Friday, May 31, 2024

#152 / The Colorblindness Trap

Back in March of this year, I read an extremely lengthy (and excellent) New York Times article by Nikole Hannah-Jones. Her article, "The 'Colorblindness' Trap: How A Civil Rights Ideal Got Hijacked," begins with a report on the Supreme Court's decision in Students For Fair Admissions v. President and Fellows of Harvard College. That decision, and other, similar decisions, as Hannah-Jones reports, have helped to eliminate race-based "affirmative action" as an effective way to counter the two centuries of racial discrimination that have denied to so many the promise contained in these prominent and powerful lines from The Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all [persons] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

If The Times' paywall will let you read Hannah-Jones' article, I recommend it. Instead of commenting on the article, though, let me comment on what the Declaration of Independence says. 

The Declaration of Independence does not, I believe, suggest that our government should be "colorblind," or blind in any other way, as it seeks to effectuate what The Declaration promises.

Think about this: Do we actually believe that those who signed The Declaration (and those who fought for this nation's liberation from Great Britain in our Revolutionary War) actually believed, literally, that "all persons are... equal?" That certainly couldn't be true if "equal" is taken to mean either "identical" or "the same." We are not "equal," in any way. In fact, each one of us is unique! We are different in virtually every way one might think of, and certainly we are of different colors! We are, each one of us, one of a kind!

It seems obvious to me that those who undertook the revolution that resulted in the establishment of the United States of America as an independent nation knew this. I am convinced that they had no illusion, whatsoever, that we are all created "equal," if "equal" is supposed to mean that we are "the same." We are not!

So, unless we want to assume that the Declaration of Independence is just some kind of bullshit window-dressing (pardon my academic language), what does the Declaration tell us about how our nation is supposed to think about "equality"?

My answer is this: The Declaration of Independence is, in fact, profoundly serious, and it represents a solemn recognition of, and a celebration of, our "diversity" - our "plurality," if you are willing to employ the term that Hannah Arendt uses to describe our human condition.

The Declaration of Independence is our promise, to ourselves, that we will "secure the right" for every individual to be given what amounts to "equal treatment," and that none of our obvious differences will end up resulting in differential treatment, just because we are different. All persons are "created equal," and as persons who are, individually, completely different from others - each unique - we pledge to take what can properly be called "affirmative action" to achieve equal treatment, which is what the Fourteenth Amendment calls "equal protection under the law." 

"Colorblindness?" That is a call to shut our eyes to real differences that exist in the real world - and the reality of our world, of course, exists as it does, today, because of our history. Brown v. Board of Education, decided in 1954, required an end to segregation in our schools. It was a Supreme Court decision that delved deeply into the actual conditions of the schools, and then it demanded that state governments take action - take "affirmative action" -  to eliminate the differential treatment of the Black students funnelled into inferior, segregated schools. 

The Declaration of Independence says that the whole purpose of government is to give us - to give all of us - an equal ability to enjoy the unalienable rights that all of us have, which can be summarized as consisting of our right - each one of us - to enjoy Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. 

The Supreme Court has been heading in exactly the wrong direction. The whole purpose of government, as outlined in The Declaration, is to secure those individual rights, despite our differences. 

We still have a lot of work to do, and a long way to go, and not least in overcoming the unfairness - in fact, the profound evil - of slavery and all its aftermath. 

Instead of dodging the assignment to which The Declaration commits us, let's get back to working on how to fulfill its promise!

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