Claim: A recent mailer paid for by the America First Legal Fund alleged that Joe Biden and left-wing officials are engaged in widespread racial discrimination against Whites and Asian-Americans.
Rating: This claim is FALSE. Affirmative action policies—which consider whether an applicant to a job, college, or social program is of a race that has been historically disadvantaged in the U.S.—seek to achieve socio economic equity, not to target white and Asian Americans.
These claims of “reverse discrimination,” or that affirmative action favors people of color, are not new and race-based admissions policies have sparked controversy and conflict for as long as they have existed.
Legal affirmative action programs neither grant preferences upon the basis of race, nor do they create quotas. This has held true especially in college admissions. In the Supreme Court case Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, the Court held that colleges and universities could use race as “one factor among many” in their admissions process, and that colleges and universities could not use a quota system to fill their classes. Those who oppose affirmative action, such as the AFL Legal Fund, have deliberately distorted the definition and goals of the legal ruling.
Affirmative action is an effective tool in redressing the injustices perpetrated by the United States’ historical discrimination against people of color and women. Affirmative action merely permits factors such as race, gender, and national origin to be considered in admissions processes. These claims of affirmative action programs being “against the law” fundamentally misunderstand that such programs must be flexible and are only limited to using goals and timetables. Unfair preferences—in either hiring processes or college admissions—do indeed exist, but without intervention seem to favor white men to a higher extent.
Prestigious schools began more heavily weighing “legacy” applications in the 1920s as a response to the spike in applications following World War I, a time when schools were trying to keep themselves from being flooded with immigrants and Jewish people. During the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, when schools had to begin admitting Black students, schools would intentionally amend policies to minimize the number of Black students admitted. From the time of their adoption, legacy admissions were created to limit the percentage of non-White and non-Protestants in the student body.
Harvard, for instance, is notorious for its competitive admissions. The admittance rate for the Class of 2025 was 3.43%, the lowest rate in the school’s history. However, as more comes to light about the admissions process at Harvard, it is clear that one’s admission is not based on merit alone. The paper “Legacy and Athlete Preferences at Harvard,” written by Duke University economist Peter Arcidiacono, demonstrates that legacy, athlete, and donor preferences disproportionately benefit white applicants. According to the study, a white person’s chances of being admitted increased seven times if they had family who donated to Harvard and that 43% of white students were not admitted on merit. Considering these factors, pushback against affirmative action serves only to perpetuate these inherently racist admittance policies. This pushback has been further bolstered by the Trump administration, demonstrating a contempt for a system designed to merely provide equal opportunities for certain groups to enter higher education that they have been systematically excluded from. The notion that the usage of affirmative actions at universities is reverse racism, or that white people are now left out in favor of Black people in particular, are entirely false.
The admissions data used in “Legacy and Athlete Preferences at Harvard” was made publicly available by Harvard as part of the ongoing lawsuit against Students For Fair Admissions—an anti-affirmative action advocacy group. As stated by Georgetown University public policy professor and economist Harry Holzer, who signed onto an amicus brief supporting Harvard, “It clearly adds up to the fact that [legacies’ and athletes’] relative advantage is growing over time, and the extent to which they deny admission to other deserving groups is growing over time.”
Asian-American plaintiffs made a compelling case against Harvard using numbers that seem to weave a striking narrative for Asian American excellence. An internal Harvard study showed that if the university only looked to academic factors, about 43% of the student population would be Asian. However, the complaints of the Asian American plaintiffs, while legitimate, are being used as a tool by white supremacists who do not have serious care for the students’ concerns. The “Students for Fair Admissions” group was founded by Edward Blum, a self-described “legal entrepreneur” who spent a majority of his career attacking social programs that benefit African Americans. Blum is not an advocate for Asian Americans, instead he wants race to stop being used as one factor amongst many—including such factors as socioeconomic status—in the admissions process.
Despite Blum’s parading of Asian American students as a reason to remove race as a factor in admissions, doing so would not make Asian Americans become nearly half of all Harvard admissions. In reality it would disproportionately benefit white students via legacy, donor, or athletic admissions as these are historically much more valuable factors in Harvard admission than academic performance. This means that white applicants who are, relatively speaking, academically mediocre will be accepted at a much higher rate than academically stellar Asian Americans, who for a myriad of reasons are typically not legacy, donor, or athletic applicants. In the end, Asian Americans are being used as rhetorical tools to reinforce the status quo.
The very same arguments apply when using race as a factor in job applications or for social programs. Removing race as a factor in considering applicants for a job will also similarly advantage white applicants who have historical advantages, but that isn’t stopping the conservatives behind these mailers from once again weaponizing Asian Americans against other people of color. The claim that considering race in job and college applications unfairly targets white and Asian Americans is FALSE.