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The · Psychohistorian

Prejudice and Discrimination

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Last week, the Supreme Court ruled on the constitutionality of certain public school districts' use of race to assign students to schools. Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, and Alito consider racial discrimination by school districts unconstitutional except to remedy previous racial discrimination by the school district. Breyer, Stevens, Souter, and Ginsburg consider racial discrimination acceptable when the objective is to achieve schools that are more racially balanced rather than less so. Kennedy thought that such discrimination might be acceptable in some unspecified circumstances, but that it wasn't constitutional in these particular cases.

Perhaps the most interesting opinion, though, is the concurring opinion of the only nonwhite member of the court, Thomas. He rebuts many of the dissent's arguments, but he also touches on a subject closely related to discrimination, not often addressed: prejudice.

Ultimately, the reason for rampant racial discrimination is racial prejudice. The reason most blacks were kept out of important positions in the U.S. through the first half of the last century was because most whites simply didn't believe that blacks were smart enough to handle those positions. Discrimination is the effect, but prejudice is the cause.

That prejudice still exists. As Thomas points out, many of the arguments for forced integration implicitly assume white racial superiority. They assume that black students can't do as well in predominantly black schools as they can in predominantly white ones. They assume that University standards must be lowered for blacks because blacks won't be able to meet the same standards that whites do. They assume, basically, that blacks just can't be as smart as whites. And when these attitudes are translated into policies, they perpetuate the prejudice: they tell white students, 'you have to give blacks a break because they aren't as smart as you', and they tell black students, 'you can't be the best anyway, so you needn't even try'.

The state can't tell us what to think, but it's still high time to rethink those prejudiced arguments. The first black Supreme Court justice was appointed decades ago, and we still have one today. The last two Secretaries of State, have been black. It's time to admit that blacks and other races can be just as intelligent and competent as whites, and it's time that our actions reflect that.
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On July 7th, 2007 01:43 am (UTC), twe commented:
I gather a number of school districts have switched to bussing/integrating based on income rather than race and that's worked fairly well for them.
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On July 8th, 2007 01:18 am (UTC), psychohist replied:
Yes - as Kennedy pointed out in his opinion, there are lots of alternatives that would pass constitutional muster if you just want to promote diversity in schools.
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On July 8th, 2007 01:47 am (UTC), countertorque replied:
It seems to me that most of the time when we say "racism" we mean "classism." We don't like poor people and we don't think poor people can do as well as us. It just so happens that a lot more poor people are black and a lot more rich people are white.
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