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A Letter From Velveta

A Rhetorical Question Is America Colorblind:

The U.S. Supreme Court’s Abolishes Affirmative Action in Colleges & Universities

Hear is a story to provoke your thoughts. Patrice, a young African American girl, who devoured books in her school library and the old National Geographic Magazines brought home by her mother from her housekeeper/nanny job. She was about to enter middle school in recently desegregated Alabama, schools. To prepare the six-grader and her classmates for their new adventure, Mrs. Jonnie Mae Scott, a big-boned, chocolate-colored woman with a gorgeous smile, taught them about the U.S. Supreme Court’s (“Court’s”) 1954 decision in Brown v. Topeka, Kansas, Board of Education (‘Brown’),[1] 347 U.S. 483 (1954).

Mrs. Scott explained that the Court had determined that segregation within public schools was unconstitutional[2] and that, for nearly a decade after Brown, southern states like theirs used every trick in the book to stop Black students from attending school with white children. She went on to explain that even after the Court issued its decision, ordering school desegregation, “At all deliberate speed”, public schools remained segregated, as Caucasian students’ parents enrolled them in private schools funded with state dollars! Finally, Mrs. Scott said, with no tricks left in their bag, she and her friends would be allowed to begin classes at the middle school closest to their homes. Since her father regularly drove past the stately, brick building, Patrice, who had long marveled at its exterior, became excited! The fact that she and her friends would only now study there made no difference to her because she loved her – pre-school and elementary school and the caring teachers teaching within the buildings’ walls. And best of all, the public library – a place to which she was told Blacks could not enter – was right across the street and now open to them!

Before starting middle school, Patrice knew no white people. She had seen a lot of them at the World’s Fair in New York, when her Grandmama Lillie and her aunts had taken her. Sometimes when playing outside around 5:30 p.m., she saw her mother’s white lady boss drop her off. At the time, Patrice wondered why her mama sat in the lady’s backseat and not beside her in the front. She could not solve this question with any reasonable degree of certainty. After all, her mama had raised the white lady’s husband, cleaned his childhoods and theirs, washed their dirty clothes, made their meals, and raised their three children from birth. An encounter with a young white policeman just after Patrice’s seventh birthday smacked her in the face. It was then that she realized that the division of influence, power, wealth and equal opportunities to education, quality nondiscriminatory healthcare, and employment were tied to stratifications based on race. And that many whites, particularly those at the lower socioeconomic rungs, had bought into the idea that Black people were their enemies. Her daddy had told her, “Change is coming, and you can be a part of it.” Her daddy never lied. So, she kept moving forward.

On her first day of middle school, Patrice carried with her a sense of equality, confidence, and self–assuredness steeped into her veins by those who loved her. By doing well, she would honor them while, simultaneously, fulfilling the purposes for which God had designed and equipped her. Her foundation was key to whether she would falter or stand. She had no idea Alabama’s public school system used tracking for class placements. Her high scores on standardized tests caused Patrice to be placed in advanced classes during middle and high school. Often, she was the only Black student. Missing her friends badly, she wondered why they were not invited to share new experiences and why they were not in the same classes. It was lonely for her at times, not having them by her side. Persevering, though, a love of learning led her to attend school year–round (while working); this qualified her to graduate high school in two years. She, instead, chose to enjoy her senior year, mostly because this would allow her more time with her friends. And she it allowed her to accept opportunities to represent African American Descendant of Slavery (“AADoS”) to enjoy certain ‘firsts’ in various school roles. If she did well, she knew that doors of opportunity would open for others.

With high grades and a good ACT score, Patrice was admitted to at least five colleges with scholarship offers, including the University of Alabama (“UA”). Only one was not predominantly white. Imagine being virtually alone among thousands of white students, as you worked to give your best. Patrice, instead, chose to study full–time at the preeminent Tuskegee Institute, the alma mater of her eldest sibling/principal young role-model, and attend the UA in summer, to please her father. Immersed in enriching Black culture and history, alongside other high–achieving classmates from different lived experience taught by educators, some with Ivy League degrees and those from “elite” universities. Her principal mentor later received the Pulitzer Prize for literature, posthumously. At Tuskegee, she thrived and matured. With accumulated earned course credits, Patrice graduated with high honors in three years. As of that time, no one – Black or white – had ever told or implied that the young woman that she could not realize her destiny. That is, except Jimmy H., who called her the “N” word in homeroom the second week of the first year of middle school. He was an ignoramus!

The young lady entered law school in 1978, within a month of the U.S. Supreme Court’s issuance of its first ‘reverse discrimination’ decision, Regents of University of California. v. Bakke (“Bakke”), 438 U.S. 265, 289–290. In Bakke, the Court concluded that the University of California, at Davis, discriminated against the plaintiff, a white male in his thirties, when assessing his application for medical school, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The body reasoned that the medical school subjected Mr. Bakke to prohibited wrongful discrimination by using a “quota” system to admit Black students with lower GPAs and MCAT scores.[3] This pivotal decision opened a can of worms that swim in and around this country to this day.

Never had Patrice, a southern-bread lady, doubted her ability and preparedness to succeed in law. Then Bakke reared its vicious, ugly head just as she began her first year, the hardest by far. Why then? Four of six admitted AADoS were first placed on academic probation and then spelled at the end of that year. One was a National Merit Scholar and summa cum laude (i.e., with highest honors) graduate of an elite private college (who went on to graduate from another law school and enjoy a very successful career in the nation's capitol). These were her friends; having bonded, they were her only support system.

Patrice has always acknowledged that she was not smarter or necessarily any better prepared than them, with three exceptions. They were all older and had held successful career positions before entering law school. Unlike her, however, they had not been sufficiently “groomed” to withstand the psychological games and ambushes awaiting them. They accepted, as truth, that most of the few Black students admitted failed to graduate, suggesting that they were not intelligent or prepared enough to do so. Regrettably, Patrice’s friends internalized some white classmates’ digs that they were unqualified and only there due to Affirmative Action. And even worse, a constitutional law professor, who subsequently ascended to the country’s second highest court, stated to a class full of what he thought consisted of only white students,[4] that Black students lacked the intellectual incapacity to get through law school and drive and wherewithal to pass the Bar Exam and practice law, successfully. He further bluntly stated that Black students “were taking seats that should have gone to ‘qualified’ white students.” Other incidents occurred that would test the psyche of any Black individual. Suffice it to say that Patrice and a long succession of other graduates and successful attorneys could thumb their noses at this jurist. Decorum would not allow this rudeness. Each day, she is forever grateful to have been born into and raised within an all–Black community and educated in all–Black schools in her formative years. If you have not guessed, the story shared is a true reflection of some of my life. I share it on the day after the 247th Independence Day celebration of America’s acquired freedom from English rule because progress and regard for all human dignity remains elusive.

America is not and never has been color-blind. One need only consider that after four centuries, our country itself, forced to fight for independence, has yet to atone for its crimes against Black peoples. Yet, the highest Court seeks to shut down the limited progress achieved. In this twenty-first-century, political and corporate business leaders, powerbrokers, king-makers, conservative foundations, organizations, and educational institutions, and some of the wealthiest among us have taken no steps to atone for the cruelty of human-enslavement for profit on which this country’s is built; sub-judicating these men, women, and children to indescribable abuse; relentlessly killing them; disavowing them as humans that cry, bleed, and think; fueled by jealousy of Blacks’ success and evidenced ability to build, create, educate themselves and each other, and self-govern their communities the same as did on the African continent. Is it worrisome to some that AADoS keep going, even after their lives are destroyed, their buildings and businesses burned, and their removal from land owed them and indigenous brothers and sisters were from the land that they “owned.” After all these centuries, reparations are simply a thought in some minds. Though mighty tries were made, Jim Crow inhumane laws, like enslavements, separation of families, eradication of native languages, stripping away customs have not destroyed our dignity, minds, or resilience, notwithstanding abolition of Affirmative Action. The fact that even if such a tool helped us to enter doors that would not have otherwise been open, upon arriving, we competed and showed that we belonged, albeit not welcomed.

To my Black sisters and brothers, keep going with your heads high. To our sisters and brothers of other races and ethnicities, dis(Ability) statuses, the LGBTQ-X community, and those of different religious faiths, if any, please understand that the struggle is not ours alone. It is also yours. As it is said, “They may come for us today, but they will come to you tomorrow.”[i]

[2] Notably, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, filed Brown, and successfully argued by Thurgood Marshall, a brilliant lawyer, who became the first Black American jurist on the Court. He was educated in segregated Black institutions.

[3] Rarely mentioned is that the plaintiff failed to meet the qualifications of other admitted white students! Apparently, this fact did not matter to the Court.

[4] The lone African American, who most thought was Caucasian, graduated alongside Patrice.

[i] Readers who may infer that I am an angry Black woman, rest assured that I am not. With many friends, acquaintances, colleagues, and family members of other diverse races, ethnicities, dis(Ability) statuses, sexual orientations, and religions. Those who know me well understand that I am an advocate, activist, and agitator for racial and social justice. As such, I must speak truth to power. This communication represents my personal experiences, thoughts, and opinions. They do not reflect those Sister-to-Sister: International Network of Professional African American Women, Inc., an inclusive nonprofit public charity. I welcome those who wish to carry on this conversation to write your own letter and share it with us at info.sister-to-sister.org.

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