Everyone always says: “Just be patient. Once all the old racist, misogynist white men die, everything will be fine.” If that’s true, then perhaps, this week’s news about Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s unexpected death should be considered a collective step closer to the goal of dismantling systemic racism.
To be honest, Scalia was trash. It’s been a few days since he was found dead and that truth is still evident. People (mostly conservatives) will defend his record, calling him a patriot or some other term that is actually violent towards non-Whites. But, most folks know that Scalia’s actions while on the SCOTUS were primarily in support of the oppression of non-whites, women, and other marginalized groups and the maintenance of institutional racism. His death, then, is not really very sad.
Just two months ago, Scalia said that Black students should attend “slower-track schools” as opposed competitive schools. He suggested that schools, like the University of Texas, were actually harming Black students with race-based admissions procedures because these students simply weren’t able to do well there. His anti-Affirmative Action comments were not surprising or unique. Rather, they were his usual fare.
It is well known that Scalia was adamant about interpreting the Constitution in its original form regardless of the needs of those who were not considered citizens at the time of its passing. As such, he was also integral in the move to throw out key pieces of the Voting Rights Act which ensured fair and equal voting access for all. The part of the legislation he was integral in overturning was Section 5, a provision which required “pre-clearance“from certain states, mostly in the South, before they could redraw district lines, change their voter-ID requirements, or voting hours before an upcoming election. His contention: “In the House there are practically black districts by law now.” Of course, that was a major issue he needed to eradicate.
These are only his recent decisions.
Over the course of his long career, Scalia compared homosexuality to bestiality and then, in 2012, defended those comments. He repeatedly supported limitations of Roe v. Wade, making access to legal abortions in the US more difficult for women who need them. Scalia even fought against gun control and healthcare access. In essence, he was the Supreme Court Justice Reagan always intended him to be.
Taken together, these actions constitute the legacy professor and Black feminist Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw describes as “devastating.”
The long list of racist, misogynist, homophobic, and ableist policies Scalia worked so tirelessly to preserve are at the foundation of the societal oppression many Black people experience daily. His commitment to preserving the US established by the signers and drafters of the Constitution reflected his unrelenting passion for policies predicated on the annihilation of “others.” Not only that, he met each case, every disgusting decision, and all of the ignored opportunities to make social change in the US with a chuckle and smile. He laughed his way right through our ongoing marginalization.
It’s a wonder how so many people have struggled to come clean about Scalia’s history. They’ve referred to his comments as “colorful” instead of “oppressive” or “racist.” Some have taken to making this a religious conversation as if we should collectively lie about Scalia’s lifelong committment to targeted hatred via his seat on the bench. Still others suggest that this is a moment to respect Scalia for his work, acting as if his long career in the SCOTUS was anything but harmful to vast swaths of US citizens. These fallacious claims on the life of Scalia are just nuances of valiant lies conservatives tell themselves to invisbilize the systems of privilege and disprivilege they so deeply rely upon. That doesn’t mean we have to buy into any of it though.
Granted, there are political incentives to re-writing his legacy especially with the tumultuous presidential primaries already here. But even that is insufficient in justifying the windfall of unearned praises Scalia has received in the past week. There is literally no cogent or logical reason why minoritized people, Black people in particular, should not take joy in this moment. This was the only way to remove Scalia from the bench and it came right on time, with just months left in President Obama’s presidency.
The fact is: celebrating Scalia’s death really is acceptable. In fact, its necessary. That it happened during Black History Month is like ominous, ironic icing on our celebratory Black cake.