Schuette v. BAMN: Race, Affirmative Action, and Today's Supreme Court Decision

The U.S. Supreme Court just struck a major blow to racial justice in the United States.  In Schuette v. BAMN, the high court ruled that it is ok for white majority states to pass voter referendums which bar the consideration of race in educational admissions, employment, and government contracting.  The decision does not ban affirmative action programs in the United States per se, but it does allow state voters to pass laws which categorically bar affirmative action.

The decision is not a surprise.  The Supreme Court has been on a right-wing trajectory which denies the existence of racism in the United States.  The conservative members of the court feel that racism is an isolated affair which does not significantly impact the life chances of the millions of People of Color in our nation.  As a result, the Court recently eviscerated the Voting Rights Act and Brown v. Board of Education, and now today it has begun to eviscerate racial justice in educational admissions and other government programs.

What struck me in the decision is the following language from the Court opinion:

“Unlike the injuries in Mulkey, Hunter, and Seattle, the question here is not how to address or prevent injury caused on account of race but whether voters may determine whether a policy of race-based preferences should be continued. By approving Proposal 2…Michigan voters exercised their privilege to enact laws as a basic exercise of their democratic power, bypassing public officials they deemed not responsive to their concerns about a policy of granting race-based preferences.” 

Contrary to this court opinion, affirmative action is precisely about addressing and preventing injury caused on account of race. 

Explicit, codified, race-based preferences for whites existed for three hundred years before so-called “affirmative action” policy was created in the 1960’s.  From the arrival of the first English settlers until the late 1960’s, only whites could live in the best neighborhoods, send their kids to the best schools, go to the best hospitals, enjoy birthday parties at the best parks, freely vote and serve on juries, and appear in white cities after sundown.  Whites in America today enjoy the accumulated socio-economic and political privilege created by centuries of racial preference.

But white racial preference is not just a thing of the past.  Our schools and communities today are still segregated.  Although segregation might not be “de  jure,” or codified in law, it’s now a matter of MONEY.  In order to afford to live in the expensive suburbs with the best schools, hospitals, parks, and social services you need to have lots of money.  As a result, millions of Brown and Black families still live segregated lives.  And what’s never mentioned is that most of these segregated communities are the same ones which were legally segregated 50 years ago or which became segregated because of “white flight” after the legal abolition of housing discrimination in the 1960’s.  Ni modo.

People of Color still feel the present-day effects of historic and contemporary segregation.  No, Learned Justices, affirmative action is precisely about “how to address or prevent injury caused on account of race.”   You may not experience these injuries and effects, but it is because you enjoy white privilege.  You continue to experience racial preference, and your racial preference shelters you from the day-to-day realities of millions of beautiful Brown and Black folk.   Your decision today ignores the reality of structural and individual racism that we still experience, and your decision makes racial division in our country even worse.

Have you ever had a family fight in which one party tries to deny that there’s a problem or refuses to take responsibility for their actions?  That’s what today’s Supreme Court decision does, but on a national level.  It tries to deny that racism still exists and that racial preference for whites is still a powerful reality.  When this happens families just get more and more broken and dysfunctional.  This “colorblind” perspective drives the racial wedge deeper and deeper in our country, and it is making our nation more and more broken and dysfunctional. 

As a follower of Jesus, it’s ok to have this righteous anger.  But I know that I can’t get stuck there.  My Lord tells me that I’m supposed to love my enemies, bless those in authority, and realize that I have many shortcomings of my own, too.  And so, I’d like to end in a prayer:

Lord Jesus, I’m really mad right now.  I know that many people are really angry at this decision.  I thank You that righteous anger is ok.  It’s about what we do with it.  Please show me and others how to act in a constructive and wise way which will bring about justice.  Please heal this racial divide in our country.  If things keep going this way, things are going to blow up.  Please speak to the hearts and minds of our Supreme Court.  In other ways, they have ruled well, and I’m grateful.  Please speak to them.  Please bless them.

I know that I’ve got many blind spots, too, including on these issues.  Thank You for your grace and forgiveness which I need more than anyone.

In Jesus’ Name,