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So What If They Did? Thoughts On Affirmative Action

Savala Nolan
ZORA
Published in
4 min readJul 3, 2023

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Here is the letter I shared with the 5,000+ students, alumni, donors, and colleagues who are connected to The Thelton E. Henderson Center for Social Justice, where I work as Executive Director, following the Supreme Court’s ruling against affirmative action:

Dear friends,

I would prefer, if I’m honest, to rest, to meditate, to lift Black people in prayer. And I will.

But, despite how fraught it has become to voice opinions on these issues, it is my responsibility to speak publicly, or at least to this community, about the Supreme Court’s ruling that affirmative action in college admissions is unlawful. As you know, the Henderson Center was formed in response to Proposition 209, California’s 1996 anti-affirmative action ballot initiative, which remains the law. I’d be remiss not to offer some thoughts in response to the national eradication of affirmative action.

And yet, what to say? My heart is heavy. My mind is heavy, too.

When I was a 2L, I was offered a summer job at a prestigious law firm. I was well qualified, having earned good grades, including the highest grade in two classes, at a top law school. Still, I was nervous about whether I would cut it. One evening, sharing a meal with a fellow law student, I finally voiced my deepest anxiety. I said, “But what if they only offered me a job because I’m Black?” Without missing a beat, my friend replied, “So what if they did? Don’t you think I’ve been offered jobs just because I’m white?!”

He was reminding me that affirmative action is remedial for many people of color only because, as reams of data show, an “affirmative action” of a different sort has been, and remains, the norm for many white people. He was reminding me of the layered, long history of colonization, slavery, and racism that runs through it all. But most importantly, he was reminding me that I had been socialized by racial hierarchy into fearing the cure, into blaming the medicine for the symptoms of the disease.

An endemic problem in American society is our penchant for ignoring the disease, so much so that fitting remedies strike us as superfluous and problematic. But as Justice Sotomayor writes, “Ignoring race will not equalize a society that is racially unequal…

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Savala Nolan
ZORA
Writer for

uc berkeley law professor and essayist @ vogue, time, harper’s, NYT, NPR, and more | Simon & Schuster and HarperCollins | she/her | IG @notquitebeyonce