J. Pharoah Doss: Is racial neutrality a bizarre concept?

by J. Pharoah Doss, For New Pittsburgh Courier

Recently, a Black columnist warned her readers that the Supreme Court was going to strike down affirmative action like it did Roe v. Wade.

Students for Fair Admissions, a group that represents 20,000 students, parents, and others, challenged Harvard University’s affirmative action policies for violating the equal protection clause, eroding efforts toward a colorblind society, and discriminating against Asian Americans. SFFA believes that institutions of higher learning can achieve diversity through race-neutral methods.

The columnist condemned SFFA for two reasons.

1). The bizarre concept of “race-neutrality” is historical denial and nothing more than virulent anti-Blackness.

2). Anti-Blackness is woven into the fabric of our nation, and affirmative action, minority set-asides, and other race-conscious remedies are merely the antidote to historical structural racism.

How does the columnist justify these counterclaims when the issue is that affirmative action policies discriminate against Asian Americans? She asserted that Asian Americans are “White-adjacent” who embrace White privilege and anti-blackness. The term “anti-blackness” replaces “racism” and puts the focus on what harms Black people rather than all people of color.

The columnist said race neutrality is “bizarre” and “historical denial” because enslavement wasn’t race-neutral, Jim Crow wasn’t race-neutral, and Fair Housing redlining wasn’t race-neutral.

This is one of those bizarre times when a progressive turns into a conservative. To justify the need for affirmative action, the columnist must conserve America’s racist past in order to claim that America hasn’t changed and remains a racist society. By conserving the racist past, the columnist is doing something even more bizarre. She’s denying that progress has been made on the American racial front to preserve a race-based policy that 63 percent of American adults no longer find necessary in the 21st century.

Now, by stating that race-neutrality is historical denial, the columnist is projecting onto her opponents what she is guilty of herself. Since slavery, Jim Crow, and redlining were all examples of systemic racism, the original goal of affirmative action was to get rid of racial restrictions and make public policy that was race-neutral.

The term “affirmative action” first appeared in an executive order signed by President John F. Kennedy in 1961. It stated that government contractors will “take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and employees are treated fairly during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin.”

The precedent for the original intent of affirmative action is found in Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Harlan’s 1896 dissenting Plessy v. Ferguson opinion. Harlan wrote, “Our constitution is colorblind and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens.”

However, in President Lyndon B. Johnson’s 1965 Howard University commencement address, he pivoted from the precedent. He said: You don’t wipe away the scars of centuries by simply declaring an oppressed people free, freedom is not enough. The next and more profound stage of the civil rights movement is that all our citizens must be able to walk through the gates of opportunity. To this end, equal opportunity is essential but not enough. We seek not just equality as a right and theory, but equality as a fact, and equality as a result.

From that point on, affirmative action policies were viewed as a way to compensate minority groups for past discrimination by the White ruling class. This led to the 1978 California v. Bakke case, where the Supreme Court had to decide whether preferential treatment for minorities in college admissions can reduce educational opportunities for Whites without violating the equal protection clause of the constitution.

The Supreme Court decided that it was not against the Constitution to use race as a factor in college admissions. However, Justice Harry Blackmun’s opinion became scripture for modern affirmative action supporters. Justice Blackmun stated, “In order to get beyond race, we must first take race into account. There is no other way. And in order to treat some persons equally, we must first treat them differently.”

In 1978, maybe there was “no other way” to make up for past discrimination, especially when it was assumed these policies would only inconvenience Whites and no other minority groups. In the 21st century, Asian Americans insist there are other ways to create diversity on college campuses without affirmative action or its synonym, “positive discrimination.”

At some point, we must ask which concept is more bizarre: race neutrality or the adage “in order to treat some people equally, we must first treat them differently.”

About Post Author


From the Web

Skip to content