J. Pharoah Doss: Affirmative Action, statute of limitations, and historical burdens

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In 2003, the Supreme Court upheld Affirmative Action in college admissions in Grutter v. Bollinger. The Court ruled 5-4 that admission processes that benefited “underrepresented minorities” did not violate the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause as long as race was only one component of a holistic admissions strategy.

According to the Court, a diverse student body increased educational benefits for all who sought higher education. However, the Court stated that in the future, perhaps in 25 years, racial Affirmative Action will no longer be essential to encourage diversity and that a “color-blind” procedure will be implemented.

Twenty years later, the Supreme Court ruled that Affirmative Action in college admissions was unconstitutional. The Court ruled that it was discriminatory toward other minority groups and that it was time for a procedure that did not consider race.

Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson disagreed, but she didn’t articulate the educational benefits of diversity. She claimed that “our country has never been colorblind,” and the Court’s ruling failed to reflect the nation’s well-documented “intergenerational transmission of inequality.”

Due to this legacy of racism, Jackson didn’t merely argue for the continuation of affirmative action but for its permanence. She stated that Blacks and other minorities have done better, but only because institutions were willing to embrace affirmative action in order to grapple with the burdens of history.

At some point in time, it must be asked: when does the statute of limitations expire on historical burdens when temporary policies were put in place to address the lingering effects of slavery, segregation, and discrimination? Also, how many generations does it take for the negative effects of past discrimination to fade?

The British once dominated the globe, but they were not always dominant. The Romans enslaved the inhabitants of Britain. Julius Caesar referred to the British as the most ignorant people he had ever conquered, while Cicero noticed that British slaves could not be taught to read. After Rome collapsed, Vikings and then Normans enslaved the British. Slavery increasingly blended into serfdom during the Norman Conquest. Be that as it may, the descendants of these slaves and serfs started the industrial revolution and built an empire where the sun never set.

Obviously, the negative effects of slavery and serfdom wore off with time.

People rising out of slavery to make significant contributions to civilization aren’t anomalies; it’s a normal historical pattern, and former Black slaves continued this pattern after slavery was abolished in America.

William Wells Brown, America’s first ex-slave novelist, frequently used British enslavement and advancement to demonstrate what was achievable for former Black slaves.

White supremacists dismissed Brown’s comparison, claiming that African descendants lack the intellectual aptitude to do so. Other Whites believed that former Black slaves, like the descendants of British slaves, could advance, but only after generations of White nurturing in America. Brown thought both assertions were incorrect. He stated that the flourishing status of the enormous free-colored population of the Southern States was the clearest proof of the possibility for advancement without White paternalism.

Brown noted, “All of these free people were slaves or descended from slaves.” Despite southern anti-Black laws and race prejudice, they amassed vast sums of property. It was this industry, intelligence, and wealth of the free colored people of the south that created so much prejudice against them. On June 8, 1860, the Southern Rights Convention met in Baltimore and asked for legislation to drive free colored people out of the state in order to ensure the obedience of slaves. Other Whites opposed driving away the free colored people because they were the best mechanics, artisans, and industrious laborers in the state, and driving them out would be an injury to the state itself.

Brown stated, “This is certainly good evidence on their behalf.”

When Booker T. Washington received an honorary degree from Harvard in 1886, a Boston paper wrote that Washington didn’t receive the honor because he was colored or had been a slave. It was because he showed genius, which counts for greatness in any man, whether Black or White.

Right after the Supreme Court ruled against affirmative action, a host on the urban radio show The Breakfast Club stated that without Affirmative Action, Black people have no chance. Unfortunately, this host believes that the historical burden of past discrimination is too much for Black Americans to bear in the twenty-first century.

The host wasn’t alone. Black democratic officeholders, Black progressive professors, and civil rights activists all echoed the same sentiment.

It’s often suggested that those who do not know their history are bound to repeat it, but, in this case, historical patterns of achievement cannot be replicated if Black Americans are oblivious to them.



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