Separate and Unequal: The Real Education Scandal Is America’s Affirmative Action Program for White People

Illustration: iStock

While the conversations surrounding the newly uncovered college cheating scandal have focused on the advantages of the wealthy, the hypocrisy of those who demonize affirmative action, and the outrageous hubris of the elite, there is one indisputable fact that most people have either consciously ignored or overlooked entirely:

In America, white people get a better education.

Schools in white neighborhoods are better. Schools in black neighborhoods are worse. Majority-white public schools receive more funding. Majority-black schools have fewer resources. And despite what the opponents of affirmative action would have you believe, it is easier to get into college if you’re white. There is no evidence to the contrary. Every piece of data shows it.

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It is easy to point at the overwhelming evidence of America’s two-tiered education system and call it racist, but it is much more complex than that. It is about capitalism. It is the legacy of Jim Crow and white supremacy. And yes, it is about color.

How Jim Crow Created the Education Gap

One of the least-discussed aspects of public education is how school funding is tied to the history of segregation and Jim Crow. Even when state and federal governments distribute money equally, black schools still end up at a funding disadvantage.

If you’re wondering why the economics of school funding is framed as black vs. white instead of rich versus poor, the reason is simple: the National Center for Educational Statistics reports that three-fourths black high school students attend schools where most of their classmates are poor, citing that statistic as the number one indicator of an inferior school.

According to the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, about 36 percent of education funding comes from local property taxes. This means that schools in white school districts can allocate more money to education than schools in majority black districts.

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Eighty years ago, the government practice of redlining, fueled by segregation laws, determined that it was “risky” for banks to offer mortgages in the areas where black people lived. Today, 41 percent of African American homeowners own property in black neighborhoods and, according to research by the National Association of Homebuilders, home ownership is the primary driver of wealth in the U.S., accounting for 25 percent of the average American’s total assets.

Redlining’s longest lasting effect is that the vast majority of homes in formerly redlined neighborhoods are undervalued. A recent study by the Brookings Institute shows that homes in black neighborhoods are, on average, valued 25 percent lower than homes in white neighborhoods, even if the homes have similar characteristics and the neighborhoods have similar amenities, crime rates and resources. In fact, the average home in a black neighborhood is devalued by $48,000 simply because black people live in the area, leading to a massive $156 billion decrease in property values.

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If one’s most important asset is devalued simply because it exists in a black neighborhood, it is no mystery why black neighborhoods are poorer. Because homes in black neighborhoods are systematically undervalued and because home values are the most determinant in school funding, school funding in black neighborhoods can’t be equal.

This is why, according to a 2019 study by Edbuild, schools serving nonwhite students receive $23 billion less in funding than majority-white schools despite serving the same number of students. It’s why the average nonwhite school district receives $2,226 less per student than a white school district.

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It’s also why black schools offer fewer Advanced Placement, STEM and honors courses. About one-quarter of majority-minority high schools don’t even offer a second year of algebra, according to the Education Department, even though two years of algebra are usually required to even apply for college. And even when black students attend majority-white schools, they are still not recommended for college-level courses, are disciplined more harshly, suspended more frequently and feared by white teachers. 

Illustration: US Department of Education
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It is an undeniable, statistically-proven fact: White students get a better education. It has less to do with income than color. Educators in academic circles have come up with a name for this:

White supremacy.

Affirmative Action for White People

One of the most oft-used arguments against affirmative action is the idea that people should earn their way into college. The opponents of using race as a factor in admission standards perpetuate the narrative that black people and other minorities are accepted into prestigious institutions even though they don’t qualify. But here is a fact that you have probably never heard:

It’s easier to get into a good college if you’re white.

That’s not an opinion. At America’s top universities, whiteness is more important than wealth, minority status or anything that affirmative action can provide. Even though the K-12 education system is designed for their success, wealthy white students get much more of a boost from their Caucasian-friendly admission policies than any other group of students.

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In 2017, 6.8 percent of black people who applied to Harvard were accepted. Seven percent of white applicants were accepted into the school. The acceptance rate for Asians was 5.8 percent. However, there was one group of students who had an unusually high acceptance rate at the prestigious Ivy League institution:

Harvard accepted 33 percent of legacy students.

And it’s not just at Harvard. At Notre Dame and Georgetown, the legacy admission rate is twice the rate of regular students, the Wall Street Journal reports. At Princeton, the legacy admission rate is four times the rate of non-legacy admissions. All across America, at schools that have a plurality of white students and whose alumni populations are overwhelmingly white, the legacy admission has become a form of white people’s affirmative action.

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This is literally a privilege reserved for white people.

The advantage that whiteness offers is not limited to parents and grandparents at these schools. Another little-known loophole in college admissions is the “admission exception”—a rule that some colleges use to allow students to enroll even though they don’t meet the minimum requirements. While this rule is usually reserved for athletes, low-income and rural students, it is sometimes exploited by wealthy and elite people with inside connections at universities.

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There are several other factors that favor white students in the admissions process. Elite colleges base their acceptance on factors like recommendation letters, a process that educators say is tilted against black students and students who live in ethnic communities. The interview process still used by some colleges leads to more implicit bias when they are conducted by white interviewers. White students are also more likely to have at least one parent who attended college, while nonwhite students make up the majority of first-generation students in postsecondary education.

Some will claim the white advantage is solely about money but wealthy black students don’t have these same advantages. White students whose parents are in the top 20 percent of income earners are accepted to elite colleges at higher rates than the top 0.1 percent of wealthy nonwhite Americans. And when the New York Times weighted college attendance by wealth, they found that “about four in 10 rich students from the top 0.1 percent attend an Ivy League or elite university,” which was roughly equal to the percentage of poor students who attend any college.

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The reason why white students are overrepresented at top-tier colleges is not that they are smarter or better test takers. In fact, white students made up 33 percent of the top scorers on the SAT in 2015 but were 48 percent of Ivy League admissions; 62 percent of students admitted to the top liberal arts colleges and 49 percent of the people selected for flagship public universities, according to the New York Times.


There is a reason behind this racist madness and it is this:

It is all a scam.

For black children, education and money can’t overcome racism. Black students who graduate from elite college are less likely to find a job than a white graduate from any college. White high school dropouts earn more money than black college graduates. Black boys who grew up with wealthy parents are as likely to earn a high income as a white kid who grew up poor. Black men raised by millionaires are as likely to be incarcerated as white men raised by families earning $36,000 per year.

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Whiteness is its own affirmative action. Poor white kids who go to elite colleges eventually earn incomes that are equivalent to the incomes of the wealthiest children in America. White college graduates are eight times wealthier than black college graduates. The children of white high school graduates are more likely to go to college than black children whose parents have PhDs.

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None of these advantages has anything to do with hard work, determination or a belief in the American dream. It is not about wealth, morality or merit. Education, drive and even circumstance can never outpace the hustle of white supremacy.

In America, whiteness is its own reward.

That should be the scandal

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About the author

Michael Harriot

World-renowned wypipologist. Getter and doer of "it." Never reneged, never will. Last real negus alive.