Originally published in Orlando Sentinel, July 25, 2013
By Jeremy I. Levitt and Yohuru Williams, Guest columnists
In light of its recent decisions in critical cases involving voting rights and affirmative action, it appears that the U.S. Supreme Court is waging legal warfare on America’s well-settled civil-rights landscape.
In other words, the Roberts court seems bent on reversing jurisprudential and legislative actions that advanced racial equality and justice.
The gutting of the enforcement arm of the Voting Rights Act in the landmark case Shelby County v. Holder, and the court’s proposal that universities pursue race-neutral means of achieving racial diversity in the controversial ruling in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, beg the question: Are we entering a new period of colorblind discrimination where post-racial and race-neutral law serve as new mechanisms of racial exclusion and oppression?
Even as Chief Justice John Roberts and the slim majority propose such a victory, the 5-4 decision in Fisher points not only to deep division but also to the difficulty in litigating and legislating race in a nation with conscious amnesia about its brutal legacy of discrimination against African-Americans. Trayvon Martin tragically did not live long enough to enjoy America’s new race-neutral world, to cast a vote or to apply to college.
How is racial equality and justice achievable when the original promises of citizenship remain elusive? How is it attainable when killing innocent black children is sanctioned by state authority?
While Jim Crow segregation was characterized by overt means of stifling and disqualifying voters and relegating African-Americans to third-class citizenship, “Roberts Crow” isolationism provides legal brick and mortar to those committed to the idea of white privilege and entitlement on the one hand, and black marginalization and inequality on the other.
The court’s recent decision in the Shelby County case strikes down an enduring act of Congress and declares vital voting-rights protections to be unconstitutional on the nefarious presumption that, according to Roberts, “Our country has changed, and while any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions.”
If the mentalities that led to Trayvon Martin’s death and George Zimmerman’s acquittal are any measure of change or current conditions, our nation is in deep trouble.
The Roberts majority casually presumes that equality has been achieved because an African-American has been elected president, and blacks and whites can share the same physical space at lunch counters and lavatories. Yet, as the Trayvon Martin travesty horrifically illuminates, black citizenship is an illusion insidiously propagated by the mantra of white colorblindness. Need I mention James Byrd, Amadou Diallo and Sean Bell?
In the face of the highly touted successes of the few, the damning statistics affirming the stifling presence of racial inequality are written off and unjustly attributed to self-destructive behavior in the same way that Trayvon was labeled the provocateur in his own death.
Roberts Crow isolationism reinforces the self-destructive narrative and will have the intended consequence of providing a thick veil of legal protection for those that seek to disenfranchise voters, reduce the number of African-Americans attending university and use racial violence against blacks under the cloak of standing their ground.
Roberts Crow validates the strong and persistent fear that one black man’s triumph means that the worst battles on the racial front are behind us. Obama’s election spun a dangerous narrative among mainstream conservatives and liberals of a post-racial America where racism is dead.
Of course, race played no role in the killing of Trayvon and acquittal of Zimmerman. Roberts Crow embraces this race-neutral racism, raising the question of who benefits the most from racial muteness and neutralism.
It should come as no surprise that those who support the demise of voting rights and affirmative action also comprise the group that believe in Zimmerman’s innocence. Can we truly afford such race-neutral dishonesty without abandoning our core democratic values?
Similar to its assertive brother Jim Crow, Roberts Crow jeopardizes the very fabric of our democracy by refusing to acknowledge that acute racism exists and African-American citizenship remains illusory.