It would be foolish to suggest that Abigail Fisher, a 22-year-old White woman hailing from a middle-class suburb, has not been afforded a number of class and race based privileges by the sheer virtue of her birth. A graduate of Louisiana State University, she is a cellist and currently employed as a financial analyst. And with no disregard for the fruit of her labor of her academic and professional careers, it is worth noting that the advantages of being White, female and class mobile make certain fruits a little easier to grasp.
Alas, these privileges are not enough for Fisher. Despite having graduated from a good college and working in her desired industry in the city of her choosing, she is still resentful of having been denied admission to the University of Texas. And while many graduates carry on a degree of bitterness over not having attended their first-choice school, few go so far as to take their gripes to the United States Supreme Court. Abigail Fisher has done just that.
You see, the University of Texas uses affirmative action policies to ensure a diverse student body. And because there are spaces reserved for students of color, Fisher feels that she was denied a fair chance at admission.
Mind you, three-quarters of the Texas students accepted by UT are from the “Top Ten” program, which guarantees admission to the state’s highest performing students. According to the New York Times, students of color are well represented in this pool—with no special consideration given to ethnicity. Fisher missed the cutoff for the program, which means that she was to be considered for the remaining 25% of available seats. That group is selected using a number of qualifying factors, including race.
The notion that ‘if there was no affirmative action, I would have gotten that scholarship/seat/job’ is an oft-repeated one by Whites who refuse to acknowledge their membership in a privileged group. I doubt someone like Fisher would understand how her background made it easier for her to be a competitive college candidate in the first place. I don’t expect her to be aware of studies that have proven that without affirmative action programs, people of color do not get a fair shot at colleges and careers due to inherent cultural biases (conscious and subconscious) of admissions officers and hiring managers. It seems doubtful that she’s ever done any substantial study of affirmative action beyond finding language to challenge its Constitutional protection.
It’s too bad that Fisher’s ignorance and entitlement prevents her from understanding that the unlikely chance that she would have gotten into her dream school had there not been affirmative action, and that she can't see that this program is not one that benefits underachieving minorities, but one that acknowledges the inherent disadvantage faced by a significant portion of society—disadvantages that can only be challenged even in part by greater access to education and work. Considering her current station in life, it seems likely that she will be in the position to hire or recommend people for jobs in the future. I wonder if the bitterness she carries over not getting into a school that has stated that she would not have been admitted even without the current policies will likely color her attitudes about minority candidates.
I also wonder where Fisher would stand if she were in a position where her gender posed a threat to her career trajectory, considering how greatly White women have benefited from affirmative action.
Alas, such is the devil that is race and class privilege; those who benefit so rarely say “You know what? It’s enough that I have been able to grow up safely, with a relative unlikelihood that I would ever be suspended or diagnosed with a learning disorder based on my race and gender. It is enough that I was able attend college surrounded by people who looked like me and have a great career in the middle of a job crisis. It is enough that I haven’t been racially profiled while driving, shopping or performing some other mundane task. It is enough that I have been assaulted by a police officer for simply daring to venture outside of my neighborhood. My privileges are enough.”
No, most of these people don’t even see themselves as privileged. They simply acknowledge that they have rights and freedoms that “all” people should have, yet many of them challenge efforts to extend this access to others, particularly if there is any chance that they may not have the same entitlements to which they have been accustomed; others don’t even feel that all Americans deserve their level of access, and work diligently to keep it reserved to certain groups.
Abigail Fisher’s privilege is not enough. If there is any miniscule barrier that may be placed before her, such as racial quotas at a school that has stated that she would not have been admitted even without the current policies (that’s not a misprint; it bears repeating), she somehow feels that she is disenfranchised. But what about those who are disenfranchised at every turn from birth? Those who have never seen a cello, those who still manage to be college-material despite great disadvantages, but will be denied due to a biased admissions officer who may feel that the seemingly unremarkable qualities of someone like Abigail Fisher are simply a better fit for their school?
Doubt Ms. Fisher would have much to say about that. The Times quotes her has having the naïve attitude that if race is removed from college applications, “that everyone will be able to get into any school that they want no matter what race they are but solely based on their merit and if they work hard for it.”
White privilege is a hell of a drug.
Jamilah Lemieux is the News and Lifestyle Editor for EBONY.com. Opinions expressed here are her own.