In my recent post about Trayvon Martin, I wrote that racism has evolved. I didn’t get any comments or questions about that post but I could tell that as millions of people across America were reading it they were thinking to themselves, “What do you mean, Anand? How has racism changed? PLEASE TELL ME MORE!” Well you can all relax because a federal appeals court just presented the perfect opportunity to elaborate on how racism has adapted to life in the 21st Century.
According to the LA Times:
“California’s ban on using race or gender as a factor in college admissions survived another legal challenge Monday when a federal appeals court upheld the law passed by state voters more than 15 years ago.
Plaintiffs argued that the ban, approved by California voters as Proposition 209 in 1996, ‘causes the unfair exclusion of African American, Latino and Native American students from higher education,’ according to court filings.
Monday’s decision rejected those claims, upholding a lower court ruling that found the state’s ban on using race, ethnicity or gender as a factor in admissions to be legal.” (read the full article here)
In other words, California’s public colleges and universities still cannot consider the gender, race, or ethnicity of applicants when determining who will gain admittance to their schools. While the UCs cannot use gender, race, or ethnicity as admission criteria, they still can consider social and economic factors such as family income and the educational disadvantages that an applicant may have faced.
Proposition 209, which banned traditional affirmative action in the California college system, used/flipped/was fashioned after the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The Civil Rights Act outlawed most formal practices of discrimination based on “race, color, religion, national origin, or sex” and more or less signaled the end of the Civil Rights Movement. The Act was designed to establish a more equal playing field for those segments of American society who had suffered the most from various forms of discrimination. This was also the logic that established affirmative action policies throughout the US. Women and non-whites were still suffering from discrimination, still underachieving, so institutions began to purposefully consider gender and race as admittance or hiring criteria. Paradoxically, the campaign against affirmative action has used the same logic: “it’s not right to restrict someone’s access because he or she is black” led to “it’s not right to restrict someone’s access because of his or her race” which has led to “it’s also not right to restrict someone’s access because he or she is white.” And by itself, that logic makes sense. While affirmative action may give women and non-whites a leg up, that logically results in giving men and whites a leg down. In a vacuum, that logic makes sense.
Affirmative action policies, however, were not developed in a vacuum. They were developed to address the persistent forms of discrimination which had continued in spite of the passage of the Civil Rights Act. Believe it or not, racism and sexism did not end in 1964. They were weakened but remained very much alive. Affirmative action policies have sought to weaken them more.
While Prop 209 does not violate the logic laid out in the specific language of the Civil Rights Act, it absolutely violates the spirit of the Civil Rights Act. While the Civil Rights Act asked America to bring an end to centuries of discrimination, Prop 209 asks us to act like those centuries of discrimination never happened and that it does not persist today. It is “colorblind” policy in a society that is anything but. While I agree with the UC system taking economic and social factors into consideration, those factors are not enough. Prop 209 essentially says that race doesn’t matter anymore. Trayvon is a stark reminder that it still does.
This is one of the most important ways that racism works today. The new racism uses the language of racial equality to try to hide the fact that racism still exits. (This is why people who talk about race or acknowledge the existence of racism are now often labeled as racists). What was supposed to be a tool for dismantling oppression has been transformed into a means to reinforce it.