"Seneca Falls, Selma, and Stonewall," the first eBook in the Progressive's Hidden History series, is available for purchase, and a second is on its way! To commemorate the occasion, we're featuring some of the best writing our archives have to offer on our website.

Today, the Supreme Court consented to hear Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, a case that questions the practice of race-conscious affirmative action in Michigan public universities. Recently, the Court heard arguments in the case of Fisher v. University of Texas, another instance of a legal challenge to affirmative action in university admissions.

The following passages from "Color-Conscious, Colorblind" by G.W. Foster, Jr. from our March 1966 issue, were written about public K-12 education. However, they still resonate strongly when put in the context of these recent challenges to affirmative action:

On November 16, 1965, President Johnson announced he had asked the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights to "develop a firm foundation of facts on which local and state governments can build a school system that is color-blind."

Hopefully, the Commission is going to report that first all kinds of color-conscious steps will have to be taken before the President's ultimate objective of a color-blind school system can be achieved.

Today, a "color-blind" school system which keeps no racial records lacks the very information needed to determine whether discrimination is practiced in its name. When criticism comes -- and these days it comes frequently -- the system must either gather the needed information or brush away complaints without having facts adequate to make an informed judgment. Nor is the need for color-consciousness confined to education: In employment, in housing, in public accommodations, indeed, in the whole range of societal relations, surveillance against possible discrimination calls for continuing knowledge of racial facts.

Drawing distinctions based on race runs counter to the grain of traditional liberal philosophy, and certainly the use of racial distinctions at any time should be subject to the most careful scrutiny. There are, however, countless situations in which color-consciousness is essential for the elimination of invidious discrimination.

The seeming anomaly of having to resort to color-conscious actions to achieve a world in which color is irrelevant should serve as a constant reminder that the use of racial distinctions should never be placed above suspicion. Anyone using them should be prepared to justify his purpose in terms of alternatives and ultimate objectives. But given existing problems and present knowledge, overtly racial stratagems, even racial quotas -- something long-viewed with the gravest doubts and skepticism -- may be indispensable short-run tools, simply because no better alternatives yet exist for eradicating barriers to a colorblind society.

Want to read more? The Hidden History series of eBooks unearths many more buried treasures from our archives. For more information, check out progressive.org/ebooks or email ebooks@progressive.org!

Erik Lorenzsonn is an editorial intern at The Progressive.


Add new comment

By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.


Trump's politics are not the problem.

The fiery Milwaukee Sheriff is on the shortlist to head the Department of Homeland Security.

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

Public School Shakedown

Progressive Media Project