This Article is the first to describe how systemic racism persists in a society that openly denounces racism and racist behaviors, using affirmative action and disproportionate minority contact as contrasting examples. Affirmative action and disproportionate minority contact are two sides of the same coin. Far from being distinct, these two social institutions function as two sides of the same ideology, sharing a common historical nucleus rooted in the mythologies that sustained chattel slavery in the United States. The effects of these narratives continue to operate in race-related jurisprudence and in the criminal legal system, sending normative messages about race and potential using the same jurisprudential trick: denial of our country’s race-bound legacy. By juxtaposing the rhetoric and jurisprudence concerning the underrepresentation of white people in the criminal legal system with the rhetoric and jurisprudence concerning the underrepresentation of Black people in higher education, this Article illuminates a key feature of how systemic racism persists.
Obscuring the history of how both affirmative action and disproportionate minority contact came to be, the racially contorted narratives that we have adopted about affirmative action in both guises described here—affirmative action that benefits people of color by accepting them into institutions of higher learning and that which benefits white people by diverting them from the criminal legal system—allow systems to thrive under a guise of presumed racial innocence. Unmoored from the force of history, we rudderlessly reinforce well-worn social norms, no matter how discriminatory they might be.
Robin W. Sterling,
Through a Glass, Darkly: Systemic Racism, Affirmative Action, and Disproportionate Minority Contact,
Mich. L. Rev.
Available at: https://repository.law.umich.edu/mlr/vol120/iss3/3