Thompson: No room for black students in Supreme Court Justice Scalia’s nation
After attacking the Voting Rights Act two years ago as a “racial entitlement,” U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who is no stranger to controversies around race-based policies, is at it again. This time, his sword is directed at affirmative action and the intelligence and ability of black students to cope in the nation’s elite institutions.
“There are those who contend that it does not benefit African-Americans to get into the University of Texas where they do not do well, as opposed to having them go to a less-advanced school, a slower-track school, where they do well,” Scalia said last week during oral arguments before the Supreme Court in the Fisher vs. University of Texas-Austin affirmative action case brought by a white woman who claimed her rejection to the school was based on its race policy.
Scalia added that “most of the black scientists in this country don’t come from schools like the University of Texas. They come from lesser schools where they do not feel that they’re being pushed ahead in classes that are too fast for them.”
Scalia’s reasoning is not only subjective and without facts, but dangerous enough to create cause for concern because he is a member of the highest court in the land, who in 2015 is telling every black child in the nation that they are better off at a second-tier university than a top-tier school.
If Scalia’s logic holds water then there would be no President Barack Obama whose success today is due in part to the fact that he attended two of the nation’s upper-tier schools — Columbia and Harvard universities.
Obama at age 28 was elected by his peers to become president of the Harvard Law Review, the first black to occupy that prestigious role. The Harvard Law Review is considered to be the most widely cited student law review in the nation.
In a 1990 New York Times article announcing the appointment, Obama said: “It’s important that stories like mine aren’t used to say that everything is OK for blacks. You have to remember that for every one of me, there are hundreds or thousands of black students with at least equal talent who don’t get a chance.”
To be elected to head any scholarly entity at an elite college — as was the case with Obama — was a clear affirmation of his intellect and intelligence. If he was being “pushed,” or if he felt that Harvard was “too fast” for him as Scalia’s reasoning would suggest, his fellow students would not have elected him to lead the 104-year law review at the time.
The response to Scalia’s remarks from nation’s leading African-American legislative group was swift.
U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said: “Justice Scalia’s comments were disgusting, inaccurate and insulting to African-Americans and his statements undervalue the historic achievement we have made.”
Butterfield, D-N.C., added: “Thousands of black Americans have excelled in top-tier universities. African-Americans have achieved positions of prominence including Justice Scalia’s colleague, Justice Clarence Thomas.
“As a former trial and appellate judge for fifteen years, I know that inflammatory statements from the bench, especially from Supreme Court justices are damaging to the public’s confidence in our courts and reflect negatively on the administration of justice.”
Scalia has the right to oppose affirmative action and make a legal argument about why the University of Texas should squash the program. He is entitled to his own opinions about blacks in higher institutions of learning.
But he is not entitled to create or alter facts. Countless numbers of blacks have reached the pinnacle of American life largely because of once-in-a-lifetime opportunities generated by the educations they receive at America’s elite schools.
At a time when universities across the country are facing student demands to embrace racially diverse campuses, Scalia’s remarks smack of nothing but pure dogma. His outright dismissal of the brilliance of black students seeking to enter top schools is a setback in the protracted battle to make our colleges reflect the growing multiracial America we are becoming. Diversity is critical and needed today in every facet of American life including in higher education because we still have longstanding issues of inequity in our society.
Black parents like myself find Scalia’s remarks more troubling because I should not have to tell my 6-year-old son when it’s time for him to choose college, that he should not aim for the best school, rather he should settle for a lower track college. That he is not smart enough to be admitted into Stanford, Yale, University of Chicago or any other similar college. Such conclusions would be tantamount to robbing any child of his potential to succeed in life. Black children — like all kids — regardless of the color of their skin should be the given the same opportunities to perform.
We can debate the merits and demerits of affirmative action. But we should not reinforce perceptions that black students are intellectually inferior or lack drive, as Scalia has done.
America has come a long way since the 1954 Supreme Court ruling in the Brown vs. Board of Education desegregation case. We should not limit the scope of that decision by determining which colleges black students should go to and which ones are no-go areas for them.
Bankole Thompson is the host of “Redline with Bankole Thompson,” on WDET-101.9FM at 11 a.m. Thursdays. His column appears Thursdays.