Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that individuals cannot sue public agencies for systemic segregation unless it can be proved that the discrimination was intentional. Specifically, it ruled that a Mexican immigrant couldn't claim that Alabama's English-only policy was unfair to racial or ethnic minorities, as this arguably was not the intended result of the policy. Right-wing advocates will probably applaud this ruling as one that will cut down on the number of frivolous lawsuits and encourage minorities to assimilate into the prevailing culture. Left-wing dissenters, however, see this as a serious erosion of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, allowing clearly discriminatory policies and guidelines to exist as long as the effect is not "intentional."

The United States does have a better record of human rights than, say, the Congo, South Africa, Myanmar (Burma), Iraq and North Korea. This does not mean, however, that we as citizens should rest on our laurels and assume that all is right with our society.

The centuries of racism and segregation practiced by this country created severe inequities within our socioeconomic structure that cannot be whisked away by spouting the belief that "we are all equal." When policies that impoverish minorities have been entrenched for an extended period of time, it does not seem far-fetched to reason that when the policies are finally lifted, a stratified socioeconomic system with disadvantaged minorities at the lower end will still exist.

The Supreme Court decision seems to assume inequities have gone away with the progress made in the last two decades. This cannot be further from the truth. Immediate effects can impact many areas, including arguments for and against the equality of women's athletics and for the continuance of using SAT scores as viable and fair indicators of academic knowledge and achievement for college entrance requirements.

For instance, women's athletics have prospered over the last decade at my university. The successes of the softball and gymnastics teams are prime examples. Unfortunately, cuts have been made to men's programs in order for my university to reach gender parity in athletics (the termination of support for the men's gymnastics and crew teams are examples). Some would then argue that the Supreme Court decision would have prevented this from happening. All this assumes that the addition of one program takes away from another for the opposite gender – in effect, a zero-sum situation.

The ruling by the Supreme Court can also reverse the trend of many colleges and universities to review and disallow SAT scores as measures for admission. The argument goes that cultural affinity of the questions on the test translates into higher scores for those with exposure to the context in which the questions are framed. Correspondingly, those who lack this exposure tend to score lower on such tests (through no fault of their own).

This does not mean that those who created or modified the SAT were racists. However, when our own university president acknowledges that some cultures have an unfair advantage over others when taking these tests, then the implications must be considered. The Supreme Court decision would make it virtually impossible to sue for test modification or abandonment since it was not intentionally made to be discriminatory.

Other areas that may be affected are outreach programs targeting disadvantaged minorities, federal affirmative action programs and other areas involving discrepancies between ethnic groups. If one tries to address the disparate impact of these and other programs along cultural or racial lines, administrators and/or executives can hide behind the reasoning that the policies weren't meant to be discriminatory – if the results seem to indicate such a discrepancy, so be it. It is generally understood that capitalism works best when competition is left to market forces and the abilities of individuals; however, our system should allow all groups the same basic tools to access the academic and business arenas. When one argues that a person should let their abilities or inherent resources indicate their success or failure (as opposed to government help), it dooms whole groups of people without adequate access to resources. This, in effect, is what the Supreme Court decision would allow.

There will be those on both sides of this issue who will accuse their opponents of "racism." Advocates of the decision will use the word to tear down those who support race-based programs such as affirmative action, while opponents will decry the institutional inequity the Supreme Court appears to uphold. Perhaps some will accuse the other of being "racists," which is rather unfortunate, for such words will never bind the wounds that continue to scar the psyche of this country, and instead will desensitize the general populace to actual instances of racism in this society.

Nevertheless, racism does abound in this country. The difference between racism today and 20 years ago is that hate-mongers or demagogues who cater to the fears of certain sections of the populace do not propagate today's racism. Racism today is propagated by a system that inherently discriminates in financial, political and social aspects. Women and minorities continue to face "glass ceilings" in certain industries. Policies such as insurance "redlining" costs disadvantaged minorities millions in unequal expenses based on financial formulas derived from statistics that may or may not be valid for particular groups.

This is racist because although the intent may be merely to maximize profits or determine the "best," the result favors a particular group over another – and such favoring does not necessarily stem from natural abilities or inherent strengths.

Along with other recent court decisions (the right of police to incarcerate people for minor offenses, the unconstitutionality of the California Coastal Commission, the Bush vs. Gore decision, etc.), this court has become much more conservative. This is also seen in President Bush's decision to back justice appointees nominated by the Federalist Society (an ultra-conservative group) instead of the American Bar Association. Clearly, the makings are ripe for a major push to reinterpret civil rights issues in a conservative light. This means many of the hard-won victories by liberals in discrimination issues may be reversed.

Racism is not over, for the effects still remain. To discard the remedy before the patient is truly cured risks a relapse. Can this country afford to relapse into racial disharmony and strife?

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