Greenfield: When the Only Way to Fight Racism Accusations is More Racism Accusations
When the San Francisco Board of Education decided to force admissions for Lowell High School to move from a merit system to a lottery, it was a declaration of war on Asian students.
The temporary pandemic shift to a lottery system had already plunged the number of Asian students at the elite high school by 4.4% to 51%. A permanent lottery system would, as an article put it, “better reflect the diversity of San Francisco”. And in San Francisco, where Asian students make up a third, not half the student body, that means another 15% have to go.
That means thousands of students being cut off from their dreams despite their hard work.
Lowell High School isn’t just any school. It’s a pipeline to the University of California, and to Ivy League colleges. Like its New York counterparts, like Stuyvesant, it’s a high-performing academic environment and part of the bargain between Asian parents and cities, ignoring the dysfunction of Democrat cities in exchange for an advanced educational pathway upward.
But it’s also been the subject of lawsuits and litigation for decades.
A 1983 NAACP lawsuit forced San Francisco to limit any ethnic group to only 40% of the student body. The federal consent decree was devastating to Asian students
“We knew that if we did not desegregate Lowell High School, the school would have been dominantly Asian and white,” an official at the time claimed. Successful court battles by Asian parents in the 90s challenged the effort to suppress Asian admissions. And litigation associated with these battles continued on throughout the nineties and the oughts. Faced with a ban on racial quotas, the NAACP resorted to claiming systemic racism at the majority-minority school.
When the San Francisco School Board forced the lottery system to fight “pervasive systemic racism”, Asian parents didn’t just protest or sue, they dug up racist tweets by VP Alison Collins who had accused Asians of “white supremacist thinking” and called them, “house n___s”.
While Collins would have likely gotten away with her racist tweets at any other time, a wave of violent attacks on elderly Asian people in the Bay Area and New York City had become a civil rights issue, and racist rants about Asians, even from a minority official, were suddenly unwelcome. Collins refused to resign, but was stripped of her powers by her colleagues.
The events at a single high school in one of the wealthiest and bluest cities in America (Biden won 86% of the vote in San Francisco, after Hillary had won 84%) may not seem like they matter much to the rest of the country, but it’s also a lesson in the dog-eat-dog politics of cancel culture where the only way to counter accusations of racism is with more accusations of racism.
The battle against bigotry was supposed to make America a fairer place, instead it pits accusations of racism against each other in an arms race of callout culture. Some of Collins’ defenders are blaming her downfall on cancel culture even while ignoring the fact that she was one of the more enthusiastic proponents of it. The school board had canceled schools named after George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Paul Revere based on basic factual errors.
But the real issue is whether we can even define a concept of fairness outside of race.
“When we’re talking about… meritocracy, especially meritocracy based on standardized testing, I’m just going to say it… those are racist systems,” Collins had previously insisted. “If you’re going to say that merit is fair, it’s the antithesis of fair, and it’s the antithesis of just.”
If merit isn’t fair or just, then what’s left except claims of victimhood and racism?
And as the San Francisco School Board and Collins have discovered, that’s a knife that cuts both ways. The depressing alternative to merit is accusing your opponents of being bigots. And Asian parents in San Francisco have been forced to learn that lesson by the opponents of merit.
It’s also the lesson being taught to the Asian students of Lowell High School, who after a sustained campaign accusing them of racism, are now fighting back with accusations of racism.
A system based on merit teaches students to work harder, while a system based on cancel culture teaches them to spy on their classmates and wait for the perfect opportunity to twist the knife with incriminating screenshots of text messages before they can do it to you. Such caches of old chats going back to middle school are jealously hoarded until college admissions time comes around to be unleashed with the approval of college administrators and the media.
The fair and just alternative to merit is turning the educational system into East Germany.
Asian parents and students want the right to compete. The right of minorities to compete used to be the most basic premise of racial equality. Instead it’s been replaced with equity, with diversity quotas, and an endless deconstruction of the system and its imaginary systemic racism until there is nothing to compete for except claims of victimhood and accusations of racism.
Get rid of merit in admissions, eliminate standardized testing, then banish any conventional study of academic subjects with history, literature, science, and math all deemed to be suffering from systemic racism, and education is reduced to a game of “Spot the Racism”.
When merit is replaced with accusations of racism, then that becomes the purpose of education. Equity takes on math, science, and other subjects don’t enable students to do a better job of mastering these subjects. Instead they’re taught to deconstruct the systemic racism of any subject in the same facile ways with no pedagogical standards, only political ones.
Students subjected to equity math don’t learn what 2 + 2 equals: only that it’s racist.
Lowell High School is both a school and a symbol of what it takes to succeed in America. Revolutions of merit, like the American Revolution, are profoundly liberating because they unchain individuals to pursue their own destinies, while ideological revolutions, like those of France and Russia, provide access to opportunity and survival in exchange for dogma and denunciations. Cancel culture is just the current incarnation of the Salem Witch Trials, the Jacobins, and the Bolsheviks. Thriving and surviving means denouncing others first with the cycle of denunciations eventually destroying the denouncers and tearing down the system
Denunciation eventually ends at the guillotine. Just ask Robespierre or Collins.
The essence of anti-racism is universal guilt. If everyone is racist, then no one is truly innocent. It’s why the safest approach to being accused of racism is to plead guilty. It won’t save you, but it will demonstrate some understanding of the underlying dogma of the cultural revolution.
But universal guilt also means that everyone will eventually be canceled for 15 minutes. And that’s true in San Francisco where everyone is already on the way to being canceled.
Where merit holds out potential to everyone, cancel culture ultimately deprives everyone. The two approaches are on a collision course in San Francisco which incubates both a wealthy technocracy and a radical leftist ideology. And it forces Asian-Americans to protect the future of their children by meeting accusations of racism with more accusations of racism.
Asian students did not dominate Lowell High because of segregation or racism. They did so and still do because of hard work. A fair and just society rewards hard work. An unfair and unjust one teaches us to hate each other in order to get ahead. That’s become the San Francisco way.