Uh, oh. The Huffington Post and The New York Times reported this week that the Supreme Court will rehear the case, Fisher v. University of Texas, regarding affirmative action and the use of race as part of the decision making process in securing minority enrollment. The plaintiff, Abigail Fisher, a young white woman who has since graduated from Louisiana State University, claims she was denied matriculation at the University of Texas because of her race. As the country continues its irreversible march toward a more diverse population, the implications on admissions to public colleges and universities cannot be underestimated. And because of this, I want to direct my experience and thoughts to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Roberts.
At first, I thought about addressing my comments to the Supreme Court as a collective body. But it dawned on me that we pretty much know what we need to know about each one of them regarding this issue. Case in point, Sotomayor, she gets it and lived it. Kagan and Ginsburg, empathize with it. Alito, could care less about it. Thomas is damaged goods on race, Breyer believes but intellectualizes it. Kennedy vacillates on it and Scalia demagogues it. However, Chief Justice Roberts is the wildcard because he sets the tone for what cases will be heard and his past arguments regarding race and raced based considerations are often expressed in some form or variation by others in all walks of life.
That being said, when Judge Roberts reflects on this case in his chambers, I would want him to know that I am a man who proudly benefitted from Affirmative Action. I am a product of the Philadelphia Public School System. I went to a special admission high school via lottery. Throughout my schooling, I was often recognized for being smart because reading and words came easy to me. But for many of us coming out of predominantly black schools with our unfermented skill sets, certain elements of our high school preparedness for college is just not what it should be. You tack on sub-par to pedestrian SAT scores and its well documented cultural and socio-economic bias, and you have the recipe for large swaths of talented, yet ill-prepared students coming from minority centric schools that need colleges and universities considering additional variables as part of the admissions process.
The university that I attended understood that my race and school are factors, but also grades, teacher and counselor recommendations are also important. In the end, my university affirmatively believed in my potential and opened its door to me. While there, I stumbled and excelled in different ways, but all of us who attended college, have our own unique stories of collegiate exploration, experimentation, stupidity and maturation. The goal is to have as many people as possible go through that college turnstile if they so desire.
What I would want Judge Roberts to know is that affirmative action also played a role in me getting my Master’s degree from another fine institution of higher learning. My undergraduate GPA didn’t reach the typical threshold of 3.0 that is usually required for graduate school. But work experience and a damn good essay (remember words always came easy to me) was enough for the university to give me a conditional acceptance. Meaning, by the end of my first semester, I needed a 3.0 or better to remain at the school. I earned a 4.0 and never looked back.
By revisiting the case of Fisher v. University of Texas, Judge Roberts has told everyone that he is open to an expansionist view of the 2007 Michigan ruling that banned affirmative action at its public universities. The two most famous quotes associated with Judge Roberts on raced based admission are the following: “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discrimination on the basis of race.” The other. “Simply because the school districts may seek a worthy goal does not mean they are free to discriminate on the basis of race to achieve it.”
Now if you cut through the wordspeak and the fairy tale of a color blind, race neutral society, his comments speaks to a man that refuses to look inward for solutions. If Judge Roberts wanted to get really serious about legal remedies for social justice and racial inclusion, I would respectfully ask him to examine the term white privilege. I would encourage Judge Roberts to read Dr. Robin Diangelo, who is white, amazing and a person who has written extensively on whiteness as a group privilege, how it is wittingly and unwittingly operationalized in our society, while simultaneously engaging fellow white Americans on individual accountability, reflection and positive change.
I would encourage Judge Roberts to stop using avoidance and nullification in his reasoning and embark on a new path of judicial bravery. But to be brave, you must first confront. He has yet to confront his privilege. He has yet to confront the causes of black suffering. He has yet to confront the racism and discrimination that is interwoven into every fabric of our society. Until he does, his input on future decisions with regards to race and all its dimensions, will be flawed, regressive and sadly predictable.
Writer, trained Social Worker and Mental Health Therapist. Husband, father and anti-racist at my core.