I just read this op-ed piece by George Will, praising the US Supreme Court's recent decision ruling the formerly court mandated school desegregation plan in Louisville unconstitutional. Suffice it to say, Mr. Will disagrees with Michael Westmoreland-White, who argues here that the Supreme Court's decision could amount to a re-segregation of public schools.
While George Will argues passionately and somewhat persuasively that considering race when determining where a child will go to school is in and of itself an act of racial discrimination, and while his position seems both reasonable and ethical, he overlooks an important fact from the ground: Here in Louisville, we already live in a mostly segregated city, with decidedly unequal public education opportunities. In a city where, by and large, the money (and, not coincidentally, the white people) live on the east end, and the poverty (and, again, not coincidentally, the black people) live on the west end, the only thing keeping us from having a de facto segregated public school system is the sort of plan that the Supreme Court - who initially imposed it on us - has just struck down.
I don't believe that either George Will or the five members of the bench who voted to overturn Louisville's desegregation plan are consciously racist. And, I do believe that they really believe that the best thing, in terms of both ethical ideals and real outcomes, is to have color-blind public policies. In a color-blind world - the world that, I hope, most of us wish to live in - public policies that considered race would be the abomination that George Will and Clarence Thomas declared them to be. But we don't live in the world we wish for; we live in a messy and complicated world, tainted by a long history of discrimination and oppression, in which racism is an entrenched institutional reality. And, in such a world, color-blind or race-neutral policies only contribute to white privilege.
Being willfully blind to the entrenched institutional racism that ensures that blacks have neither equal educational nor economic opportunities in a "color-blind" Louisville will not, despite the high ideals of Mr. Will, help create an actually color-blind world. It will simply help those of us who benefit from such a fundamentally unjust and unequal society sleep better at night. Pretending that we're all already equal will not help bring about racial equality. It will simply baptize the inequalities that are so painfully evident in our society.
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