What the Supreme Court’s Recent Rulings Really Mean

River Irons
5 min readJul 2, 2023
White men in power in 1968. How much has actually changed? (Courtesy of Boston Public Library. Licensed for use under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives License (CC BY-NC-ND).

Affirmative action is dead.

Anti-black racism–or, more broadly, the favorable bias toward Whiteness–has been woven into the fabric of our society since America’s very conception. I’m aware that how I interpret affirmative action might be somewhat idealistic juxtaposed with my conviction that most of what appears to be progress is usually just a bandaid on a symptom, not a cure for the systemic infection. But this is how I think of it:

Affirmative action is an acknowledgment that if college admissions are not intentionally biased towards admitting black candidates, admissions officers will act according to the pro-White biases that infect the mind of every person in a position of power in the US, ensuring that Black students are rarely (if ever) admitted.

There are two problems that affirmative action resolves:

1. The conscious or unconscious bias that deems White applicants by default more deserving of admission.

2. The conscious or unconscious idea that deems lower GPAs and other barriers to entry the fault of the applicants without accounting for the effects of systemic racism on minority applicants’ lives.

If successful in removing these biases, affirmative action could theoretically give Black students the same chance as White students to gain access to the privileges granted to graduates of elite universities. If it didn’t wholly level the playing field, it at least gave Black students a far greater chance than they would have had if there been no attempt to remove the system’s pro-White bias.

In other words, by offering what has been perceived as “preference” to Black applicants, affirmative action made the admissions process more colorblind, not less, or maybe it made it something more like “color conscious.” It made chances for Black and White students–at least in theory–equal. I’ll bet it was never truly equal, but it was better than letting anti-Black/anti-Brown bias run rampant.

Affirmative action was the racial “blank slate”.

Here’s what Supreme Cout Justice John Roberts had to say after the historic ruling:

“Nothing in this opinion should be construed as prohibiting universities from considering an applicant’s discussion of how race affected his or her life.”

What does that actually mean?

It means that admissions officers in positions of power place the burden on each Black student to prove that systemic racism exists. Not only that, to prove that systemic racism exists, each student will have to first explain to people in power what systemic racism is.

Let me repeat that. Every Black student that wants to get into a college is now going to have to present — assuming they get that far — to people that benefit from a White Supremacist system, an exposé on that system and how it’s affected them. We’re talking about the system that White people set up to begin with and have since consistently denied the existence of.

I can’t think of anything more racist than that.

Oh wait, there is something more racist than that. I forgot about Clarence Thomas.

Here’s what Clarence Thomas had to say:

“While I am painfully aware of the social and economic ravages which have befallen my race and all who suffer discrimination, I hold our enduring hope that this country will live up to its principles that … all men are created equal, are equal citizens, and must be treated equally before the law.”

Created equal? Sure. But Treated equal? Of course we hope for that. But right now we live in a system that prioritizes White people and refuses to acknowledge that it has consistently shat all over Black people since its inception. Treated equal? No. Maybe in some distant dream of a future that looks nothing like the America we know now, but that is absolutely not the reality today.

Clarence Thomas also makes a fundamental error of logic when he claims that affirmative action puts a stigma on racial minorities.

It does not put a stigma on racial minorities at all. Affirmative Action made a profound statement about how White people will exclude racial minorities by all means necessary as long as they are allowed to do so without consequence.

This ruling removes stigma from White people.

And now, because of this ruling, Whites in power and folks like Clarence Thomas, who want to claim adjacency to White power, can and will exclude racial minorities from privileges–and even the basic necessities–of American life, with no consequences to themselves.

In fact, Clarence Thomas probably gains significant approval from Whites with this ruling.

Recent high-profile rulings have shown that the Supreme Court, if it ever served the interest of true equality, no longer does. Here’s what the nation has heard:

1. You are pregnant. Ah! You have a uterus. Then your job is always to contribute to the American capitalist system’s supply of consumers and workers. You place lower in the social hierarchy than the man who impregnated you. For both reasons, you do not have a right to control your own body.

2. Oh, so you’re queer. So you’re less likely to contribute to the American capitalist system’s supply of consumers and workers. You are a second-class citizen not entitled to the same access to goods and services as people who conform to cisgender-heteronormative family structures and baby-making. You’re not even entitled to a statement that condemns the behavior of businesses that discriminate against you.

3. Oops, you’re not White. Well, basically, fuck you. We’ve got ours, and we’d like to keep it that way.

4. White? Straight? Christian? Binary male, or binary female willing to mind your place in a male-dominated construct? You’ve passed the test. Welcome to the Kingdom of White America.

The Supreme Court has publicly reinforced systemic gender, sex, and racial oppression by ensuring that the most fundamental of American rights is protected: the right every person has to be a bigot and do their part in upholding that system too.

Regardless of the individual cases’ impact, these rulings are a larger and pervasive cultural message that only fully compliant white cisgender/hetero people deserve full validation and access within American socio-economic systems. And so the same White Supremacist systems stay in place so those in power can remain in power.

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River Irons

I grew up in a cult. I escaped. I still search for freedom from oppressive constructs. Digital Artist, Storyteller.