If you were locked in an argument with someone who didn’t believe in systemic racism, you’d pass them redlining maps of major cities across the country. These neighborhood zoning charts, created by the Home Owner’s Loan Corporation (HOLC), labeled minority neighborhoods as high risk for lenders and blocked them from receiving Federal Housing Administration (FHA)-backed loans. It was a deeply racist and startlingly effective method for keeping minorities from accumulating real estate.
If you had just five minutes to convince someone of the failure of trickle-down economics, you’d hand over any random sheaf of the Panama Papers. These leaked documents reveal the lengths to which the rich go to sequester wealth from our financial system and how they protect their money from taxation. Dig through the Panama Papers for even a few minutes and it’s impossible to muster even an ounce of faith in the idea that riches for the few will magically uplift the masses.
Which brings us to the “Operation Varsity Blues” scandal. Because if you had to make a speedy case for the crushing inequity of privilege, you’d simply unpack how a network of wealthy families used literally anything but merit to force their way into highly-desireable colleges across the nation. You’d laugh about some of the revelations that have come to light and explain how the case lays bare the way that wealth controls what was originally dreamed up as an egalitarian system for achieving upward mobility.
You could make this argument about the power of privilege in a minute or two. The machinations of rich families — including celebrities like Mossimo Giannulli, Laurie Loughlin, William H. Macy, and Felicity Huffman — were so blatant in their pursuit of advantages for their children that they provided endless comedy fodder. The case offers up a treasure trove of jokes. It has non-athletes photoshopped into athletic gear, Full House deep cuts, teens getting instructed to “be stupid” in order to secure extra time on tests, Huffman quoting Scooby Doo’s famous “ruh ro!” when a scheme to control who proctored a test for her daughter seemed temporarily foiled, and parents hiding their scamming from their own suspicious children.
It’s also a referendum and a call to action. A reminder that the battle for true equality requires vigilance and a rallying cry in the fight against the outsized sway that wealth holds in America.
The defendants in the Operation Varsity Blues saga (allegedly) committed crimes, but rich kids getting into good schools without being completely deserving has a long legacy in the United States. As author Daniel Golden detailed in his book The Price of Admission, a college student who’s own school administrators were quoted saying, “There was no way anybody in the administrative office of the school thought he would, on the merits, get into Harvard” was indeed accepted to the university and enrolled in 1999. This student’s acceptance came on the heels of a $2.5 million donation by his extremely wealthy father.