Why are we upset at the wrong thing? Individual Racism (Sterling) vs. Institutional Racism (Supreme Court Affirmative Action Ban)
By Kishonna L gray and emily a. hayden
On April 22nd, 2014 the Supreme Court decided to uphold a Michigan voter initiative prohibiting the use of race in admissions to the state’s public universities.
On April 25th, 2014, TMZ released a recording of NBA Clippers owner, Donald Sterling, talking with his bi-racial girlfriend, spouting racial comments towards African-Americans.
Two separate events. Two sad moments. Two drastically different responses: People flocked to social media to express their anger and outrage at the atrocious comments made by Sterling. Not so much with the Supreme Court ruling that it was ok for affirmative action to remain for Whites only. Yes we should be upset with both, but we’re overly upset at the wrong one. Just in case you missed both, we’ll fill you in on the fall out of each real quick and tell you which one you should be more upset with.
After the recording of Sterling was made public, the NBA decided to ban Donald Sterling and essentially force him out of ‘office’. Critics of this audio recording include Adam Silver, the current NBA commissioner, who stated that the comments are “deeply offensive and hurtful.” As a result of these “deeply offensive” and racist slurs by Donald Sterling, the NBA issued a 2.5 million dollar fine, a NBA ban for life, and a possible order which will force the sale of the Clippers team. The lifetime ban has ramifications that “Mr. Sterling may not attend any NBA games or practices, be present at any Clippers office or facility, or participate in any business or player personnel decisions involving the team” (Adam Silver, April 30th NBA.com). Sterling is also banned from the NBA board of governors meetings and any participation in any other league facility. The general consensus agrees that Silver’s actions “were fantastic” (ESPN blogs). Sterling’s racial slurs include statements which criticize his girlfriend for ‘hanging out with black people’ and quoting “don’t bring black people [Magic Johnson] to my games.” (haven't kept up with further fall out - but it's really bad for him right now)
The Commissioner’s ban of the Clippers owner sets the mood that the NBA promotes equality, providing a precedent that racist climates are not tolerated at any level of professional sports, and that the NBA agrees and allows equality among everyone. While this argument is felt, and generally supported among the public, why did the NBA scandal receive a firestorm of publicity, when the recent Supreme Court ruling to ban Affirmative Action (Schuette v. Coalition, 4/29/14) falls into the shadows? USA Today, the highest circulated newspaper in the United States, ran 214 stories in last week compared to 51 stories dedicated to Supreme Court’s ruling on Affirmative Action in higher education (as of a few days ago). How does a Supreme Court decision that decides that a state can essentially outlaw the use of affirmative action at higher education become more important?
The Supreme Court from a 6-2 vote decided “that a state can outlaw the use of affirmative action at its higher education institutions.” This case centers on the “Michigan ballot initiative in 2006 that enacted a state constitutional amendment forbidding the granting of “preferential treatment” on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, color, or national origin, at any of its states universities” (MSNBC, 4/25/14). Defense argued that this method eliminated affirmative action and believes the decision is unconstitutional at the federal level, specifically violating the 14th Amendment that guarantees equal protection under the law. Instead of the Supreme Court addressing the unconstitutionality, they instead stated, “it held that a state has the right to ban racial and gender preferences as determined by its people in a democratic process,” leaving decisions up to the states. The Supreme Court also stated that “a state has the right to ban racial and gender preferences as determined by its people in a democratic process,” and that it becomes the states responsibility to resolve it. In states that banned affirmative action in college admissions, prominent public universities have tended to enroll fewer black and Hispanic freshmen. See the link, “How Minorities Have Fared in States with Affirmative Action Bans. This seems to be going well (every bit of sarcasm) – a reduction in Black and Brown bodies in higher education. Must be what they want.
The United States Supreme Court upheld the decision for Michigan’s voter approved ban on affirmative action regarding the admissions process for public state universities and colleges. According to the Huffington Post, it seems Americans only support affirmative action “only when it’s for Whites and no one else” going on to note that “Americans must confront the unearned advantage of whiteness that inspired Michigan's Proposal 2 in the first place”(4/23/14). There becomes a hypocritical conundrum; for example, unearned advantages for Whites are historically relevant in the Homestead Act of 1863 and the Federal Housing Administration (1932/1962) where the government issued homes exclusively for White Americans. This unfair advantage, provided equity for white people which assisted in the building of white wealth, later translating in better access to school systems and higher education. The Huffington Post article argues if it is true that minorities are less qualified, it is a result of historically having lower economic and social positions, this opens the question, then how is it that some of our first government assisted programs were only available to White Americans?
According to the National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL), there are many states that have approved measures prohibiting affirmative action. Those include: Oklahoma- State Question 759 (2012), New Hampshire- House Bill 0623 (2011), Arizona- Proposition 107 (2010), Nebraska- Initiative 424 (2008), Washington- Initiative 200 (1998); California- proposition 209 (1996); and California again in the Four Percent Plan (1999), Florida- Executive Order 99-281, “One Florida” (1999), Texas – HB 588, “Ten Percent Plan” (1997), California- SP-1 (1995), and Michigan- Proposal 2 (2006).
The system is set up so that the dominant group, specifically White Americans, is inherently advantaged, and minorities are disadvantaged. Minorities, specifically African-Americans as the literature suggests, must be outstanding and overachieve to gain equal status. Race-based admissions was an attempt to try and level the playing field. Need a quick illustration on why things aren't so equal - take a look here: The Unequal Opportunity Race.
Back to the main issue, why are the media and the public so focused and concerned about the drama of the NBA Clippers’ owner? Donald Sterling is a racist and got fired. We can't change how an individual feels. However, there is underlying racism that exists in the Supreme Court ruling (something that we can affect). It (racism) becomes hidden in school sanctions, housing, and employment opportunities. How is it that this individual racist is viewed as more important and gaining more publicity than the powerful Supreme Court voice on Affirmative Action?
But if they are going to forego race based decision in higher education, we would hope they would fix the root of the problem: why not fix equal opportunity employment, or the Federal Housing Administration Act to aid minorities in acquiring housing, a philosophy that was accepted and demanded by White Americans over decades ago. Why not make public schools equal? Why not reduce disproportionate minority contact? Let’s start from the ground up – from the bottom. Focus on the poor. Focus on inequalities. Focus on our children. Stimulate a generation that promotes equality from the beginning and only then will we have a fair future (and create leaders who aren’t racist that own teams employing a lot of Blacks!).
Manifest...My Reality: Seeing the World through the eyes of the 'other'