When Conservative politics achieved domination of the Supreme Court with the appointment of Samuel Alito, it was expected that it was only a matter of time until Roe v Wade would be struck down or modified out of existence, but did anyone expect that they would do away with Brown v Board of Education first? Yet that is the practical effect of the decision on two school desegregation cases this week. If the reasoning of the majority of the court were to have prevailed in 1954 there never would have been a Brown v Board and the history of the Civil Rights Movement in this country would have been far, far different than it has turned out.
It seems impossible for many white people to understand that the only way to right the wrongs of centuries of slavery is to engage in compensatory strategies for at least as long, probably longer. Racism cannot be erased by simply promising to be "colorblind" in the future. It is akin to getting a child who has just deliberately killed a pet to simply promise to be kind to the rest of the pets and believe that you have dealt with the behavior problem. No parent in their right mind would ever take such a course.
And now we have an African American on the court who seems to be so completely assimilated into white thinking that he too wants to do away with the very court decision that most likely gave him the opportunity to be on the court. Wealth and power often cause people to buy into destructive self-deceptions, but usually these are related to alcohol, drugs and diet.
Certainly conditions in these school systems have changed over the 53 years that Brown v Board prevailed, and it is very likely that the approach taken needs modification today. For one thing, both the school systems in question (like most big-city school systems in America today) have been largely depleted of white families and students because of the increased housing segregation in America. Not that there is evidence of overt behavior keeping minorities from living in certain neighborhoods, but the clear, persistent "white flight" that takes most white families further and further away from where minorities live.
My daughters grew up in very diverse schools and a congregation where whites are a minority along with all of the other ethnic groups. (There is no group that is 51 percent or more.) They are so adjusted to this reality, that they are uncomfortable where it is "too white." I simply do not understand why the majority of white Americans even at this point in history still seek to flee from such an experience. It leaves their children stunted in terms of cultural experience, relational skills and social ethics. With the globalization of the free market, Americans need multicultural capacities more than ever.
The idea that what the decisions are really against (and most white Americans eventually get to in any conversation about race) is someone being told, "No, you cannot go to that school [or get what you want] because you are white," ignores the fact that people of all ethnicities are told that all the time. It is already unlawful in most of the world and there are methods of appeal and negotiation. Humanity is not smart enough, nor compassionate enough to devise ways to entirely remove such inequities from society. This Supreme Court decision will not do so no matter what the court intends. These things happen and must be dealt with in a society of imperfect, self-centered human beings where individuality has been promoted out of all proportion to caring for others and building community.
For the average American it is naive to cling to the idea that this will never happen; for the men who made this decision on the Supreme Court it is deliberate dishonesty. They have the capacity to understand the reality of social dynamics, but lack the moral will to do the right thing. Tradition and right-wing politics are clearly more important to these people than is justice.
What will be the long-range impact of this decision? It will make it more and more difficult to sustain truly multicultural congregations. The process of segregation will be strengthened. It will become more and more difficult to stand up for truly constructive social justice. Where are "my old friend Martin [and] Bobby" when we need them?