Justice Scalia’s comments on black students: Wrong and discriminatory

Brian L. Pauling is president of 100 Black Men of America Inc., a global nonprofit mentoring organization with more than 100 chapters reaching 125,000 youth in the United States, the United Kingdom and the Caribbean.

By Brian L. Pauling

Much of the initial outrage over statements made by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia last month during oral arguments in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin has abated, but deep disappointment remains. To suggest black college students might fare better by attending “less-advanced” or “slower-track” colleges and universities than more elite schools like the University of Texas makes it abundantly clear that he has no regard for the capabilities of African-American students.

During the Fisher vs. University of Texas hearing, Antonin Scalia said, "One of the briefs pointed out that most of the black scientists in this country don't come from schools like the University of Texas. They come from lesser schools where they do not feel that they're being pushed ahead in classes that are too fast for them." (AP Photo/Chris Greenberg)

Credit: Maureen Downey

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Credit: Maureen Downey

Justice Scalia’s comments are as wrong as they are discriminatory. Additionally, his assumptions in no way match what we at 100 Black Men of America Inc. know about the capabilities of African-American youth based on our experiences with the thousands we serve.

As the 100 enters its 53rd year of service to youth and communities, we have five decades of testimonies that soundly prove that all students have the ability to learn at high levels when given the proper opportunity, access and support to do so.

Particularly mystifying to me is how a Supreme Court justice – a position that sets the tone and is responsible for ensuring a system of equity across this great nation – could be so blinded by and embracing of such negative stereotypes relative to the academic abilities of black students. The implication that they are incapable of operating at high levels is more than concerning. It’s absolute nonsense.

It is well documented that, irrespective of race, students who attend high-performing schools and are taught by high-performing instructors do well. Too often, however, those two critical variables are not available to students equally in cities across our nation.

The 100 believes the right to learn often equals the right to earn. As such, my organization has taken a public stand in favor of national education reform. Critical to education reform is that all students have access to high-performing schools where they receive a quality education and increased enrichment opportunities, whether traditional public schools or nonprofit public charters. Since the overwhelming majority of our children are educated in public schools, we maintain our long-held belief that public schools must become equitably funded and high performing. We also support high-performing, evidence-based, nonprofit, public charter schools as an acceptable alternative for parents seeking educational options to traditional public schools.

We strive daily to change the life outcomes and trajectory of underserved and disenfranchised African-American youth. We know that the quality of education they receive will aid in their successful transition to a rewarding career and becoming contributing members of society. If Justice Scalia and like-minded individuals were more fixated on ensuring that every child has access to a high-quality education, the need for programs like those at the University of Texas would lessen, and African-American students would be in a much better place.