Let me finish tonight with this…
When it comes to race relations, this past week was one that suggested things aren’t getting any better.
First there was celebrity chef Paula Deen in a professional tailspin after acknowledging in a sworn deposition that she had used the N-word.
Then came the start of the George Zimmerman trial in which the town watchman faces second-degree murder charges for having shot and killed Trayvon Martin. “F__ing punks. These a-holes always get away” were the first words uttered by prosecutor John Guy, quoting Zimmerman as he tailed Martin.
Next came a pair of Supreme Court rulings, each decided by a 5-4 margin, one gutting that part of the Voting Rights Act which requires 9 states – mostly in the South – to obtain federal clearance before tinkering with voting procedures, and another which upheld affirmative action only in narrow circumstances and after imposing strict scrutiny.
When I opined on the radio that the collection of these headlines made me realize that race relations don’t seem to be improving anytime soon, and might be hampered by the changing demographics of the nation, my comment prompted a noteworthy response.
“Melissa” from Dallas was listening to me as she dropped off her son at pre-K last Tuesday. I was focused on the affirmative action case, Fischer v. University of Texas at Austin. Abigail Fisher, a white woman, sued after being denied admission at U-T, claiming that minorities with inferior qualifications were admitted in her stead.
I made what I thought was a practical, political observation, namely that if affirmative action is running out of support in 2013, imagine how hard it will be to defend the necessity come 2050, when whites will collectively be a minority in comparison to people of color. Melissa responded that there were more important considerations than the raw numbers in demographics.
“The reason affirmative action exists is because for 300 years we had legalized slavery. And then we had another 100 years of segregation based on Jim Crow.”
She thought it would be grossly premature to say that after that many years of legalized discrimination based on one factor - race - it’s now time to get rid of affirmative action.
She told me she was only one of 20 or so blacks in law school at U-T, and said that there were only seven black men in the entire class that followed me in law school, the class of 2000.
More important than just population data, she said, will be the questions of who is then running the institutions, and who thereby is running the country?
Wherever we are in race relations, this week has proved that the Supreme Court is wrong. In the opinion released Monday neutering the Voting Rights Act, Chief Justice Roberts wrote that Congress “re-enacted a formula based on 40-year-old facts having no logical relation to the present day.”
If only things had changed that much. Forty years later we are not as far along as the Supreme Court thinks.