The Supreme Court has ruled that schools can't use race to place students in 5-4 decisions on Parents Involved in Community Schools Inc. v. Seattle School District and Meredith v. Jefferson County (Ky.) Board of Education. In both cases, the school districts limited the number of white students who could attend various schools in efforts toward racial integration.
The Court was divided along ideological lines, with Justice Roberts writing the majority opinion, arguing that any use of race as a factor is discrimination, and Justice Breyer writing the minority opinion, arguing that this ruling will damage the progress made by Brown v. Board of Education. The "swing" Justice, Kennedy, sided with Roberts, but he agreed with portions of the majority statement, saying that he still thinks race can be used as a consideration in implementing systems, if not directly for student placement.
This case is of particular interest to me because race-based admissions was a hot topic at my high school, Lowell High School in San Francisco. In 1983, San Francisco NAACP v. San Francisco Unified School District resulted in race-based admissions requirements in an effort to allow more underrepresented minorities to attend the school, while lowering the number of Chinese students in particular. In 1999, after I had already graduated, Ho v. San Francisco Unified School District resulted in modifying the strictly race-based system to one based on socioeconomic background and other factors for diversification.
So now there is a federal ruling for this issue that has already been locally settled in the case of Lowell.
More related trivia: Justice Breyer graduated from the same Lowell High School in 1955, one year after the decision of Brown v. Board of Education.
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P.S.: The more astute among you may notice that I have carefully avoided making any mention of how I feel about this issue. I'm not trying to be coy. It's because I have very mixed feelings about it all, so I've tried to report the above as objectively as possible.
I suppose it's always been easier for me to relate to Chinese kids who couldn't get into Lowell with scores that were enough to let black or even white kids get in. It just seemed wrong to me to make such decisions solely on the basis of race.
On the other hand, I definitely lived a very sheltered life while at Lowell. I remember counting the races of people at my senior year birthday party and being kind of proud of the fact that less than 50% of my invitees were Chinese. But to this day I've never had even a single black friend. So more integration is probably a good thing, too.
The problem with that, though, is that I'm also kind of skeptical of how well these policies really work. Even when they do integrate students, the students still end up self-segregating anyway. There are deep social issues here that can't be solved by plopping a few kids around. I suppose it's better than nothing, though.
But see? Do I support race-based admissions or not? Much of this is a classic case of individual rights vs the greater social good, and I just really have no idea where to place that slider.
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Update: Previously, I wrote that "I've never had even a token black friend". EC pointed out in the comments that "token black friend" was racist, and she has convinced me, so I've replaced it with "I've never had even a single black friend". Also, I realized it's not even technically true.
I did briefly have a black friend in elementary school, but we grew apart in middle school. In fact, he started hanging out mostly with black kids, and I started hanging out mostly with Asian kids. And I remember, even back then, in 6th grade, that I felt kind of sad about that. I felt sad that we started finding these more racially-based identities, and that I no longer had any black friends.
I suppose that even back then, I did have this mental concept of a "token black friend", and I agree that it's racist to think of him that way, instead of thinking of it as just losing "a friend". It would certainly be racist to want someone as a friend just for their race. I don't think I befriended him just for his race, but it might have been a factor, and if it was, that was probably a bad thing. But I also think it would've been a good thing if we had been able to stay friends, partly because we were of different races.
My conflict about how to think about my friends is similar to the conflict at hand in the recent court cases. When is "reverse racism" good, and when is it bad? I think I might agree most with Justice Kennedy on this, that direct use of race to determine things like admissions is probably bad, but it is probably reasonable to use it as a factor in some less direct decisions, as in drawing up school district boundaries and such. Similarly, it's probably bad to befriend someone just for their race, but it's probably good to put yourself in situations where you might meet more people of different races, and then befriend people who happen to be of different races for their individual characteristics. Of course, the boundaries are never totally clear.