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The Racism of Justice O'Connor's 'Critical Mass' Concept
by Steve Pudlo
26 June 2003

According to Justice O'Connor, a certain magic number or percentage of minority students are required in order to provide a "critical mass" of minority perspectives, presumably for the benefit of white students.



I've read with interest the debate around the Supreme Court decisions regarding the University of Michigan and their desire to use skin color as a determinant in admissions decisions. Like many, I don't feel entirely vindicated by the decisions, nor do I feel particularly aggrieved by them. The truth is that there are a lot of ugly truths out there, and in light thereof, the decisions do seem entirely reasonable.

Then again, didn't the Dred Scott decision seem entirely reasonable in context, given the times.  And didn't the Dred Scott decision become one of the many factors leading to the bloodiest war this country has ever fought - against ourselves?

The Dred Scott decision's fatal flaw was its failure to recognize that Mr. Scott was a human being, and not chattel. The Supreme Court -- whilst opposed to slavery as a concept -- ratified that same concept in its ruling, which in itself helped lead to its undoing. Talk about paradoxes!

Yesterday's decisions evidence a sharply divided Supreme Court trying to regain some of its credibility (at least to liberals, lost during 2000's election slapstick comedy) by twisting and turning and spewing forth a remedy that attempts to anger the fewest number of people. It is like trying to sound reasonable whilst making a lot of noise, yet pleasing no one.

One of the key concepts the Supreme Court re-ratified was the lunatic concept of "Critical Mass." By that, the court ruled that a certain magic number or percentage of minority students is required in order to provide a "critical mass" of minority perspectives, presumably for white students to learn from.

What a horrific racist concept! While little more than tokenism on its face, the idea that minority students are needed to flesh out the white experience is ludicrous. Is higher education a learning experience or a field trip? The racism that lurks just below the surface of this concept demeans those who truly work to end racial discrimination.

So by the fact that minority critical mass students are mere props for white students to ogle at, the University relegates them to the status of second class students.  They are not there to learn, but to serve as exemplars of the "minority experience" for the enlightenment of whites. Imagine this: rich white kids picking up tips from rich minority kids, who are there primarily so the rich white kids can stare at them and figure out what they really are. How insulting!

So am I taking this to extremes? Had the admission standards been the same, I might be, but when the University excludes highly qualified whites from admission in order to bring in less qualified minority students, one can infer insidious motivation on the part of the university.

But nowhere in the entire critical mass argument is there any concern for the well being of these critical mass students. This apparently isn't a concern. I reckon that the students who come in and then fail because they're in over their heads matter less than the fact that while they are there, white kids can look at them. That way the white kids can deal with their "white guilt" and yet not have to compete with critical mass students after graduation.  So what becomes of the student who comes in with the deck stacked against him (or her), and fails. Does anybody care that some students are being set up to fail for the express purpose of enriching white students?

Wouldn't things be better if the critical mass students had the same success rate as whites? Do they? It seems hard to believe that this is possible since they are not required to have the same academic qualifications. So: less qualified (academically) students are thrust into the collegiate world competing against more highly qualified whites. And we expect them to not only keep pace (I am suspicious that this would be even possible) but to be cultural props for white kids.

The "critical mass" argument is intellectually vapid and insidiously cruel to those it purports to help. To build a student's hopes of obtaining a valued degree, and then put him (or her) academically over their head and see if they can rise to the occasion is the height of arrogance. Message to critical mass students: you are in school not to get an education, but to enhance the education of white students. Nobody cares that the chips are lined up against your academic success because that isn't why you were admitted.

And don't say that administrators care about the success of critical mass students. If they did, then they would insist that these students entered the University as well qualified as their white counterparts. The mere fact that the numbers matter more than the qualifications speaks volumes about the real motivations of these administrators.

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