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7th Jul 2023 | by: admin

Thomas and Jackson. Who represents African-American interests?

Justice Clarence Thomas versus Justice Ketanji Jackson – Affirmative Action and the African American

By Femi Olugbile

On Thursday 29th June 2023, the Supreme Court of the United States of America announced a historic decision. It struck off Affirmative Action as a consideration for student admission into universities, reversing decades of precedent in which colleges and universities all over the country – public and private, were obliged to give some advantage to racial minorities. The judges ruled that Harvard University, the oldest private college in America, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the oldest State University, were illegally discriminating based on race, and thereby violating the 14th Amendment of the Constitution.
In the lead judgement, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr averred that the Constitution forbade treating people differently based on their race, including giving preferential treatment.
The dissenting Justices – Sonia Sotomayor and Ketanji Brown Jackson, in their minority judgement, accused the majority conservatives on the Court of ignoring America’s history, as well as the fact that racism was still present in the country today.
‘Our country has never been colour blind’ wrote Ketanji Jackson.
The case had been filed by a conservative group that called itself ‘Students for Fair Admissions.’ It accused Harvard and UNC of discriminating against Asian American applicants, in favour of Black and Latino applicants.
The group appealed to the Supreme Court after losing their case in a lower court, and in 2022, the Supreme Court decided to consider their appeal.
The real drama surrounding the Supreme Court judgement and its implications for the long-suffering black community in America, was an exchange between the two black members of the 9-man Supreme Court. The two Justices made no effort to conceal their dislike for one another. Clarence Thomas spoke against the use of ‘rudderless, race-based preferences designed to ensure a particular racial mix in their entering classes’. Attacking his fellow African American, Ketanji Jackson, he went on. ‘As she sees things, we are all inexorably trapped in a fundamentally racist society, with the original sin of slavery…still determining our lives today.’
Justice Jackson, in her comments on Justice Thomas and the judgement of the court, pulled no punches. She accused the majority of having a ‘let them eat cake’ obliviousness to racial issues, by pronouncing ‘colour-blindness’. Thomas, she said, demonstrated ‘an obsession with race consciousness … ignites too many straw men to list, and fully extinguish here…the takeaway is that those who demand that no one think about race…refuse to see, much less solve for…the race-linked disparities that continue to impede achievement of our great Nation’s full potential’.
Affirmative Action has a long history in the social psychology of the United States of America. Although a succession of Presidents had, over time, commencing soon after the abolition of slavery, called for fair employment practices and non-discrimination against black people in recruitment for jobs, the term ‘Affirmative Action’ was only introduced into the lexicon during the tenure of John F Kennedy. This occurred in his push to get educational institutions and employers, especially federal contractors, to give black people a fair chance of getting employment with them, under the pain of being ‘blacklisted’ if they failed to comply. Many conservatives opposed the measures, labelling them ‘reverse discrimination’.
The controversy surrounding Affirmative Action remains a matter of concern today, in many countries where some groups are perceived to be ‘disadvantaged’. It is the reason why the Federal Government of Nigeria sets lower entry marks to federal institutions for students from Zamfara State compared to students from Imo or Lagos States. As in America, the ‘reverse discrimination’ has aroused controversy, and its opponents have cynically observed that it has become an advantage to be disadvantaged.
Between Clarence Thomas and Ketanji Jackson, who truly represents the spirit and the interests of African Americans?
Clarence Thomas is widely despised in the black community as a judicial ‘Uncle Tom’.
It is necessary to know where he is coming from. He attended Law School at Yale. After graduation, he was discriminated against when it came to employment, with employers deriding his degree as ‘worthless’ because his admission was under ‘Affirmative Action’. Thomas experienced a ‘Road to Damascus’ psychological conversion at that point, transforming from black radical to arch conservative. He became convinced that blacks had to prove their worth in the system and not take any token assistance, to get self-respect, and the respect of others. This has ostensibly remained his philosophy to this day.
Ketanji Jackson is the first black woman on the Supreme Court, nominated by President Biden. She is cognisant of the historical wrongs and continued travails of black people, and believes America must give them a leg up to become a truly egalitarian society.
Who speaks for black America – Clarence Thomas or Ketanji Jackson?
The answer is both, in different ways.
A racist, unlettered nincompoop like Donald Trump was able to question Barack Obama’s Harvard degree because of the taint of Affirmative Action hanging around accomplished, well-read black people. On the other hand, Clarence Thomas would probably not have been able to study Law at Yale without the Affirmative Action he condemns today.
Freudian psychoanalysis acknowledges that a thing, and its opposite, may be equally right. Most human beings are unable to wrap their minds around that possibility.
Affirmative Action, whether concerning preferential university admission for students from Zamfara State with low scores in WAEC exams, or bright black American kids making their way up from the violence and poverty of the ghetto and needing a leg up to get into Harvard, can only be temporary redress. The originating problems of poverty and exclusion must be speedily addressed by society. To make the palliative permanent can only cause resentment among those held back by giving advantage for some people to claim ‘disadvantage’. Such resentment cannot build a just society.
But then, one may ask, wearily – how long will it take society, American or Nigerian, to make ‘disadvantage’ a thing of the past?

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