The World in Red

About a month ago, the Supreme Court ruled against Harvard in the SFFA vs. Harvard and effectively ended affirmative action in the 21st century.

This case is one that I have been following since 2019, and I have to say I was not surprised about the decision. What, however, was surprising were two things: An ahistorical and naive notion of race's influence on an individual's life trajectory. And the divide-and-conquer strategy that Edward Blum adopted to convince a marginalized group that aligning itself with dominant interests could give said group access to economic power. It is a strategy that the precursors to Edward Blum adopted many times in the past, and it has generally been effective.

Long ago the Irish, Italians, and Eastern Europeans in America were not considered white but had to be legally subsumed into whiteness to make more clear the black-white dichotomy that defined and defines America. There are many court cases from the early 20th century where recent immigrants (who had no original notion of this dichotomy) filed suit against institutions to fight, not against the legitimacy of the dichotomy itself but, for their inclusion on the "right" side of it. Believing in America as a race-neutral meritocracy is just the modern version of this.

In the 2007 Parents Involved court case about this very issue of race-based admissions (with the same direction of decision), Chief Justice Roberts stated

"The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race."

People of color cannot be faulted for being skeptical of this sudden turn towards racial egalitarianism. One can imagine the response to Roberts being

"Hundreds of years ago, people like you tried to attribute traits to me specifically based on racial identity, and now people like you are telling me I should look beyond that identity and live my life as an individual, mere decades after the consequences of that initial attribution have been entrenched in both public and private institutions?"

Gas lighting is too polite of a term to describe what is going on here. It is more like someone threw paint on you yesterday, promptly decided to reform their paint-throwing ways and forget their past life, and then asked you today why you’re going around marking the world in red.

The hope is that the country will make an uneasy peace with its connection to its history in an effort to make more true the ideals it wants to believe it already embodies. This case is a step backward in the direction of that peace. But it has at least reminded people of the fact that marginalization itself is not a unifying experience and that we all must consciously think and choose to what principles we have allegiance lest we fall into the belief that if we are good, the crocodile will eat us last.


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