Why we still need affirmative action
Written by Elizabeth Leung
June 3, 2013
We’ve asked our staff to help us unpack the complex justice issues that we’re working on. Using our General Synod pronouncements as the basis for these reflections, we hope to provide insights into the issues you care about that are rooted in our shared faith, and can inform your advocacy efforts. This month, Elizabeth Leung, our Minister for Racial Justice, reflects on the importance of affirmative action in light of the pending Supreme Court Decision in Fisher v. University of Texas.
Why we still need affirmative action
The United Church of Christ General Synods have repeatedly committed to affirmative action beginning in the mid-1970s and reaffirming this commitment in 1981 and 1995 in light of past Supreme Court decisions. This month the U.S. Supreme Court will revisit this important issue once again when the court announces its decision in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, a case that questions the legality of affirmative action in higher education. As we await the Court’s decision, I wanted to take a moment to highlight some of the reasons why affirmative action is still important and why people of faith must continue to be voices for racial justice now and in the future.
Why do we need affirmative action? Affirmative action seeks to redress the historical injuries of racism: the impact of 200 years of chattel slavery and 90 years of Jim Crow segregation across generations. Today racial disparities still persist in education, health, housing, and employment.
Isn’t racism past history? The legacy of almost 300 years of institutionalized racism does not evaporate within a few decades merely because the law says so. Because race had been so thoroughly etched into our social structures, racism continues to mutate in our social practices.
Every generation needs to evolve in its understanding of racism and be proactive in racial justice. As President Lyndon B. Johnson said at Howard University in June 1965, “We seek … not just equality as a right and theory but equality as a fact and equality as a result.”
Wouldn’t “colorblind” admission work better to eliminate all discrimination? Discrimination does not strike all racial/ethnic groups equally. The “colorblind” principle effectively prefers those who can afford not to think about race and penalizes non-Whites who are effectively coerced into a practice of suppressing racial markers.
What does affirmative action do? Affirmative action levels the playing field and expands opportunities for all. It addresses the educational inequity for students of color whose racial and ethnic groups have faced the barrier of structural inequities of poverty, housing, and joblessness. For those who have endured the wrath of racism, exclusion and injustice, it has opened doors that would have remained locked.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor writes in her memoir, My Beloved World, “I had no need to apologize that the look-wider, search-more affirmative action that Princeton and Yale practiced had opened doors for me. That was its purpose: to create the conditions whereby students from disadvantaged backgrounds could be brought to the starting line of a race many were unaware was even being run.”
As people of faith who strive to cultivate the Beloved Community, our General Synod supports affirmative action, because our nation cannot be completely free without all people’s sharing the same rights and equal access to opportunities for advancement and equitable treatment. It is about more than diversity, for it is in fact a moral obligation to racial equity.