Dr E Faye Williams1

Dr. E. Faye Williams

(Trice-Edney) Our country is currently convulsing over issues of diversity and race.  Police departments from Baltimore to Minneapolis view diversity hiring as the antidote to anti-Black police brutality.  Last year, Hollywood scrambled to increase diversity among Academy Award presenters after realizing its nominees were mainly white.  (Again!) Today, a deeply divided United States Supreme Court upheld the use of racial preferences in admissions at the University of Texas, giving an unexpected reprieve to the type of affirmative action policies the Texas University has practiced for nearly four decades.

“Diversity” sounds polite and hopeful.  It is how we talk when we can’t be honest about race or when whites get nervous.

“Affirmative action” was first used in the US in “Executive Order #10925,” signed by President Kennedy in March 1961, which included a provision that government contractors “take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and employees are treated during employment, without regard to race, creed, color or national origin.”  In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson issued Executive Order #11246 which required government employers to take “affirmative action” to “hire without regard to race, religion and national origin.”  In 1967, gender was added to the anti-discrimination list.

Affirmative action is intended to promote the opportunities of defined minority groups within a society and to give minority groups equal access to that of the majority population.  The significance of upholding the University of Texas case and the importance of having a Supreme Court at full strength is that in past decisions at least four Supreme Court justices believe affirmative action is unconstitutional.  In his concurrence to the first Fisher opinion, the late Justice Antonin Scalia wrote, “The Constitution proscribes government discrimination on the basis of race, and state-provided education is no exception.” Never mind that “affirmative action” was a reaction to state sponsored discrimination!  Similar to Scalia, Justice Clarence Thomas equated affirmative action to Jim Crow.  Referencing voluntary school desegregation plans—which he struck down—Chief Justice John Roberts has said, “The way to stop discriminating on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race,” as if ignoring past discrimination has the effect of remedying its results.

As a woman of African descent with several degrees, I have spent my entire life as a minority.  So, I know most whites don’t see themselves as racist or how their own race has shaped their expectation of self-entitlement or positively impacted their personal success.  But, if I understand correctly, the dissenting Justices believe Ms. Fisher is part of an oppressed class–a class that has endured years of unequal access to education, housing and employment and the like —- a class in which women are paid on average only 77 percent of what men are paid — Black women only 64 cents and Latinas just 55 cents —- a part of an oppressed class which…

  • Can turn on the TV and continuously see her ‘sisters’ well respected and widely represented in the news and all other mediums.
  • Has a 70% chance or more of getting hired.
  • Can rely on help from passers-by if she’s assaulted in public!

The audacity of today’s decision is that the Supreme Court demonstrated ‘some’ understanding of the difference between racial parity and racial privilege!  This case threatened the use of racial preference as an admission FACTOR at the University of Texas-Austin and across the nation.  In that sense, today’s 4-3 decision only amounts to a limited victory of affirmative action and diversity.  

To fully understand the significance of this decision, one must understand that privilege is a special right, advantage or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group.  If not for Fisher’s “white privilege” this case would have been stricken at the lower level court!

Dr. E. Faye Williams can be reached at:202/678-6788, or at www.nationalcongressbw.org