Author: Damian Mendieta
Abigail Fisher is the latest, but surely not the last, person to incorrectly believe that affirmative action gives undeserving people of color an advantage over hard-working white Americans. While the nation continues to debate “what is wrong with affirmative action,” there has been little mention of Fisher’s sense of entitlement to attend the University of Texas. In her disappointment over a rejection letter, Fisher quickly pointed the finger at the “top ten percent plan” used by U.T. to maintain a diverse student body after Hopwood v. Texas banned affirmative action in the state of Texas in 1996. Fisher’s socioeconomic privilege has led her to feel deserving of admission to her dream school, a sharp contrast to the many underprivileged or marginalized applicants who could only hope to attend the University of Texas.
Affirmative action and similar policies are currently seen as unnecessary by those unaware that such policy is fundamental to correcting the injustice and oppression that have plagued and continue to affect impoverished people of color. For that matter, critics to affirmative action say that adopting a color-blind standard would fix the disparities disappointed rejects like Fisher have exploited. Color-blindness tries to establish equality, instead ignoring the fact that people of color have faced brutality in America for centuries and still continue to do so.
As the nation focuses on how to do away with affirmative action it must be remembered that without this policy, the oppressed would be struggling in their pursuit for a better life. It exists to allow oppressed people to squeeze in through the narrow door of opportunity in America for the historically and currently marginalized. Those opposed to affirmative action must stop and consider obstacles students of color face, not white disadvantage. Poverty, public schools that receive budget cuts regularly, and parents who did not attend college because they lacked the opportunity to do so are among the many challenges these oppressed students face. It makes little sense that a student from this background would be expected to be as successful as one who comes from a comfortable life. Undoubtedly, being white in the United States gives people unspoken privilege and often they don’t even know it.
Fisher’s argument is rooted in the idea that policies such as affirmative action put white people at a disadvantage. She is basically saying that centuries of oppression and brutality that people of color faced in the US have been fully reversed by 48 years of affirmative action. Let’s not forget that several states, among them California, Arizona, Michigan, and Nebraska, have repealed several vital components of affirmative action since 1996. Additionally, the fact that Fisher’s family legacy at U.T. actually gave her an advantage in her admissions process has not been examined as much as her whiteness has. This landmark court case egregiously lacks analysis of the legacy benefits Fisher undoubtedly received, as opposed to the “disadvantages” of being white under an affirmative action policy. But are these “disadvantages” impeding on affirmative action’s goals?
With the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, most Americans were convinced that racism, sexism and discrimination in general would be effectively over. However, it would be unrealistic to hope that historically marginalized people would be on an equal footing with white folk in America after just 48 years. Centuries of oppression dating back to the Constitutional convention (which clearly reduced blacks to only three-fifths of a human being, deemed women unfit to vote and only permitted white, land-owning males the right to vote), cannot possibly be reversed in such a short amount of time. Additionally, most Americans are not aware of the fact that affirmative action benefits white middle-class women more than any person of color, widening the achievement opportunity for students like Fisher.
Labeled as reverse-discrimination by critics, affirmative action was built to level the playing field for underrepresented people in the workplace; to give them a chance to purse the same opportunities as the majority of Americans. Affirmative action is not a handout, allowing so-called lazy Americans to live a sedentary life. The policy merely sought to give the oppressed an opportunity to compete in environments dominated by white, anglo-saxon, protestant people. Fisher claims that affirmative action allows less-qualified people to take a spot that would have been hers, but has not considered that perhaps her credentials were not sufficient.
Damian Mendieta is an undeclared sophomore. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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