What a week this has been for black people.
Last Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 6-2 decision, upheld a Michigan ban on affirmative action in higher education. The court ruled voters can ban affirmative action, as Michigan voters did in 2006. As POLITICO wrote, “The court’s ruling is likely to embolden opponents of racial preferences,” like the Center for Equal Opportunity, which lodged a complaint against MU in 2005 for race-based scholarships.
The same day as the Supreme Court decision, The New York Times posted a story on embattled Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy. For weeks, Bundy has been involved in a standoff with federal officials over grazing rights on public lands in Nevada, a standoff that includes a $1 million unpaid bill by Bundy.
Without being asked, Bundy had this to say about “the negro” to The New York Times in an April 23 article, 2014: “They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.”
Before the long week could end, TMZ posted audio on Friday evening of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling making racist comments on his now-ex girlfriend, V. Stiviano. Sterling, who has owned the NBA team since 1981, was upset that Stiviano, who is half-black and half-Mexican, posted pictures of herself with black people — including NBA legend Magic Johnson — on Instagram. Sterling, according to the audio, also didn’t want Stiviano to bring black people to Clippers games or be seen associating with them.
An extended version of the audio was published by Deadspin on Sunday, with Sterling brushing off accusations of racism because he provides food, clothes, cars and houses for the 12 black men on the Clippers roster.
Needless to say, last week felt like the 1960s for black Americans.
In 2008, this was all supposed to change. The election of Barack Obama was supposed to move America into a post-racial society that didn’t need affirmative action, where slavery was a distant memory and where “the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood,” as any anti-affirmative action proponent would remind you what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said.
Because of 2008, America finally reached a plateau of equality that took centuries of fighting and litigation. One election was supposed to make up for over 500 years of slavery, discrimination and racism.
Because old white men were at the center of last week’s events, we’re supposed to brush their racism and ignorance off as them being born and raised in a different time. So instead of the election of President Obama, the death of old racists like Sterling and Bundy would then make America post-racial.
But that line of thinking is like applying a Band-Aid to a machete wound. Those born in the first half of the 1900s are not the only racists in America. Non-racism is not a polio-like vaccine that older people missed out on. Racism is a learned trait that is passed down from racist to racist. How else could we explain an Arizona State University fraternity throwing an MLK Day party that included cups made of watermelons? How could we explain the multiple blatant acts of racism at MU?
These aren’t anomalies. Racism is as real now as it has been since the Middle Passage. Yet, Americans act surprised every time this happens.
Other than coincidence, the reason Bundy and Sterling said those things and the Supreme Court ruled the way it did on affirmative action last week is because each instance is connected. Affirmative action, in theory, is supposed to increase opportunities for minorities — including women — and increase diversity in schools and workplaces. But when racists view blacks as “the negro” and not worthy of attending basketball games, affirmative action is viewed as a welfare-like handout for the lazy portions of society.
And when affirmative action is banned, that means less white people are exposed to people who don’t look like them, thus continuing the vicious circle of hatred and oppression.
Race relations in America are obviously better today than they have been in the past — there’s no denying that. But brushing off acts of ignorance as an issue of age is more detrimental than doing nothing at all.
Idiots like Sterling and Bundy don’t upset me with their words. But when 58 percent of a state can ban affirmative action and our highest court deems it constitutional, I have to pay attention.
You should, too.