience to vote for him, “What you have to lose?” In short, we had everything to lose. Decreased wages. Now, decreased access to elite schools. Increased mortality rate from COVID. In fact, a vote for Trump would literally stifle and kill the black community. This is what we had to lose, and this is what we have seen. The task of turning this country around is going to be harder than ever. We face gerrymandered voting districts, so we are going to have to show up in overwhelming numbers. We need to find Democratic leaders for local, statewide, and national elections. In order to move this country forward and help the middle class, we have to elect Democrats. It is that simple. As Barack Obama has said, “Don’t get mad, vote!”

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Errington C. Thompson, MD

Dr. Thompson is a surgeon, scholar, full-time sports fan and part-time political activist. He is active in a number of community projects and initiatives. Through medicine, he strives to improve the physical health of all he treats.


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