June 29, 2007

Let Race Not Divide Us

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Today, the Supreme Court made a historic decision involving race in Parents Involved v. Seattle School Dist. No. 1, outlawing the use of race as a factor in placing students in public schools. Had the Supreme Court ruled the other way, they would have turned back the clock 53 years. For those who do not know what I am referring to, in 1954, Brown v. Board of Education prohibited segregation in our schools based on race. Back then, the Supreme Court determined that a student’s race does not measure his worth, yet America faces the same problem today. Had schools been able to allocate students based on race, children would have devolved, as Justice Kennedy said in his concurring opinion, into “racial chits valued and traded according to one school’s supply and another’s demand.” As much as I admire the free market, children do not belong in it. By recognizing this, the Supreme Court made a decision that CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin says will “rank with the great, important school desegregation opinions of the court’s history, starting with Brown v. Board of Education in 1954.”

Now several observed that the decision would only affect a small number of students, hoping this would mitigate the race factor. Under the challenged plan, schools would only play the race card if too many people wanted to go to a certain school. Then, schools would consider race as a tiebreaking factor. While the scope at which race applies is narrow, it still does not change the fact that schools unjustly used race as a factor, whether for a few students or many students. Would hate crimes cease to be hate crimes if only a select few crimes qualified as hate crimes each year? Here is the basic fact: groupings such as “white or non-white” as well as “black or other” existed. Race and race alone determined one’s status. Any use of race alone, at any stage of the process, inherently qualifies as discrimination.

If an African-American grew up in a racist neighborhood located in the heart of the deep South, they have every right to refer to that when it comes time for college admissions. However, instead consider another African-American, or Hispanic, or whatever, raised in a rich family in an affluent neighborhood, a place that embodies the very essence of tolerance and diversity, creating no hardships due to race. Should that person benefit from being a racial minority? No! Not only would a blanket standard benefit people who do not need it, but it oversimplifies the issue of race. Although Cornell University has used methods such as “on-campus programs and recruitment in inner-city public schools” to reach out to minorities, as an article from the Daily Sun states, according to a different article, other elite universities took a different approach, boosting minority numbers by recruiting immigrants from the upper echelons of their countries. Beyond the two contrasts I have already mentioned, others exist which cover the issue of race at nearly every level of life. Race simply cannot be classified as a black-and-white issue.

For this reason, the Supreme Court decisions on education and race have pretty much pleased me. In 1978, Regents of the University of California v. Bakke affirmed the premise of affirmative action, but it also blocked a blatant example of reverse discrimination, racial quotas. The Court would reaffirm the use of affirmative action in the 2003 case Grutter v. Bollinger, but at the same time they rejected a point system that automatically gave points to certain minorities in Gratz v. Bollinger. Now today, with Parents Involved v. Seattle School Dist. No. 1, the Supreme Court has continued the trend of not letting just the factor of race alone contribute to decision-making, whether by quotas, points, or tiebreakers. Race should never be an automatic factor.