The Civil Rights Act of 1964 accelerated the end of legal Jim Crow. For Black Americans, it secured equal access to restaurants, transportation, and other public places they weren’t allowed in before. It enabled Black people, all women, and other minorities to break down barriers in the workplace and have access to equal education. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Civil Rights Act of 1968 expanded protections to voting, housing, and racially motivated violence.
The truth is, we are not so far removed from the 1960s and the struggle for equality still exists. As transformative as these acts have been, the exclusion and discrimination that they targeted are deep-rooted and have proved difficult to end. Every time we turn around, new debates surface about what equality means, as well as what government will or won’t do.
With imperative laws being overturned by the Supreme Court recently, it seems America is on a steady decline. For Black Americans, it takes us right back to a time when we were held down and held back.
The Supreme Court’s decisions often create two Americas, where red states and blue states have vastly different views on everything. But this cleaving in the United States goes beyond abortion access, affirmative action, education access, and more.
After the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade over a year ago, one obvious question was: What other changes will come? There were the possibilities that the court would restrict LGBTQIA+ rights, contraception access, or interracial marriage. All these involved some of the same logic that led to the abortion decision. But, as we’ve witnessed, those weren’t the hot-button issues the court had in mind — not as of yet anyway.
Affirmative action helps promote diversity in ways that a focus on economic disparity alone cannot. However, the Supreme Court decided that colleges can no longer factor race into admissions decisions, a decision that overturned over four decades of legal precedent. The end of race-conscious college admissions will have the most significant impact on Black women, as we are the most educated group in the United States. Black students, overall, remain underserved in college admissions, and this decision buries that fact even deeper.
When we look at the Voting Rights Act within the past decade, the Supreme Court has repeatedly watered it down. The act specifies voting districts to be drawn in such a way that does not unfairly dilute the voting power of racial minorities. However, in Alabama, lawmakers drew a congressional map with only one majority-Black district out of seven in a state where 27 percent of the electorate is Black. So, in other words, they committed a grave violation of the law and tried to get away with it. They were ordered to redraw the districts.
This is a classic example of how laws and policies get hatched to render Black people powerless. They know that our vote matters, so they will go out of their way — even illegally — to make sure our voices are not heard.
In 2013, the Supreme Court overturned key parts of the Civil Rights Act because a majority of the justices believed that, as a country, we had progressed and did not need those provisions anymore. Every presidential election that we’ve had since has been a concerted effort to make sure Black and Brown people can’t vote.
On a 6-3 sociopolitical split, the Supreme Court sided with an evangelical Christian website designer who does not want to create websites for same-sex weddings, even though a Colorado anti-discrimination law would require her to. The court said the First Amendment protects her from creating websites for things she doesn’t believe in. This provides businesses a weapon against claims of free speech as a ticket to discriminate. It opens the door for businesses to abuse artistic freedom as an excuse to discriminate against the LGBTQIA+ community and other disadvantaged groups.
The average Black household earns about half as much as the average white household, and white families have nearly eight times the median wealth of Black families — a gap that has been getting wider. Wrapped up within this is Black women dying in childbirth, Black students burdened with loan debt, lack of access to childcare, poor mental and physical health outcomes, and even food deserts in Black and Brown neighborhoods. These are the things that are overlooked and dismissed. They are also intertwined with court decisions that are made. They go hand in hand.
Black Americans’ social standing in the United States has been shaped by a long history of racism in laws, policies, and practices that have built racist institutions and created inequality. This inequality is built into the fabric of our country and has formed the foundation for structural racism.
The Supreme Court has been an engine of regression, specifically targeted at taking away liberty and opportunity. Black people have felt that sting most heavily, and we watch our ability to exist in society continue to crumble. When Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson and President Claudine Gay made history as the first Black women to be appointed to the Supreme Court and Harvard University, respectively, Black women gained some needed seats at the table. But the decisions have shown that we need more than seats at the table — we need systems that recognize, rather than ignore, structural racism and actively work to address them.
We are standing on the shoulders of those who fought for civil rights, voting rights, and basic freedoms generation by generation. We can’t stop now although there are still attempts to take those freedoms away. We cannot celebrate a nation where freedom is selective and seen as a scarcity, instead of being the norm.
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Archuleta is an author, poet, blogger, and host of the FearlessINK podcast. Archuleta's work centers Black women, mental health and wellness, and inspiring people to live their fullest potential.