Antonin Scalia and The ‘Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations’: 8 Times A Black Student Was Told to Not Aspire To Higher Education


When I was in the 10th grade, I went to my high school guidance counselor for college advice. I had just earned all A’s and 1 B while attending a very competitive High School with a prestigious and award-winning Science and Tech program.

I will never forget hearing this elderly white gentlemen tell me that College would be too much for me and that I should consider “trade” school. There is nothing wrong with trade school, but traditionally, it’s the place they send students with lower grades and test scores, not ones with stellar grades and test scores like I had back then.

Of course, I didn’t listen to him and assumed he was just an old bigot who probably told all black kids that.

Who would imagine that I’d bump into him while reading the transcripts from the oral arguments in the Fisher v. Texas Affirmative Action U.S. Supreme Court case 27 years later. Well not really, but figuratively,

Though it is hard to believe, but Justice Antonin Scalia really did say from his high perch on the bench as one of nine lifetime appointed U.S. Supreme Court justices that black students should not attempt to matriculate to “advanced schools” but should opt for “slower track” schools.

I mean he is, essentially, making a blanket statement about 14 million Americans. The Audacity.

Talk about broad generalizations and a racist one at that.

We know that Scalia was giving his own conclusions about the findings of the “mismatch theory” referenced in one of the friend of the court (Amicus Curiae) briefs. The theory posits that affirmative action hurts students who aren’t ready for the rigors of a highly competitive academic environment.

According to its proponents, such admitted students, the theory goes, will struggle or eventually drop out and should instead attend less challenging schools where they are more likely to be successful.

After news broke about Scalia’s shocking comments, many black students took to social media to post photos of themselves in their cap and gown, and to share their stories of being the victim of the “soft bigotry of low expectations,’ as Washington Post writer Afi-Odelia Scruggs characterized it in a piece sharing her own personal past.

She went on to say:

“The only thing new about the mismatch theory is the name. It’s actually the same old institutionalized racism that steered generations of African Americans into trade schools instead of universities. It’s the pernicious whisper beneath current suggestions that perhaps college isn’t for everybody.”

After I shared my story on Facebook, a few of my Facebook friends came forward to share their own stories about encountering this blatant form of institutionalized racism that is woven into the fabric of our education system.

(I promised to blur out their names to protect their privacy)





There are dozens if not hundreds of “Scalias” currently and in the past stomping on the hopes and dreams of black students all over this country.

Let’s not forget Scalia also stated, albeit wrongly, that black scientists do not graduate from prestigious schools like University of Texas.

Neil deGrasse Tyson is an astrophysicist who graduated from the University of Texas in 1983 and probably the most famous astrophysicist in the country and one of the most famous black people in the country. Scalia probably never heard of him. -Wiki File Photo

Clearly, the man hasn’t heard of one UT’s most famous admittees, Neil deGrasse Tyson, a famous astrophysicist and TV host. Tyson got his Masters from there but didn’t stay long enough to get his PhD because he couldn’t bare the racism and discrimination.

“I was stopped and questioned seven times by University police on my way into the physics building,” he told UT Alumni magazine, Alcade. “Seven times. Zero times was I stopped going into the gym — and I went to the gym a lot. That says all you need to know about how welcome I felt at Texas.”

Other than Tyson, there are plenty other Black UT students and alums who deserved their spots, like my friend Shawn Scott who took to his Facebook to share this:

You tell em, Scott!

We have all been underestimated, been thought to be less intelligent or an affirmative action hire.

It travels with us all our lives like when I was on a bus with fellow associates and partners heading to my top AMLAW 100 law firm’s retreat in Kent Island across the Chesapeake Bay. We paired up into teams and played a trivia game on the way there. A very competitive partner went out of his way to avoid having me on his trivia team because, as I knew, he didn’t think I would help his team. You could graduate from two prestigious law schools (Catholic University and Georgetown Law) with two law degrees and pass two State bars on the first try like I did, yet still not be thought intelligent enough.

Later on the trip, during the game when I got an answer that stumped both teams, an associate, junior to me, looked at me and said “wow impressive!” It wasn’t that impressive unless you had low expectations in the first place. It never ends.

It’s the burden of being Black in country with deep roots of racial bias and injustice.

It is what it is and by the looks of how divided this nation is and the status of race relations, it won’t be getting better anytime soon .

I wish I could have a more positive conclusion but I do not.


Jay Jay Ghatt

Written by

Jeneba Jalloh Ghatt; Content Creator/Digital Publisher/Instructor; Founder, Recovering Attny, Founder, 200 Black Women in Tech on Twitter to Follow;

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