Disclaimer: As a black American, this piece will specifically focus on my race in particular in regards to the Voting Rights Act of 1964 and Affirmative Action.
I’ve never been interested in the Supreme Court until this year when many historical laws regarding the Voting Rights Act (VRA) and Affirmative Action (AA) have been up for review. These are not just any old laws but historical ones which were crafted as a result of the turbulent Civil Rights Era. A dark spot in American history that we often forget or only acknowledge during the month of February (Black History Month). There are history books, documentaries, Hollywood films, and photos that recorded this era; even people that were witnesses to it. Yet we still find ourselves forgetting the past. Maybe Americans suffer from historical amnesia because we have more people of color as public figures in our society. Our (half) black president, Barack Obama, former UN ambassador, Susan Rice, former Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice, and even a black justice on the Supreme Court, Clarence Thomas. It can be argued that they are results of this post-Civil Rights era, when blacks started to share in the same opportunities as whites.
The United States of America does not like to apologize but they like to compensate. It doesn’t matter if they pillaged and stole your land (natives) enslaved you (blacks), put you in labor camps (Japanese), or even blamed you for taking all the jobs (Latinos, Irish, Italians, etc); they are very slow to apologize. The US Senate didn’t issue an apology for the treatment of blacks during slavery and Jim Crow era until 2009. The poor native Americans didn’t get an apology till 2005 and it was only from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Unlike our fellow Japanese Americans who received $20,000 for their treatment in the internment camps, the US never gave us the 40 acres we were promised. The US did at least create laws to make up for their historical “oopsies”. Both VRA and AA are the many ways in which the U.S. government “compensates” for the discrimination of minorities.
The question the U.S. has in 2013 is: haven’t we compensated enough?
You will get a million different answers depending on who you ask. So who do we ask? Nine justices with no skin in the game? What do they have to lose? It’s almost the same with gay rights, who is the Supreme Court to say gay people do or don’t need the same rights when none of the justices are LGBT. I digress but it’s just something to think about.
I often get into debates with friends and colleagues about AA and I can’t seem to convince them why diversity is something we should value. Or why there are still massive inequalities between whites and blacks. I cannot tell an LGBT person, “You don’t need the same rights as me.” Who am I to say that? Am I LGBT? No. When someone is trying to argue against civil rights laws (such as VRA and AA) and it doesn’t directly affect his or her group, how can they say, “You don’t need these protections, there’s no inequalities in this country.” They could not possibly know what it’s like for that person and are probably not making an effort to know.
The Constitution was not written with minorities in mind. It does state that “all men are created equal” but it also says that blacks are three-fifths of a person. Obviously that amendment no longer applies to this day and age but there are echoes of it. Yes, on paper all Americans are protected equally but the reality is quite different. With that, it must be challenging for the Supreme Court to decide whether or not something like AA is constitutional when it does give minorities a (slight) advantage. In America, inequality continues to run deep not just between the races but between gender, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status. So instead of crossing our fingers and hoping that things will be equal, we must put and keep in place these “compensation” policies as I mentioned before. The fight to establish equality in this nation is not finished and will not be until we start to face reality. We were all created equal but the world does not treat us equally.