JESSE JACKSON: Brown vs. Board of Education About More Than Schools

Jesse L. Jackson Sr., Special to The Informer | 5/19/2014, 10:20 p.m.
Just as it is important to understand what remains to be done, the historic importance of the Supreme Court's decision ...
Courtesy of loc.gov

In his commencement address to the graduates of Morgan State University, Attorney General Eric Holder noted this isn't simply a problem of “high-profile expressions of outright bigotry,” like those of L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling or Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy.

Holder pointed rather to far more damaging, systemic practices that are discriminatory in fact, if not in form. In our criminal justice system, for example, African-American men are more likely to be stopped than whites, more likely to be searched if stopped, more likely to be charged if arrested, more likely to be prosecuted if charged, and, if convicted, as the attorney general noted, are hit with sentences that are on average 20 percent harsher than white men convicted of similar crimes. This systemic discrimination can destroy lives and erase opportunity.

Similarly, Holder rightly singled out the new measures designed to constrict voting that disproportionately disadvantage African-Americans and Hispanics. These measures, he noted, are rationalized as a supposed answer to an “epidemic of voter fraud” that “has never been shown to exist.”

Racial discrimination remains a battleground in America. The conservative majority in the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts has been systematically weakening civil rights laws from voting rights to affirmative action. Roberts, Holder generously suggested, assumes that racial discrimination has virtually been eliminated and need not be actively confronted. This is contrary to the experience of most African-Americans and other people of color, no matter how successful.

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, dissenting from a Roberts' decision, wrote that we should not “wish away, rather than confront, the racial inequality that exists in our society. … The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to speak openly and candidly on the subject of race.”

Surely her dissent offers greater wisdom for the country. And her position on the court to offer that dissent is a testament to how far we have come, and to the great transformation the Supreme Court helped to launch with its decision in Brown vs. Board of Education.

Keep up with Rev. Jackson and the work of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition at www.rainbowpush.org.