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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Racial 'gamification' will go on unless students refuse to play

Elite universities reward applicants -- students and job-hunting professors -- who can play racial identity games, writes Tyler Austin Harper in a New York Times commentary. The U.S. Supreme Court decision on affirmative action will force students and their parents to get more creative, he argues. It won't end the games.


Harper spent his graduate-school summers helping New York City students with their college applications. "The Chinese and Korean kids wanted to know how to make their application materials seem less Chinese or Korean," he writes. "The rich white kids wanted to know ways to seem less rich and less white. The Black kids wanted to make sure they came across as Black enough. Ditto for the Latino and Middle Eastern kids."

Harper, who's black, credits affirmative action for getting him into Haverford and New York University, and for his professorship at Bates College. He supports affirmative action -- not to achieve "diversity" but to "redress the historical evils of chattel slavery and its myriad afterlives." It balances the system of "de facto white affirmative action that rewards many academically mediocre (and wealthier) students for having legacy parents or for being good at rowing a boat," he writes.


But he dislikes the "warped and race-obsessed American university culture,"it's created. Students "are encouraged to see racial identity as the most salient aspect of their personhood, inextricable from their value and merit."


Chief Justice John Roberts' majority opinion left the door wide open to "racial gamification," writes Harper. Applicants just have to claim their racial/ethnic identity will contribute to the college community.

"Writing college essays will descend further into a perverse, racialized version of the Keynesian beauty contest."


It's not just race or ethnicity. Young people are encouraged to craft a narrative of victimhood. Those from affluent, white families can present themselves as non-binary or transgender -- gay is old hat -- to shed their "privilege." When in doubt, make it up. After all, the guidance counselor may know you're not president of the Student Council, but she can't track everyone's sexual identity or childhood traumas.


Harper urges students to stop playing the game. There are many paths to happiness, success and racial equality, he writes.


Most young people apply to open-admission community colleges or not-very-selective four-year schools. Affirmative action is irrelevant. What matters is whether they left K-12 with the self-management and reading, writing and math skills to follow one of those many paths to adulthood.

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