In her dissent to the Supreme Court’s June decision against affirmative action in college admissions, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson cited research by Pitzer President Emeritus Melvin L. Oliver regarding racial wealth disparity in America.
Jackson pulled several of her points from Black Wealth/ White Wealth: A New Perspective on Racial Inequality, which Oliver co-authored with Brandeis University Professor Thomas M. Shapiro. First published in 1995, their book analyzes how wealth has perpetuated racial inequality in the U.S. despite (and because of) public policies.
In her first citation, in which she directly quotes Oliver’s book, Jackson wrote: “Given the lengthy history of state-sponsored race-based preferences in America, to say that anyone is now victimized if a college considers whether that legacy of discrimination has unequally advantaged its applicants fails to acknowledge the well-documented ‘intergenerational transmission of inequality’ that still plagues our citizenry.”
The 10th anniversary edition of Oliver and Shapiro’s award-winning book was published in 2006. Years later, Black Wealth/White Wealth remains a touchstone for discussions of racial inequality. Ta-Nehisi Coates cited the work in his Atlantic article “The Case for Reparations,” and The Washington Post quoted Oliver in its six-part series, “George Floyd’s America.”
While he was Pitzer’s president, Oliver established the Racial Justice Initiative, renamed the Melvin L. Oliver Racial Justice Initiative in his honor upon retirement, to embed racial justice throughout the College’s educational experience. Oliver has called the initiative “a culmination of my life’s work and an essential component of Pitzer’s social justice mission.”