We have been transported back in time. Before our very eyes, we are seeing policies peeled away that were meant to give us equal footing and finally actualize the “American Dream.” Last week, the United States Supreme Court issued a ruling that gutted Affirmative Action in higher education admissions decisions. This means taking race into account in the admissions process as a means of remedying the longstanding discrimination and segregation of Black Americans, is now unconstitutional. This decision, reminded me of the days of de facto segregation—when schools and colleges were segregated from unintentional or “fortuitous” actions by state and private entities.
This decision was applauded by many conservatives who have made dismantling affirmative action and other diversity, equity, and inclusion measures a centerpiece of the Republican platform.
One point of interest is that the affirmative action ruling exempts U.S. military academies. In a footnote in the majority opinion, Chief Justice Roberts said that the cases before the court did “not address the issue” and left open the possibility that there are “potentially distinct interests that military academies may present” in a future case. During oral arguments, Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar stressed the unique interests of the military and argued that race-based admissions programs further the nation’s compelling interest of diversity (CNN, 2023).
In her dissent, Justice Ketanji Brown-Jackson said, “The court has come to rest on the bottom-line conclusion that racial diversity in higher education is only worth potentially preserving insofar as it might be needed to prepare Black Americans and other underrepresented minorities for success in the bunker, not the boardroom (a particularly awkward place to land, in light of the history the majority opts to ignore) (Brown-Jackson, 2023).
This decision was discussed heavily on the floor of the state assembly as we debated the merits of the 2023-25 state budget. Much attention was paid to cutting funding from the University of Wisconsin system with regard to DEI initiatives. This hit home for me, because it was one of the reasons I chose not to attend the University of Wisconsin. I was accepted at UW-Madison back in 2002, and I made the conscious decision to forego enrollment due to the school’s history and reputation of not being a welcoming place for Black students. High profile incidents of Black students being photoshopped into admissions materials, racially charged epithets being used on campus, and the fact that in an undergraduate student body of 35,000 only two percent of students were African American, all signaled that Madison was not the place for me.
Instead, I chose Alcorn State University, a moderately sized Historically Black College that boasted a diverse non-Black enrollment of ten percent. My classes were filled with students who were as diverse as the earth itself—representing many different countries, native languages, and socioeconomic backgrounds. There, I learned that the college campus was a microcosm of the greater world and that as long as I continued to show academic promise and prowess, I could compete effectively with anyone. On my campus, diversity was enjoyed, discussed, and freedom of thought encouraged.
The notion that we need a “colorblind” society or race neutral policies is errant. It is linear and is a passive way of telling minorities to “move on” and forget about the historic inequities that still exist in our society. As Justice Jackson said, “deeming race irrelevant in law does not make it so in life”—it does not erase the past or the current fact that racial disparities exist and still impede the progress of many people of color.
Color blindness is an eye deficiency, and I would encourage Republicans to remove the scales from their eyes to see people and embrace the changing world around them.