Abigail Fisher, Please Stop Blaming People of Color for Your Mediocrity

by Kwanzaa Imani

Last week, Abigail Fisher’s case against The University of Texas at Austin gained media attention when she announced that she would once again be taking it before the Supreme Court. In 2008, Fisher filed a discrimination suit against the school, making the claim that they had denied her admission while accepting less qualified students of color because affirmative action laws gave them an unfair advantage due to their race.

Further inspection, however, revealed that Fisher simply wasn’t a competitive enough student to qualify for a spot. UT Austin’s Top Ten Percent Plan accounts for 92 percent of its admissions, with the plan guaranteeing Texas high school seniors within the top ten percent of their graduating class admission to the university. Thus, spots for the remaining 8 percent are extremely competitive. And while race is a factor, it’s only one part of a comprehensive scoring system. Race, along with socioeconomic status and family background, create the Personal Achievement Index (PAI); and grades, essays, and activities make up the Academic Index (AI). So of the 841 students who made the 8 percent cut, only 47 had PAI/AI scores that were lower than Fisher’s, and 42 of them were white. On the other end of the spectrum, the University rejected 168 minority students with scores higher than hers, making her argument entirely baseless. Nonetheless, when the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals denied Fisher’s claim, she took the case to the Supreme Court in 2013 and will again this year. Given the shifts in the Supreme Court Justices, some speculate that this appeal may actually work out in her favor.
Black people can’t afford to just roll their eyes and otherwise ignore this blatant expression of white privilege. We already know that white women have benefitted the most from affirmative action laws for decades. And now that they’ve benefitted from these laws socioeconomically, Fisher v. The University of Texas and cases made by other white women show us that they can now afford to attack what propped them up in the first place at the expense of people of color. White women—especially young ones like Fisher—seem to forget that a mere 30 years ago you could barely find a woman in a graduating class. In fact, a case like Fisher’s would have been simply dismissed in the 1970s, when discrimination was more or less an accepted practice against people of color and women alike. The fact that these women feel they can challenge affirmative action laws is a privilege unique to white women alone, as they are the only demographic to have both faced the discrimination necessary to qualify for affirmative action and have also benefitted from certain privileges, so that they rarely even need it anymore (which, of course, is the goal for everybody).

The entire situation illustrates just how dangerous white entitlement can be. Abigail Fisher, of course, doesn’t see this sense of entitlement in herself at all. She opens her campaign video by telling us that she’s “dreamt about going to UT ever since the second grade.” She continues, “My dad went there, my sister went there, and tons of friends and family, and it was a tradition I wanted to continue.” This is supposed to make us sympathize with her, of course, but the implication is that because she had this dream, she automatically should have been able to live it. Meanwhile, many low-income Black and Latino students dream of simply going to college at all, and even with affirmative action, have to face the reality that their dreams may not be plausible. The core of Fisher’s argument assumes that because she is white, she automatically deserves a spot at the University of Texas, even though she did not present herself as a competitive candidate for admissions. Fisher’s argument assumes that, somehow, people of color with grades equal to hers are less qualified by default. And white supremacy agrees with her.

This is what allows Fisher to get away with blaming her own shortcomings on the supposed “advantages” that people of color have. It’s why many minority students have probably heard the phrase, “You’re lucky you’re a minority. It’s so easy for you to get into college.” In order to uphold the notion that white is, by default, the superior race, white people will continue to avoid facing their own shortcomings by masquerading their inferiorities as oppressions and conflating their own agendas with progress. It’s really easy to get away with this when the people in power are also white and will claim “reverse racism” whenever affirmative action is mentioned, even though it’s not just a racial policy.

Truly, it’s no surprise that Fisher’s proposed solution is a “colorblind” entry process. Colorblindness has always been a very effective way for white people to pretend to be progressive and “non-racist” while conveniently ignoring the voices and unique challenges of people of color—black people especially. And the educational system is an especially cogent example of systemic racial prejudice in this country. Because while you could try using economic status as a blanket, you can’t pretend that poor white people face the same issues as poor blacks. Black people, in fact, are still trying to recover from a number of oppressive and discriminatory practices, including being legally barred from buying property in suburbs when they were first developed. To this day, housing discrimination still exists in the form of blacks being shown fewer houses and charged higher interests rates—all in the interest of maintaining modern segregation. This of course means that black children are less likely to live near quality grade-school education, and we already know that minority schools are underfunded. But add in how frequently black schools are closed, often in favor of prisons, and you have a literal school-to-prison pipeline that simply does not occur for white children. Not to mention, some minority schools are legitimately failing to offer courses considered necessary for college admission, such as Chemistry and Algebra II. This suppression of minority education is the sort of systemic oppression that affirmative action policies try to account for, and until we live in a country in which everyone truly starts on an equal footing, we absolutely need race-based affirmative action to survive.
It’s clear that Fisher has been out of her lane for too long, but it’s time she started working her way back. Because she has repeatedly shown that she is a woman of privilege who neither knows a thing about discrimination, nor has the inclination to listen and learn. She’s continued to speak of an injustice that she never faced. But, Ms. Fisher, if you ever do feel like having a grown-up conversation about racial discrimination and unfair advantage in America, we’ll be happy to offer you a seat at our table, just as soon as you turn in your five-page essay on the historical disadvantages white people have had in the educational system built on the backs of those who have been forced to attend “separate but equal” schools since their conception. We’ll wait.

Photo: AP

Kwanzaa Bennett is regular contributor to For Harriet.

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