Soon after candidate Barack Obama was elected president, becoming the country’s first commander in chief, commentators declared an end to racism in America. These pundits informed the country that it had entered a new post-racial phase and there was no longer a need to place civil rights atop of the country’s political agenda. Black Americans were advised to take the proverbial chip off their shoulders because they had finally achieved racial equality. The highest court in the nation echoed those same sentiments in its recent decision on affirmative action and Michigan’s constitutional amendment to ban it. The Supreme Court upheld the right for Michigan voters to ban race as a consideration in college admissions.
However, to the African-American community, the notion that racism is dead is nothing more than wishful thinking. As Justice Sonia Sotomayor stated in her dissent in the affirmative action decision, you can’t just wish away racism. This past Sunday on ABC’s This Week, former basketball star and legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar jokingly told host George Stephanopoulos that “white people are more likely to believe in ghosts than in racism.” Ever since President Obama entered the Oval Office, the issue of race has raised its ugly head and caused a division of public opinion in the U.S.
There is no question that America would be much closer to eradicating the racial divide if less attention was given to Caucasians who continue to make derogatory comments about black citizens. Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty, Cliven Bundy the Nevada rancher, Paula Deen the southern chef and Donald Sterling, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, have added to the confrontation with their racially charged remarks. I was personally stunned this past Sunday as I prepared to watch the Spurs and suddenly saw that the right-wing talk- show host, Joe “Pags” Pagliarulo—who has actually made derogatory comments about the Reverend Al Sharpton’s features (specifically his hair)—was allowed to render his saxophone version of the national anthem. Must Spurs owner Peter Holt also give credence those people and their remarks that are offensive to black Americans?
That is why the Supreme Court’s recent decision on affirmative action has done great damage to the 60-year struggle since Brown v. Board of Education to eradicate racial inequality in the U.S. In fact, it can be argued that the decision made by the court is the worst rendered since the infamous Plessy v. Ferguson separate but equal verdict in 1896. The Michigan decision opens the door for admission to be based primarily on achievement scores, which, in many cases, are biased against the minority student. It gives those students that attend top-notch high schools with state-of-the-art teaching tools a great advantage over students locked into school systems that lack sufficient resources to compete.
Affirmative action laws were implemented to end race-based discrimination. At the time that such policies were necessary, there was no question that this country still suffered from racism. With Obama came the belief that America was cured of its sickness. But the diagnosis may be a little premature. The insensitive and racially charged actions of the above-mentioned individuals and the support they have received within the general population would indicate that another prognosis might be in order. It is blatantly unfair to deny African-American students the opportunity to attend top-tier universities, which their parents help to support through tax dollars, simply because the six judges on the Supreme Court have made up their mind to close their eyes to reality and dream that we now live in a perfectly post-racial society.
Frederick Williams is an adjunct professor at San Antonio College and the author of Fires of Greenwood: The Tulsa Riot of 1921.
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