THE SUPREME Court decision upholding Michigan's ban on affirmative action is an attack against our children; one that slices through their dreams and deflates them before they can take shape.
By wresting away the one thing standing in the way of those who would deny our children access to top universities, the court has not only tied our children's fates to the whims of those who mean them harm, but also has laid bare its callous disregard for racism's ongoing effects.
I wish I could say I was shocked by the court's 6-2 decision, which said that the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals was wrong to set aside as discriminatory Michigan's voter-approved ban on racial preferences in college admissions. However, I am not at all surprised. The court's roll back of affirmative action is a moment that history taught me to expect. It is a moment that African-Americans have relived for generations. It is a moment that returns to us repeatedly like a nightmare made crueler by the fact that it follows dreams.
You see, black folks in America have grown accustomed to reprisals in the wake of our greatest achievements. We witnessed the implementation of Jim Crow in the years after slavery ended. We saw segregation enforced through violence in the cities where we sought relief. We saw the death threats that Hank Aaron faced as he broke Babe Ruth's cherished record. But we've rarely witnessed a more strident and calculated backlash than what has taken place in the wake of Barack Obama's election as president of the United States.
The attack on voting rights that has seen states institute voter ID in an attempt to suppress black and Latino votes has been swift. The corporately funded and highly organized tea party has given new meaning to racial divisiveness. The rise of a foreign-owned news network as the racially driven voice of dissent has been disappointing. But nothing has been as hurtful as the Supreme Court's new function as a right-wing cudgel to beat back the aspirations of black people.
We have watched helplessly as the court went against longstanding precedent in recognizing corporations as people in the Citizens United decision. We have seen the court throw black voters to the wolves by scuttling the Voting Rights Act of 1964. We have seen the court defang the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission - an agency created by the Civil Rights Act of 1965 - by making it harder for the EEOC to punish employers who unduly fire employees. And now, after witnessing a string of such decisions, we have watched the court do the unthinkable: We have watched it go after our children.
Perhaps the court's decision would not be as heinous if it did not smack of hypocrisy. But alas, the hypocrisy drips from the decision like blood from a pinprick wound. It is the hypocrisy of Justice Clarence Thomas, who benefited from affirmative action, and now pulls the rug out from beneath those who would follow his path. It is the hypocrisy of a court that surely knows the sad truth that was reinforced by a recent yearlong Pro Publica investigation. That truth is simply this: When judicial oversight is removed, as has been the case with school desegregation plans across the South, impoverished black students are separated out from others. They are left to languish in underfunded and under-resourced schools. They are left, in short, to step into a life of failure and subservience. They are left to continue the cycle of race-based poverty.
That, more than anything, is the issue we must grapple with now, because in cities across the country, including Philadelphia, black children from impoverished backgrounds have long been separated out from others. They have received substandard educations. They have not been prepared to advance. They have, in many ways, been groomed for failure.
Miraculously, there are many who achieve in spite of those obstacles, and need nothing more than a leg up in order to achieve their dreams.
Deciding to remove the foot ladder that would provide that leg up is a special kind of cruelty. It is the kind that kills the future before it can exist, and chokes away life before it can even breathe.
As Justice Sonya Sotomayor said in her dissent, "Without checks, democratically approved legislation can oppress minority groups.
"For that reason, our Constitution places limits on what a majority of the people may do," she said. "This case implicates one such limit: the guarantee of equal protection of the laws."
I agree. That's why we must all stand up and call out this ruling for what it is. It is, at its core, a decision to remove the last protection for the one thing we should all value equally - our future.