Our country is convulsing over issues of diversity and race. Police departments from Baltimore to Minneapolis are talking about diversity hiring as the antidote to anti-Black police brutality. Last year, Hollywood scrambled to find diverse Academy Award presenters after realizing its nominees were mainly White.
Last week, a deeply divided United States Supreme Court upheld the use of racial preferences in admissions at the University of Texas, giving an unexpected reprieve to the type of affirmative action policies it has allowed for nearly four decades.
A polite term
“Diversity” sounds polite and hopeful. It is how we talk when we cannot talk about race, or when Whites get nervous.
The term “affirmative action” was first used in the United States in “Executive Order No.10925”, signed by President John F. Kennedy in March of 1961, which included a provision that government contractors “take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and employees are treated during employment, without regard to race, creed, color or national origin.”
In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson issued Executive Order 11246 which required government employers to take “affirmative action” to “hire without regard to race, religion and national origin.”
In 1967, gender was added to the anti-discrimination list.
Affirmative action is intended to promote the opportunities of defined minority groups within a society and to give minority groups equal access to that of the majority population.
The significance of upholding the University of Texas case and the importance of having a Supreme Court at full strength is that in past decisions, at least four Supreme Court justices believe affirmative action is unconstitutional.
In his concurrence to the first Fisher opinion, the late Justice Antonin Scalia wrote, “The Constitution proscribes government discrimination on the basis of race, and state-provided education is no exception.” Never mind that it was state discrimination to begin with!
On the same grounds, Justice Clarence Thomas said affirmative action is equivalent to Jim Crow.
In reference to voluntary school desegregation plan –which he struck down – Chief Justice John Roberts has said, “The way to stop discriminating on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race,” as if race-consciousness is the same as racism.
If I understand correctly, the dissenting Justices believe Ms. Fisher is part of an oppressed class. A class that has endured years of unequal access to education, housing and employment and the like; a class in which women are paid on average only 77 percent of what men are paid, with Black women paid only 64 cents and Latinas just 55 cents.
A part of an oppressed class that can turn on the TV and continuously see her ‘sisters’ well-respected and widely represented in the News and all other mediums; that has a 70 percent chance or more of getting hired; that can rely on help from passers-by if she’s assaulted in public.
Shouldn’t be heard
The audacity of the decision is that it even reached the Supreme Court! This case not only threatened the use of racial preferences at the University of Texas-Austin, but across the nation.
In that sense, the 4-3 decision targeting only the Texas policy amounts to a partial victory for proponents of affirmative action.
To fully understand the significance of this decision, one must understand that privilege is defined as a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group.
Had it not been for her “privilege,” this case would have been stricken at the lower level!
Dr. E. Faye Williams is national chair of the National Congress of Black Women, Inc. Contact her via www.nationalcongressbw.org.