For many Americans, the election of President Barack Obama symbolized the beginning of a new post-racial era. For a panel of six law professors speaking at Georgetown University Law Center on Friday, this line of thinking poses a serious threat to a half-century of racial progress.
Mario Barnes, a University of California, Irvine School of Law professor, said the U.S. Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. has essentially said “get over it” in ruling on laws made to help minorities overcome racial barriers. He highlighted the case of Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1 , a 2007 ruling that struck down the district’s use of racial tiebreakers to maintain racial diversity when divvying up students among schools.
Barnes said the goal of a race-neutral society envisioned in Brown v. Board of Education has not yet been met. Amid ongoing racial inequality in education and the workforce, he said the legal profession must remain skeptical of the “utopian belief in post-racialism,” warning that it could “lead to color blindness.”
“Frank acknowledgment of that reality is a detriment to our ideals,” said Gerry Spann, a Georgetown University Law Center professor, but it has to be done.
Trina Jones, another Irvine law professor, said judges should take into account the historical effects of racism on today’s society when looking at the potential impact of striking down laws meant to close racial disparities.
Anthony Alfieri, who focused on problems in inner cities, said a “school to jail pipeline” has essentially been created for too many minorities across the country. "We have kids being kicked out of middle school and high school and being condemned to a life of incarceration," said Alfieri, a University of Miami School of Law professor.
Georgetown Law hosted the panel as part of Friday’s symposium on “Post-Racialism in American Law and Lawyering.”
Kevin Johnson, dean of the University of California, Davis School of Law, extended the discussion to the role of racial profiling of immigrants. He said courts have failed to uphold the Supreme Court’s standard in U.S. v. Brignoni-Ponce, which said it is a Fourth Amendment violation to stop a vehicle, except at the border itself, for the purpose of questioning the occupant’s immigration status without specific facts and reasonable suspicion.
Johnson said this precedent has been violated repeatedly by the U.S. Border Patrol in its efforts to curtail illegal immigration. He said he hopes to see the issue highlighted more as Congress dives back into the immigration reform debate.
Angela Onwuachi-Willig, a University of Iowa College of Law professor, spoke specifically about hairstyle discrimination, an issue she said ties to general attitudes about race in the U.S. In multiple cases, she said courts have upheld bans by employers regarding particular hairstyles natural to black women in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. "Braids, locks and twists should be protected under Title VII," she said.