Knee-Jerk Finger-Pointing on Race Spreads to the Supreme Court

by Jim Geraghty

Also in today’s Jolt . . . 

Progressives’ Knee-Jerk Finger-Pointing on Race Spreads to the Supreme Court

Now we know: A liberal Supreme Court justice will tell another liberal Supreme Court justice to his face, with the whole country watching her read her dissent from the bench, that he doesn’t “understand about the reality of race in America” if she disagrees with his decision.

It’s been long lamented that there’s a particular nastiness to debates about race and racism in America, but it’s particularly jarring to see Sonia Sotomayor imply that six of her Supreme Court colleagues — including Bill Clinton’s appointee Stephen Breyer! — are oblivious or in denial about such a key topic.

To bring you up to speed, the Supreme Court ruled, 6-2, that a lower court did not have the authority to nullify a 2006 referendum — backed by 58 percent of voters — that bars publicly funded colleges from granting “preferential treatment to any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin.”

Depending upon your point of view, Sotomayor offered an impassioned dissent and/or went ballistic, accusing her colleagues of ignoring racism:

“As members of the judiciary tasked with intervening to carryout the guarantee of equal protection, we ought not sit back and wish away, rather than confront, the racial inequality that exists in our society.”

Roberts responded with a short, sharp statement of his own.

“To disagree with the dissent’s views on the costs and benefits of racial preferences is not to ‘wish away, rather than confront’ racial inequality,” Roberts wrote. “People can disagree in good faith on this issue, but it similarly does more harm than good to question the openness and candor of those on either side of the debate.”

. . . She said her colleagues ignored “the importance of diversity in institutions of higher education” and the decision “reveals how little my colleagues understand about the reality of race in America.”

I actually think there once was a strong and compelling argument for affirmative action for the descendants of slaves, and may still be. A key part of Americans’ ability to thrive since our founding is people’s ability to build upon the financial, intellectual, and cultural capital that they inherit from their parents. Even if your ancestors came here with nothing, they had a decent opportunity to hand something down to their children — be it land, money, heirlooms, or even just good values. Generation by generation, families built their wealth, or homesteads, or at least a bit of financial security. But for the 90 years or so after the Declaration of Independence, blacks couldn’t inherit anything. They couldn’t own much of anything. Their families could get split up and sold.

Once blacks were recognized as citizens under the law, they were still starting from effectively nothing. Because of their uniquely disadvantaged status for most of the first century of the United States — not mere garden-variety discrimination, but a near-absolute legal restriction on accumulating anything to leave to their children — you can make a compelling argument that they need(ed) some sort of leg up, some sort of extra help.

The question is . . . when is that leg up no longer needed? We have an African-American president. An African-American Attorney General. We’ve had two African-American Secretaries of State. Starting in the 1990s, just about every kid wanted to grow up to be like Mike, millions of women of every hue thought of Oprah as a personal friend, and in the sport of the ultimate symbol of the established white-privilege class, the country club, everybody wanted to be like multiethnic Tiger Woods, or at least the pre-scandal edition. Millions of white Americans sought to emulate African-American role models. Are there any ceilings left to be shattered, any barriers left to be broken? I’m sure this will be dismissed as the perspective of just another white guy, but how many barriers to success for African-Americans are still based upon racism, as opposed to other factors?

Notice where Sotomayor sees racism in today’s America:

“Race matters,” she wrote, to minority teenager who sees “others tense up as he passes;” to the young person addressed in a foreign language although she grew up in this country; to the young woman who is asked “No, where are you really from?”

“Race matters because of the slights, the snickers, the silent judgments that reinforce that most crippling of thoughts: ‘I do not belong here,’” Sotomayor wrote.

Ah, she’s referring to “microaggressions,” what Dr. Derald Sue, a professor of psychology at Columbia University, characterized as an “everyday slight, putdown, indignity, or invalidation unintentionally directed toward a marginalized group.”

Do we want the Supreme Court litigating “everyday slights and indignities,” particularly if they’re unintentional? Look, an unfortunate fact of life is that the world has jerks and clods and those who will insult you, intentionally and unintentionally. (Does the First Amendment protect the freedom to speak everyday slights, putdowns, or invalidations unintentionally directed toward a marginalized group?) Doesn’t the fact that we’re talking about “microaggressions” suggest that we’re dealing with a comparably “micro” problem, requiring a shrinking of the government’s tool to address this problem?

And as a gentle reminder of perspective . . . we live in a world where ethnic cleansing, religious targeting, and targeted massacres are still going on in South Sudan, Syria, and other corners of the world. In the big picture, how big a problem is it if a person gets addressed in the wrong language?