After decades of aggressive and strategic efforts from influential right-wing forces the Supreme Court outlawed race conscious admissions at universities throughout the nation, dismantling decades of progress and crippling the potential of racial diversity and pluralism at our nation’s institutions of higher education.
Chief Justice John Roberts, speaking for the majority, argued that “the student must be treated based on his or her experiences as an individual — not on the basis of race.” He was joined by conservative Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr., Neil M. Gorsuch, Brett M. Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.
The court did not prohibit considering students’ backgrounds and circumstances in holistic reviews of their profiles. Thus, admissions officers can still give credit to applicants who have overcome challenges relating to their race or who would bring unique experiences to campus.
Interestingly, the ruling did not apply to military academies.
President Biden said the current Supreme Court has done “more to unravel basic rights and basic decisions than any court in recent history,”
In her blistering, powerful and compelling dissent, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson zeroed in on the irony of this decision being based in the equal-protection clause. “
With let-them-eat-cake obliviousness, today, the majority pulls the ripcord and announced, ‘colorblindness for all’ by legal fiat,” Jackson wrote. “But deeming race irrelevant in law does not make it so in life.” Justice Brown Jackson is right on target in her analysis.
It was notable and disturbing that Clarence Thomas has been one of the most ardent opponents of affirmative action, despite the fact it was such a policy that afforded him the opportunity to enroll at Yale Law School. It’s also a reason he is on the Supreme Court today. He was a Black conservative who was in “the right place at the right time.” Such hypocrisy leaves much to be desired.
Many on the right like to argue for a colorblind society by invoking the powerful words of Martin Luther King Jr., that people be judged not on the color of their skin, but rather, the content of their character. There are numerous problems with such an idealistic but misguided demand.
While America is indeed a very colorful, racially diverse, and pluralistic society, our history has been anything but. While racial progress has indeed occurred on some level, the nation is far from the utopia that Dr. King envisioned for it to become. Rather than being colorblind, we are a deeply endemic color conscious, economically stratified and segregated society.
Factors such as endemic poverty, systemic and systematic racism, sophisticated and subtle discrimination, and lack of access to the mainstream are searing perennial issues for those who are victims to such social inequities and inequalities.
Economic and structural racism, educational disparities, environmental racism, health disparities, and chronically segregated communities are unalterable and undeniable realities in the lives of many poor people of color and indigenous populations. Race based remedies in college admissions can serve as an instrument in an effort to level a dramatically uneven playing field.
The truth is the conservative right as a movement is not interested in the welfare of Asian-Americans or any other group of non-white students. Rather, their primary agenda is to reestablish the previous practice of white privilege – more specifically, white male privilege – to the college admissions process while perversely using Asian students as political decoy.
The majority of conservatives who denounce affirmative action are the very same individuals who rabidly mock and ridicule the strengths and advantages a diverse society provides. People of color are not and have never been a genuine priority for them. The disingenuous responses of many on the right to the court’s decision reveals such a sinister truth.
Despite the recent court decision, the truth is that diversity is indeed our nation’s strength. This fact holds true for higher education as well. Future demographics will continue to demand a multi-racial workforce to meet the demands of its population. Thus, it is incumbent on our institutions of higher education to ensure that colleges and universities are producing a student body that accurately reflects the racial make-up of its citizenry.
While those on the right may declare victory, those of us who are dedicated to progress and equality must work to make sure that such a sinister celebration is pyrrhic and temporary. As the late, self-described Black, feminist, lesbian warrior poet, Audre Lorde so deftly stated “the war against dehumanization is ceaseless.”
Copyright 2023 Elwood Watson, distributed by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate
Elwood Watson is a professor of history, Black studies, and gender and sexuality studies at East Tennessee State University. He is also an author and public speaker.