Everybody has asked the question, and they learned to ask it early of the abolitionist ‘What shall we do with the negro?’ I have had but one answer from the beginning. Do nothing with us! You’re doing with us has already played the mischief with us. Do nothing with us! If the apples will not remain on a tree of their own strength, if they are worm-eaten at the core, if they are early ripe and disposed to fall, let them fall! I am not for trying to fastening them on the tree in any way except by nature’s plan and if they will not stay there let them fall. 

And if the Negro cannot stand on his own legs let him fall also. All I ask is, give him a chance to stand on his own legs! Let him alone! If you see him on his way to school, let him alone, don’t disturb him! If you see him going to dinner the table at a hotel, let him go! If you see him going to the ballot-box, let him alone, don’t disturb him! If you see him going into a work-shop, just let him alone – your interference is doing him a positive injury. 

Frederick Douglass 
Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society 
April 1866

If Frederick Douglass were alive today, he might have a hard time convincing the African American community that the Supreme Court’s decision to curtail affirmative action for college admittance is good for them in the long run. 

While we are still collectively trying to figure out where the country is headed after the Court’s decisions on abortion and affirmative action, there seems to be a march towards policies that, on the surface at least, indicate that we are going backward. In the short run, removing affirmative action may seem to be a positive step – in the wrong direction. However, some think that eliminating affirmative action policies will force African Americans to develop habits they presently lack, such as financial security. 

It seems that both sides overrate this whole affirmative action thing. Maybe I have been hanging out with the wrong crowd (a very good possibility), but I don’t think I can name three people I know who benefited from affirmative action. I can’t name any; l just thought three sounded good. If I listen to the right-wing folks, they have lost thousands of jobs to unqualified people of color and the world is falling apart because of this. If I listen to the left wing, affirmative action is a birthright; it is the thing that keeps African Americans’ heads above the shifting currents of racism, poverty and all its children, drugs, violence, poor education and ill health. 

Affirmative action is (was) a real thing. But no large swaths of unemployed white people have been kicked out of the race for the American Dream. That population does not exist. Affirmative action has not made a positive dent in the numbers that really count: the poverty level of African Americans. Many have benefitted from affirmative action 

programs, and colleges have enforced policies and quotas that helped people of color, but affirmative action for jobs has yet to do what some claim. Blacks are at the bottom of every significant financial and educational statistic. 

What is the big deal about the supreme court decision? 

Like many social programs, affirmative action was primarily designed to treat the illness’s symptoms instead of the cause. If we never address the root cause of our poverty, we will forever put band aids on wounds gushing blood instead of addressing the real problem. 

Many people, such as the late Walter E. Williams, say African Americans suffer from two types of poverty: financial and spiritual. By spiritual poverty, he means that African Americans lack the moral values usually required of successful people. He calls these pathological lifestyles, including alcohol addiction, crime, violence, incarceration, illegitimacy, dependency and erosion of work ethic. Whew! 

While the Supreme Court decision against affirmative action in college admissions has made the headlines, it’s important to look beyond the headlines and consider its ramifications from a broader perspective. The potential effects of this decision aren’t just confined to the African American community; they will likely reverberate across the nation, affecting various demographic groups and communities. 

When evaluating the impact of this decision, it’s worth considering individual states’ responses. California and Washington had already banned affirmative action in college admissions years before the Supreme Court ruling. These states may offer us a preview of what could happen nationally. 

In California, after the ban on affirmative action (Proposition 209) was implemented in 1996, the percentage of underrepresented minority students enrolled in the University of California system schools fell sharply. However, this trend has been reversed over the years through the university’s increased efforts to boost college readiness among these populations. It remains a contentious issue, with efforts to repeal Proposition 209 narrowly failing in the November 2020 elections. 

All of this doesn’t mean the end of the fight for racial and economic equity. It only underscores the importance of addressing systemic issues such as poverty, educational disparities and the lack of social mobility head-on rather than relying on piecemeal solutions. It is a reminder that the path toward equality and justice often isn’t straightforward but requires continuous commitment, creativity and resilience from all segments of society. 

As we consider the future of affirmative action, we must strive for a society where everyone, regardless of race or socio-economic background, has a fair shot at success. The Supreme Court decision isn’t the end, it’s just the beginning of a new chapter in this ongoing struggle.

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