June 30, 2007

One Person’s Constitution is Another’s Racism

In my last post, which dealt with the recent ruling by the Supreme Court which said that using skin color to determine student placement in public schools was unconstitutional, I had mentioned that what might make this decision so nationally divisive is that we have differing viewpoints on whether or not we should be able to enforce unconstitutional laws as long as those laws have good intentions behind them.

In Thursday’s move by the Court, for instance, we could see that two views on constitutionality emerged: (1) a law is either constitutional or unconstitutional and if it’s unconstitutional it needs to be struck down; and (2) unconstitutional laws should exist as long as they send a socially-just message.

In Meredith we found ourselves with a ruling that was boiled down to one thing: skin color cannot be used as a factor to determine which school a child attends. The ruling has not been popular, though, and the Internet is teeming with dissenting opinions that are in line with the second view on constitutionality mentioned above.

The most applicable remark so far has been on The State of Opportunity (opportunityagenda.typepad.com), where Amanda Ogus illustrated my prediction that the term “racism” would be utilized to describe those of us who don’t think that skin color should be used to make decisions because such a move is unconstitutional: “[I]f we attempt to make policy on the assumption that the government is or should be colorblind, we ignore the existing health, wealth and society disparities, thus invoking a whole new form of racism.” Furthermore, she states: “So letting things ‘run their course’ now, and delaring [sic] that colorblind policies are best is premature, short-sighted an [sic] unlikely to proect [sic] our coutnry’s [sic] core value of ensuring opportunity for everyone.”

I’m not using Ms. Ogus’s view as an example to single her out; I don’t know her from Eve and there are many other opinions in the blogosphere of a similar nature. I picked her comments because they provide the best example of my assertion that issues like race will never be agreed upon because we often disagree on how to handle laws related to them; in addition, we find it difficult to discuss racial issues because it has become common to hear words like “racism” and “racist” the moment that a disagreement arises—even if racism isn’t present.

Sometimes we’re supposed to be colorblind; other times we’re supposed to pay attention to skin color and nothing else. Sometimes we’re supposed to oppose unconstitutional laws; other times we’re supposed to celebrate laws that are unconstitutional. As I had mentioned in the previous post, we need to make up our minds; we have to decide if we want consistent laws or if we want laws that apply to situations whenever we want them to. If we opt for the latter, are we prepared for the outcome that comes with such a double standard?