The recent Supreme Court rulings of Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard and Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina effectively eliminated the use of affirmative action in college admissions. SCOTUS has disregarded an avenue that increased educational opportunities for historically marginalized groups like racial minorities, women and LGBTQ+ individuals. We must open our eyes to the context in which this ruling is situated.
This is yet another decision made by authority figures, disguised behind the false ideals of equality and colorblindness, that will ensure that underprivileged communities remain underprivileged. It should not be viewed as an isolated incident but within the long-standing pattern of oppression within the U.S.
Simply put, this country was established on the grounds of genocide. Its establishment involved the dispossession, displacement and cultural erasure of Native Americans. Following Columbus’ arrival in North America in 1492, nearly 55 million Indigenous people were either massacred or died due to diseases brought by settlers. It wasn’t until 1924 that Congress passed the Citizenship Act and Native Americans were finally granted citizenship in a country that was and should rightfully remain theirs.
Historians have estimated that up to seven million enslaved individuals were imported to the New World in the 18th century alone. Even once slavery was mostly abolished through the Constitution’s 13th Amendment in 1865, a legal loophole left it legal in prisons through prison labor. Today, many corporations profit from inhumane convict work because of this clause. Despite the fact that only 13% of Americans are Black, they comprise 37% of the country’s incarcerated population. Black individuals are disproportionately represented in U.S. prisons because of implicit biases in the minds of law enforcement and the blatant legal racism that exists today and did not end with the ratification of the 13th Amendment.
Even after the Civil War, discrimination against African Americans continued with mass imprisonment for minor crimes. Prisoners were then tasked with the labor to rebuild the economy of the South after the Civil War, thus creating a new way to “legally” enslave African Americans. In her book “The New Jim Crow” (2010), Michelle Alexander explored the racial bribe, the idea that racism is profitable and will continue to remain prevalent in society as long as the U.S. economy is based on profit. Alexander describes the year 1675 as when bond workers and enslaved people formed a multiracial alliance. As a response, colony aristocrats established special privileges for middle class and poor white people to create a clear opposition between enslaved Black people and white people of a lower socioeconomic status. Time and time again, we have seen efforts to dehumanize and isolate people of color and breach their right to equity in this country.
We learn about the atrocities of slavery and racial violence in our history classes, but many of us fail to see today’s police brutality as one that should be met with the same resistance. Instead, the racism embedded in us attempts to justify it. We are a product of the history that has followed us to our current reality. America has always oppressed minorities, it just changes the channels of persecution. When people start to resist this injustice, those in power simply find another, less obvious, way to continue legally maintaining some form of control over underprivileged communities.
All in all, was it disheartening to grasp the idea that the Supreme Court voted 6–3 to end affirmative action in higher education? Yes. Was it upsetting to confront the notion that this ended a four-decade precedent that allowed universities to level the provision of educational opportunities for minorities? Yes. Was their decision surprising? Not in the slightest.
We need to open our eyes to this and start identifying it with the detrimental pattern of history that we have succumbed to. If we just keep revolting against Supreme Court rulings and flawed amendments as singular entities, we may make minor changes, but we fail to break the cycle of oppression. The government will simply re-label and re-package the same despotism. Ignoring this is not a path to superficial concepts of “colorblindness” or false “equality.” We need to be vocal about not only what is happening in our current reality, but also how it is more than just a single event in the timeline of America’s racist past and present, which cannot be allowed to continue any longer.
This is just a stitch in America’s tapestry of oppression. I’m not asking for us to undo this stitch in the tapestry, but to unravel it once and for all.