Injustice of the Equal Protection Clause

By Samuel Owens

Nietzsche wrote of the unjust nature of laws predicated on class inequality. Within America, it seems that the just spirit of the laws transcends the limitations of behavioral evolution. While our Constitution upholds the inalienable rights of all people, we still harbor ancient mores of racial and cultural based inferiority. What is the redeeming value of these laws if they merely wax philosophical and fail to capture the essence of American practicality? Following the abolition of slavery and the enfranchisement of blacks in America, Frederick Douglass once addressed the question, “Why, then, do they [Negroes] thus insist upon keeping up the color line between themselves and their white fellow-countrymen?”. Although blacks were both free and equal in theory, the reality is that blacks faced ostracism and Jim Crow Laws if they even considered exercising their freedom and mob lynchings if they actually succeeded.

Likewise, proponents for the abolition of affirmative action programs echo a similar sentiment, “Since slavery is long abolished and blacks are free, why maintain this color distinction in admissions policies?” It cannot be expected that people of color take down this barrier until the practices of this country are in accordance to the righteousness of the laws. It is erroneous to think that racism and intolerance are extinct. Advocates for a strictly merit-based and colorblind admissions policy are victims of this fallacy. Bigotry is still manifested in the implicit ostracism of blacks from completely integrating with the rest of American society. The so-called traditional measures of merit that pertain to college admissions are unjust gauges of intellectual capacity. Race and these “merit-based” measures are intricately linked; this makes it easy for some to confound their sense of justice with their subconscious elitism. As long as blacks are estranged from whites, Affirmative action in school admissions will remain a just and necessary practice.

An additional admissions consideration is geographic residence. In Chicagoland alone, residential segregation runs rampant and racial lines demarcate “black neighborhoods” and “white neighborhoods”. There is a corresponding economic disparity between these two entities with the majority of wealth concentrated in the hands of the latter. The former is often relegated to inferior educational opportunities as a result of this economic situation. A lack of funding diminishes a school’s ability to hire qualified teachers (to specialize in subjects) and diversify its curriculum (advanced placement classes, special education classes, etc.). Under these circumstances, it is obvious that underrepresented minorities are disadvantaged in regards to the “merit-based” qualifications that consider quality of high school and strength of curriculum. Another admissions consideration is alumni relationships. If minorities are disproportionately excluded from college admissions based upon these so-called merit-based criteria, it is irrational to expect them to develop legacies and other alumni relationships to the same capacity as whites. This injustice can only be rectified through active ethnic diversification within institutes of higher education.

It is appalling that some people [including Supreme Court Justices] do not consider class diversity to be “a compelling state interest” or that essential educational benefits accrue with the promotion of a critical mass of minority students. Their argument is that intellectual diversity is more compelling than racial diversity. I wholeheartedly agree that diversity exists in many different forms and is not confined to race. A person’s self-image is not merely composed of his or her ethnicity, but is also constituted by innate personality characteristics, socioeconomic background, religious views, sexual orientation, etc. It may very well be true that to a white, heterosexual individual that his/her self-image is more defined by additional factors besides his/her race or sexuality; this is a consequence of white heterosexuals being the accepted elites in the American caste system. As long as a person is in the majority and is a part of what it is considered to be “accepted”, he or she considers these accepted traits to be less valuable components to what makes him/her unique.

A person who is not of this caste, is made to feel inferior by implicit ostracism or outright bigotry. It is my opinion that the majority of blacks therefore consider race to be the essential component of what defines their self-image. Everything that affects my contributions to the “intellectual diversity” at the U of C has been shaped by my experience of being black in America. Wherever I go, I am an African-American and am instantly identified as such; I am thus subject to other’s preconceptions of how black people stereotypically behave. In my classes, I am not identified as the spiritual person, the athlete, the outspoken and outgoing person, the kid from a middle-class neighborhood, or any number of things outside of race that define me. I am simply that “black guy”. As long as this mentality is fostered within American minds, Affirmative-action programs will continue to be vital to the prosperity of the African-American community in an environment that is hostile to mutual progress.