by race are so evil, so arbitrary and insidious that a state bound to defend
the equal protection of the laws must not allow them in any public sphere.
--Thurgood Marshall, Brown v. Board of Education, 1954
liberal responded to a recent column I wrote about the Supreme Court’s detestable
decision to uphold the University of Michigan law school’s use of racial
distinctions in admissions and my stand against it, Counterfeit Equality.
He suggested that I study the legislative history of the Fourteenth Amendment
because of my obvious ignorance of the fact that Congress never intended
to outlaw the use of race under all circumstances (although I neither wrote
nor implied that it did).
Email La Shawn Barber
Contrary to any ignorance of the amendment’s history, I’ve studied enough
of its judicial review to know that the 1896 Supreme Court in Plessy v. Ferguson--the
same court that fashioned the “separate but equal” doctrine--has much in
common with the Supreme Court today when it comes to the principle of equal
justice before the law.
In 1892, Homer Plessy (who was black, according to the “one drop” rule) was
convicted of violating the Separate Car Act in Louisiana for sitting in the
“White” car. He argued that the Act violated the Thirteenth Amendment and
his Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection. In the 7-2 majority opinion
upholding Plessy’s conviction, Justice Henry Brown contended that the Fourteenth
Amendment could not have been intended to abolish distinctions based on skin
color because, “Laws permitting, and even requiring, their [blacks and whites]
separation, in places where they are liable to be brought into contact, do
not necessarily imply the inferiority of either race to the other…”
Justice Brown insinuated that Plessy’s assumption that the separation of
the races “stamped a badge of inferiority” on the black race was, essentially,
in Plessy’s own mind. By pointing out the obvious in the dissenting opinion,
Justice John Marshall Harlan asserted that the “real meaning” behind the
Act was that blacks were inferior to whites and could not be allowed to sit
in the same public space. Likewise, the real meaning behind separate admissions
standards based on racial distinctions is that whites believe blacks are
inferior and will remain so for at least 25 years, according to Justice Sandra
The government-sanctioned doctrine of Jim Crow has made a fierce comeback
and is now so embedded that liberals like U.S. Representative John Dingell
can regress to the style of a southern racist, circa 1963, demanding to a
civil rights soldier, on taxpayers’ stationery, that he “go home and stay
there.” Dingell lashed out at Ward Connerly--who successfully led campaigns
in California and Washington State to outlaw race preferences in public education
and hiring--for organizing a similar campaign in Michigan. Reminiscent of
Alabama Governor George “Segregation Forever!” Wallace, Dingell apparently
wants to keep his “good” black folk in their place and won’t tolerate interference
from outside troublemakers and “uppity” ones like Connerly (I wish I was
While waiting for the Congressional Black Caucus to admonish Dingell for
his racially offensive harangue, I can only imagine their reaction had Jesse
Helms wrote those same words to Jesse Jackson. One hundred 24-hour news cycles
wouldn’t be enough to cover all the sound bites from the usual publicity-seeking
The same double standard that allows Dingell to remain above reproach thrives
under race preferences. Those discriminated against by the policies and those
who feel entitled to benefit are divided and classified by race for purposes
of public (read: taxpayer-supported) university admissions, a clear violation
of the Constitution. Government-sanctioned racial distinctions are abhorrent,
and no compelling governmental interest will ever exist in classifying its
citizens based on the color of their skin.
The arguments for separate but equal are as duplicitous in 2003 as they were
in 1896. The goal for a colorblind society remains unattainable, thanks to
five robed legislators masquerading as Supreme Court justices (also a violation
of the Constitution). Despite having been overturned by Brown v. Board of Education, Plessy v. Ferguson is still the law of the land. How repugnant.
Pardon my ignorance.
A freelance writer and former liberal, La Shawn's work has appeared in the Washington Post, Washington Times, and Philadelphia Inquirer, among others.
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