‘Colorblindness’ Isn’t Cool, Because Race Matters

Justice Sonia Sotomayor (Reuters/Jason Reed)
Justice Sonia Sotomayor (Reuters/Jason Reed)

In April 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-2 in favor of a state’s right to ban affirmative action in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action. Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote a much-discussed, 58-page dissenting opinion. Regardless of the technical nuances of the particular case, portions of Sotomayor’s dissent speak to the limitations of colorblind ideology:

“Race matters. Race matters in part because of the long history of racial minorities being denied access to the political process…Race also matters because of persistent racial inequality in society—inequality that cannot be ignored and that has produced stark socioeconomic disparities.

And race matters for reasons that really are only skin deep, that cannot be discussed any other way, and that cannot be wished away. Race matters to a young man’s view of society when he spends his teenage years watching others tense up as he passes, no matter the neighborhood where he grew up. Race matters to a young woman’s sense of self when she states her hometown, and then is pressed, ‘No, where are you really from?’, regardless of how many generations her family has been in the country. Race matters to a young person addressed by a stranger in a foreign language, which he does not understand because only English was spoken at home. Race matters because of the slights, the snickers, the silent judgments that reinforce that most crippling of thoughts: ‘I do not belong here.’

In my colleagues’ view, examining the racial impact of legislation only perpetuates racial discrimination. This refusal to accept the stark reality that race matters is regrettable. The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to speak openly and candidly on the subject of race, and to apply the Constitution with eyes open to the unfortunate effects of centuries of racial discrimination.”

Click here to read Justice Sotomayor’s dissent in full.

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