In the now-infamous Dred Scott case, the Supreme Court held that “A free negro of the African race, whose ancestors were brought to this country and sold as slaves, is not a ‘citizen’ within the meaning of the Constitution of the United States.” The ruling was widely interpreted to be the Court’s sanctioning of a belief system that held that black people were inherently inferior to white people.
In issuing such a ruling, the Supreme Court embraced, among other things, a fallacious concept of race — namely, one that held that there are innate differences between different races. The problem with this is that race, from a biological perspective, doesn’t exist at all. That is, the combinations of pigments in human skin are too varied for codification, thus making it impossible to identify scientifically a “black race” or a “white race.”
Fortunately, most people today have rejected the Dred Scott notion of race our Supreme Court once used to declare that black people weren’t, in fact, people at all.
But many who have rejected this notion of race have replaced it with a similarly egregious and naíve one that holds, somewhat simplistically defined, that people are people, skin color is irrelevant, and we should just treat everyone the same. They maintain that a belief system in place for hundreds of years in this country can simply be discarded and forgotten by ignoring race.
What they fail to understand, however, is that skin color, which in and of itself is no real difference between people, has become a de facto difference because of the way people with a skin color other than white are treated. These de facto differences are what diversity is all about, and why skin color must remain a paramount criterion in any attempt to create a more diverse campus.
When I pick up this newspaper and read stinging criticisms of the MCSC or affirmative action, the common thread running through them seems to be that a variety of skin colors do. not equal diversity. A person could only hold this belief if he lives in a cultural and historical vacuum.
Race as a biological construct, as I explained, is nonexistent. But race as a social construct, one which has been used to justify centuries of enslavement, segregation, disenfranchisement (as recently as last November) and economic oppression, is not.
I, like many liberals, view diversity in terms of differences in viewpoint and perspective. Someone whose experience of America is so radically different than my own will obviously have a different perspective than I do.
Advocates of multiculturalism and affirmative action don’t want more students of color on this campus because we don’t like white faces. We want more students of color on this campus because, in this day and age, being a minority translates into living in a different America than I, a white man, do.
For most black Americans, for example, discrimination is a grim reality. They face it in high school, when their guidance counselor discourages them from taking math and science courses in favor of shop (a well-documented and studied phenomenon).
They face it in stores, when the manager has a clerk keep an eye on the “suspicious” (i.e., black) customer.
They face it on the street at night, when people cross to the other side out of fear that the black man approaching is a mugger (even Jesse Jackson has admitted feeling relief on a dark street one night when a man approaching him turned out to be white).
The goal of the American university should be to educate us by forcing us to challenge our beliefs. This will not occur in a room of white people who all have similar life experiences (similarly, this will not occur in, say, a dorm set aside only for minority students).
It will occur when we acknowledge the unfortunate truth that, in this country, a skin color other than white does indeed make for a decidedly different — and often negative — American experience, but it is an experience from which we all can learn. We just have to acknowledge that it’s there first.
Many people on this campus deride attempts to create a diverse campus through a campus of many skin colors, calling them “self-abasing” and “superficial.” They instead advocate treating everyone equally, which sounds great, right?
What this really means, however, is ignoring skin color. And what ignoring skin color means is ignoring the social context which has never ignored skin color. These people want to treat race almost as though it exists in a social vacuum in which it can be easily ignored.
But race doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It exists in a country whose Supreme Court once held that black people were not human beings. It exists in a country in which the white majority (this author included) still harbors the residual effects of slavery and segregation in the form of preconceived notions, prejudice and bigotry.
We cannot address these problems if we ignore the people who bear the brunt of our prejudice, and those people are the non-white citizens of this country.
Chris McCall ([email protected]) is a junior majoring in German and political science.