Affirmative action has been a starkly divisive issue, pitting minority groups against each other throughout American history. Many believe that the Supreme Court’s elimination of affirmative action has now further divided minority groups.
The Solidarity Council of Racial Equity, or SCoRE, and the Othering and Belonging Institute, or OBI, hosted an event Tuesday examining the impact of the SCOTUS ruling and solidarity on the lives of Americans. The panel featured Director of OBI john a. powell, Director of UCLA’s Labor Center Kent Wong and Rachel Godsil, co-founder of Perception Institute and professor at Rutgers Law, in addition to political activist and organizer Linda Sarsour, Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner and journalist Maria Hinojosa.
According to powell, the Supreme Court struck down the use of race identification as a way to promote diversity, a precedent that had been upheld in three Supreme Court cases beginning in 1978. Panel members discussed the nuances of the most recent decision.
For example, in a footnote in the opinion authored by Chief Justice John Roberts, powell pointed out that the decision does not apply to military academies, as affirmative action is important to establish diversity in matters of national security. Yet, ensuring that institutions of higher education are representative is also a form of national security, according to Hinojosa.
“The court is showing you exactly who they are,” Hinojosa said. “You cannot use affirmative action ever in a private or public school setting, but with the military, where we’re going to send you to war, it’s okay.”
The panel then discussed how to dismantle affirmative action’s divisive narrative in mainstream media.
Despite popular belief, according to Wong, a majority of Asian Americans support affirmative action.
“The very existence of the Asian American community is based on the Black-led civil rights movement that struck down racially discriminatory policies in this country that existed for more than 80 years, excluding the very existence of Asians in this country,” Wong said. “So that is the victory of the civil rights movement, as was the victory of affirmative action.”
Sarsour said, although the decision sets a bad precedent, it is an “actual opportunity for organizing” in a country based on systemic racism. She discussed potential reforms of the Supreme Court, such as establishing term limits, expanding the number of justices on the Court and increasing the simple majority required to confirm those justices.
Looking at the affirmative action case of Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (1978), powell said the Supreme Court then shifted the focus from discrimination to diversity, stating that affirmative action could be used to enhance diversity, though not to remedy societal discrimination.
“It’s creating a system where for the first 12 years of education, this court is saying it’s okay to be unequal,” powell said. “And then after 12 years, it’s saying the students should compete as the same.”
Later in the panel, Hinojosa discussed the importance of highlighting issues like affirmative action and reproductive rights in elections, forcing those running for office to make commitments for which they can be held accountable.
Beyond policy, Pesner said it’s essential to understand each other on a personal level within communities to “live the diversity we believe in.”
“This is for everybody and the Earth itself,” powell said. “All of us deserve dignity and (to) belong. And that’s what we’re fighting for — that’s what solidarity is about.”