The kids never know. The massive college-admissions racketeering scheme revealed by the Justice Department this week ensnared wealthy parents, college administrators, and athletic coaches. But none of the students who were the intended beneficiaries of the scheme were charged or arrested.
The Justice Department charged 33 parents. It says that, in most cases, the children did not know that their test scores were being inflated or their athletic prowess was being invented. I have every reason to believe the Justice Department.
In taped conversations with lawyer Gordon Caplan, William Singer—the man at the center of the scheme—assured Caplan that his daughter would never find out about what he’s done. “She doesn’t know. Nobody knows what happens. It happened, she feels great about herself. She got a test a score, and now you’re actually capable for help getting into a school,” Singer is recorded telling Caplan.
That’s what these parents were really paying for: “She feels great” and gets to go where she wanted to go. Most of the schools involved in this scheme aren’t even that good. Ironically, the parents were paying for their kids to have the positive reinforcement that life is “fair,” and good things will come to those who “deserve” it.
Why the wealthy parents were willing to pay for that, why they evidently felt they had to, is a different matter. The specter of affirmative action hangs over this entire scandal. If you talk to a lot of white people, as I do, you will soon realize that there is a deeply held belief that minorities are out there, “gaining advantages” that are unfairly closed off to other children. I’ve had parents say to me, with a straight face, that I’m “lucky” because my kids are black, and so it’ll be easier for them to get into the college of their choice.
And it’s not just white, Anglo-Saxon parents who believe that “black” is the new “gold” for college admissions. A rainbow of all kinds of other parents also believe that their children have it worse because they’re not black. I’m sensitive to their concerns. I’ve written before that some of these parents aren’t even really wrong to feel like college admissions disadvantage their kids. It’s just that black kids are not their problem. It’s the mediocre rich white kids, exactly the kind of kids whose parents were trying to get them in through this massive racketeering scheme, who are gobbling up a large portion of the slots at elite universities.
Black children have an entirely different problem set to solve for, problems that these parents willfully ignore when it comes time to get their junior into the college of their choice.
I live in a country where black children are regularly killed, brutalized, or harassed, by law enforcement, throughout their lives, but my kids are “lucky,” because of the color of their skin? White parents will call the cops on my kids at the drop of a hat, accuse them of wrongdoing they did not commit, and God forbid my kid wants to date one of their kids, but these same parents think my kids have it easy? There are parents who think that their children would benefit if they had just been born with darker skin.
I cannot nonviolently describe the insult I feel when a parent refers longingly to how my kid will “probably get in.” They’re so cocksure that if the playing field were “level” their kid would outperform mine—and by “level,” they of course mean that the playing field should be studded with all the advantages enjoyed by their forefathers, unexamined and unchallenged by uppity minorities.
You can see the dripping contempt these parents had for actual fairness, laced through the Justice Department’s charges. These parents were happy to lie to get their kids extra time on standardized tests—because, you know, children with actual disabilities have things so easy. These parents were happy to invent athletic skill—because playing sports well is just a “God-given” ability, and it’s not really fair that a kid who spends hours and hours a day practicing gain an “advantage” over their children.
I would gladly pay any amount of money to have my children treated like white children. Any amount. The “race card” is not a boon; it is a hurdle that my kids will have to struggle against for their whole entire lives. I’d pay anything, up to and including my own damn life, to remove that hurdle from them and allow them to live in this world as just another unremarkable human treated with dignity and respect.
But I’m black. And I married a black woman. And our money isn’t good enough to get white people to leave our kids alone.
Even when the playing field is leveled to the point where my kids are allowed to compete on their own merits, white people will never let my kids forget it. If they do get into a good school, white people will question whether they “deserve” to be there. I still get those questions, and I graduated from my “elite” college almost 20 years ago. The nerve of white people, strangers, most of whom I could standardize-test into the frozen ground, to suggest that I wouldn’t have gotten into school without affirmative action is something that I’ve come to expect and am always enraged by.
If my kids are good enough at sports to be legitimately recruited by a school, they won’t be allowed to feel like they “deserve” to be there either. They’ll be treated like dumb jocks who are only there to play ball. If they happen to be good at a sport that generates revenue for the university, the same university that is profiting off of their athletic talents will treat them like a criminal if they accept a gift or even a meal from the people who pay the school to watch them play.
White society never lets minorities forget any help, any opportunity, any kindness, or even any common freaking courtesy. Even when we don’t get “help,” we are assumed to have gotten help, and treated accordingly.
Minorities are constantly told and treated like we’re “lucky” to be here: at the school, or job, or even in the country. We’re expected to be “thankful” for the opportunity, as if somebody gave us a gift, even though we had to work twice as hard to get there as the similarly situated white man.
And when it goes wrong: When we don’t get into the “elite” school because Mommy didn’t buy us a spot, or we didn’t start our own business with access to Daddy’s venture capital, or we couldn’t get a job because nobody in our families plays squash with the employer’s brother-in-law—then some white privileged princeling calls us “lazy.” Then some Republican says we’re “asking for a handout.” Then some professor says “affirmative action is actually reverse discrimination” and relies on my solid upbringing to restrain me from punching him in his stupid mouth.
There are people reading the college-admissions stories who think the scandal is awful, but somehow don’t know that they’ve benefited from that very same system of privilege their whole lives. They don’t know that their children will benefit from those privileges, while my children will not. I know them, I went to school with them. I see some of their outrage now and think, “Buddy, how do you think you got into school?”
The kids, the white kids, they never know. They think they earned it. They always think it’s somebody else who got an “unfair advantage” just because of how they were born. That’s what their parents have taught them.