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Why We Must Affirm Affirmative Action

How can we even talk about reducing (and slowly eliminating) affirmative action when such obvious challenges are present at our universities and colleges, and in other areas of society? We must not turn back the clock.
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WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 10: Travis Ballie holds a sign that reads (Diversity Works) in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on October 10, 2012 in Washington, DC. Today the high court is scheduled to hear arguments on Fisher v University of Texas at Austin, and are tasked with ruling on whether the university's consideration of race in admissions is constitutional. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 10: Travis Ballie holds a sign that reads (Diversity Works) in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on October 10, 2012 in Washington, DC. Today the high court is scheduled to hear arguments on Fisher v University of Texas at Austin, and are tasked with ruling on whether the university's consideration of race in admissions is constitutional. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Wednesday morning National Action Network (NAN) and I, along with others in the civil rights community, will be rallying outside the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. as they listen to oral arguments in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin yet again.

This case, which is set up to eliminate race as a factor in places of higher education, is an attempt to chip away at the very core of affirmative action. The University of Texas already only considers race in a limited number of admission decisions, and if the Supreme Court rules in Fisher's favor, then that means not only will race be eliminated altogether in admission decisions there and eventually elsewhere, but this will also carry over into employment, contracts and effectively end affirmative action as we know it.

Despite the fact that we still have blatant racial inequality in campuses and places of employment (and many other areas), the Court is listening to this case for the second time. We will be there Wednesday to have our voices heard; we must end racial exclusion in all facets of our society, and affirmative action was set up specifically to at least begin the process of achieving this goal -- we cannot reverse course now.

The right-wing and others often try to pretend that we are somehow in some sort of post-racial society when the reality is we still have our work cut out for us. In the realm of education itself, we see a severe disparity in access to quality schools and avenues that lead to higher learning. And on college campuses across the country, there are still racial inequalities that exist, and we all know that discrimination is a reality in employment, housing and other areas. Affirmative action was designed to help level the playing field, and for us to now act like we no longer need it is disingenuous and patently false. Might I also remind those on the right that Arthur Fletcher, known as "the father of Affirmative Action," was a Republican government official, and that the program was designed under Nixon; it was a conservative policy to address a need that even Nixon saw as urgent.

Today as we continue to see protests on college campuses, objecting to everything from blatant forms of racial discrimination to safety concerns, and even to feelings of alienation and a lack of students of color, it is unfathomable that some are attempting to reduce a mechanism that is only hitting the surface when it comes to integrating and giving an opportunity to those who have long been marginalized. A piece in U.S. News & World Report earlier this year titled 'U.S. Education: Still Separate and Unequal,' highlights extensively the persistent problem of unequal education in this country from the onset through higher education. As the article states: "Of individuals aged 16 to 24 completing high school or earning GED certificates in the last year, 56 percent of black students enrolled in a two or four-year college compared with 66 percent of whites. Fewer black students make it from enrollment to graduation and, for the ones that do, graduating takes longer."

It is outrageous that some are trying to strategically chip away at a program that still has not resolved the issue of equality whether in education, employment or elsewhere. How can we even talk about reducing (and slowly eliminating) affirmative action when such obvious challenges are present at our universities and colleges, and in other areas of society? We must not turn back the clock. The Supreme Court already heard the Fisher case before and decided 7-1 to send it back to a lower court for greater scrutiny, and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed Texas' policy and dismissed the case last year. Now that this case is back again in front of the Supreme Court, those of us who know that we still have a long journey before achieving racial equality must object to this slick attempt at eroding affirmative action.

In the same way that the Voting Rights Act was effectively gutted recently, there's a concerted effort to break key elements of affirmative action and this case is a prime example of that effort. We cannot act as though we're in some sort of race-neutral society when everything tells us otherwise. Have we progressed on the whole? Absolutely. But do we have much more work ahead of us? Without a doubt. Not only are our college campuses suffering with racial strife and challenges today, but we now have the highest court in the land entertaining making them the location of racial exclusion all over again.

We must stand in unison and say no on Wednesday. Join us outside the Supreme Court.