When Barack Obama was inaugurated as the first American president of African descent in the history of the United States, many observers proclaimed the beginning of something called “post-racial America”. By now, in the midst of seven years of Teapublican dog whistle symphonies that have aroused the most malignant demons of this country, very few are making that claim. However, in 2009 few would have thought that an Obama presidency would mark a regression in racial attitudes in White America. But that is exactly what has happened.
A facile explanation of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s racist screed in the recent Fisher case would be that he was just channeling his inner Angry White Man. But Justice Scalia simply said what too many people actually think – black people are inherently inferior to white people.
In that regard Justice Scalia was consistent with his ideological ancestors on the Supreme Court who ruled in the infamous Dred Scott decision in 1857 that “a black man has no rights which a white man need respect”. The majority opinion in spectacular and outrageous judicial endorsement of white supremacy was written by Scalia’s fellow Harvard Law School graduate, Roger B. Taney.
And Scalia’s opinion was also fully consistent with the Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court decision in 1896 which upheld the constitutionality of state laws mandates racial separation in all public facilities. This endorsement of Jim Crow institutionalized and guaranteed the suffering and degradation of black Americans deep into the 20th century.
And now, in the second decade of the 21st century, we are forced to witness the regurgitation of debunked and abandoned concepts of white supremacy and black inferiority by no less than a Supreme Court justice of the United States of America. By using the selective argument that less prepared black students underperform at predominantly white universities and colleges, he conveniently neglects to note that this is also true for less prepared white students and the affirmative action process has also enabled absolutely prepared black students to evenly compete at these institutions.
A bit of history is useful here. The National Scholarship Service and Fund for Negro Students – NSSFNS – was founded in 1955 in an effort to provide admissions opportunity for qualified black students who were traditionally barred from most predominantly white colleges and universities in America. There are exceptions that can be cited prove the rule, but there are too many pathetic examples of one or two black students in classes of 1000+ white students in the 1950’s and 1960’s to avoid the unfortunate conclusion that there was an unspoken policy in American higher education that black Americans simply would not be admitted regardless of their qualifications.
By 1970 NSSFNS had identified thousands of young black men and women who were qualified to compete with young white men and women at colleges and universities throughout the country, including the vaunted Ivy League schools, those last bastions of presumed white intellectual superiority. The results provided evidence that intellectual superiority was never a matter of racial capabilities. And the sky did not fall. The laws of gravity were not repealed.
The only slightly recognized efforts of NSSFNS provided the opportunity for change and as well as the basis for further initiatives that opened college doors that had been welded shut when black Americans applied. These initiatives included affirmative action programs that recognized the subjectivity of college admissions and the importance of diversity on campus.
The reality is the rationale for affirmative action programs is no different that the justification for admitting veterans, star athletes or sons and daughters of alumni. However, to the extent that affirmative action programs provided opportunities for black Americans, there has been and continues to be simmering outrage in the national white community. And Justice Scalia gave voice to that outrageous outrage while sitting on the bench of the highest court in the land.
It is not the first time, nor will it be the last time, that vile and hateful words are cloaked in the black robes of a Supreme Court justice. It is also clear that the tools of racism and injustice not be easily pried from the grip of those who stand in the way of justice.