This country has never had equitable and inclusive structures, and colorblindness has never been a thing. The national identity built into our structures, laws, practices, and lived experiences is White supremacist. Race and skin color have always had consequences in this country.
Affirmative action was introduced because racist systems and discriminatory practices had for centuries denied Black people and people of color access to socioeconomic opportunities. Through various legislative initiatives, affirmative action assured Black people and other people of color that they would have the same education and employment opportunities as their White counterparts. Institutions were incentivized to achieve racial equity and representation in classrooms, student bodies, and workplaces, giving them good reason to move away from White supremacy. For nearly six decades, education systems and the labor force have shown us the promise and the possibility of dismantling our White supremacist system.
The reality is that affirmative action is no silver bullet. It has its limitations, like the fact that many of its initiatives are inequitable and disproportionately realized, often only benefiting White people and deepening inequality; but affirmative action has also been an important tool in raising awareness about and addressing issues of equity in educational and labor systems. The dismantling of affirmative action is a massive setback in our efforts to create an equitable future.
Arguing to ignore the category of race is a form of White supremacy, and it has historically been used to deny racial equity in all aspects of life. We must recognize and address systemic racism and its consequences. We must work together to build a society where race and skin color really doesn’t matter to your educational and job prospects. Until then, we need interventions like affirmative action. Dismantling it, only serves to reinforce a colorblind society rooted in White supremacy. Black people and other people of color will be worse off because of this.
In her dissenting speech, Justice Sonia Sotomayor argued that this decision “rolls back decades of precedent and momentous progress.” We cannot allow this rollback. I want to move forward, toward a future where we make decisions that allow all people to live with dignity, not back to a past of discord and violence.
Dr. Kerry Mitchell Brown is a cultural architect, and equity strategist.