By Senator Lena C. Taylor
Be Careful What You Ask For
Reeling from the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision, on the use of affirmative action in college admission decisions, I have thought hard about which angle I wanted to discuss this landmark ruling. As scholars debate whether the 1978 Regents of the University of California v. Bakke case, in which the court determined that affirmative action was lawful, has been overturned or not, the outcomes are real.
I am consumed with the image of The Stand in the Schoolhouse Door. Sixty years ago, Alabama’s newly elected Governor George Wallace delivered his infamous inaugural address. As civil rights activists fought for equal access to education and voting, Wallace said the ignorant part out loud: “Segregation Now, Segregation Tomorrow, Segregation Forever”. Shortly after that speech, Wallace literally stood in the doorway of a University of Alabama auditorium to stop integration in higher education.
Vivian Malone and James Hood were the first Black students to enroll in the college. The Governor of Alabama was forced by federalized guard troops to allow the students entry. In their first year, there were three bombs set off at the University. One bomb exploded a few blocks from Vivian’s dorm.
Blacks in America have been subjected to hate and racist filled declarations since our arrival to this soil. Enslaved Africans were brought to the region we know today as St. Augustine, Florida in 1565. In the 458 years since that time, our lives have been marked by periods of slavery, Black Codes, Jim Crow Laws, and systemic racism. And we have had to fight for our humanity every step of the way.
The U.S. Constitution, which was ratified in 1788, begins with the three words “We The People”. Written by only 4 men, but influenced by a number of “framers”, the constitution did not include the words “black” or “white”. As a result, arguments are made that the constitution was colorblind.
However, the construct and inequity of race is embedded in the very fabric of the American flag we salute. While there are those who have the luxury of embracing a national narrative of bootstraps, character, and individual merit, the rest of us live in the real world. We have been asked to believe that the playing field has been leveled, that all students have the same resources, opportunities, or preparation. That is simply not the case.
In fact, in one of the most offensive responses to news of the court’s decision, presidential nominee Mike Pence said “There may have been a time, 50 years ago, when we needed to affirmatively take steps to correct long-term racial bias in institutions of higher education. But I can tell you as the father of three college graduates, those days are long over.” He actually said “there MAY have been a time” and used probably three of the most resource rich people in the country, as a point of comparison.
Affirmative action, in higher education, lasted for 45 years. Disappointingly, there were other racial or ethnic groups that sided with dismantling affirmative action in higher education. What they failed to realize is that we opened the door for everybody. The gains of historic landmark legislation such as the 1964 Civil Rights Act, 1965 Voting Rights Act, and Brown v. Board of Education helped all other minority and marginalized groups. While the measure wasn’t perfect, it was better than we what we are facing now. As the adage goes, be careful what you ask for.