On the Supreme Court and “Black Privilege”
Today the Supreme Court of the United States will hear oral arguments in Fisher v the University of Texas, a case which we have written about, and you should know about as far as its chances to change affirmative action law in this country. The case is being hailed as a “pivotal,” “landmark” case in race relations by many outlets. Many are watching closely as this seminal case is being decided (our very own djonesmhc is stationed on the SCOTUS steps right now) and are waiting for the decision to come down. It could end up either as a narrow decision applying only to this case and Texas’ racial education policies, or a sweeping judgment on affirmative action policies as a whole in the country.
And I can’t see for the life of me how it even got this far.
Let’s look at the facts first. Abigail Fisher, a white woman and the plaintiff in the case, filed suit after being denied admission to the University of Texas at Austin on the grounds that she was discriminated against because of her race. I’m no legal mind (again, check the above 40 Acres post for more on that end), but under Texas’ education plan, the top 10 percent of every high school in Texas receives admission into UT-Austin, regardless of race. Fisher fell short of that mark in high school, which put her at a disadvantage (due to talent or ethic, not race), since only 19 percent of freshmen admitted to UT fall outside of those admitted under the plan, with only 10 percent being in-state students (less than 1000 students). In that pool of about 1000 in-state students admitted independently (out of the whopping 31,000 who apply), admissions are considered as they normally are in colleges, with a portfolio of scores, grades, and more subjective items like interviews, extracurriculars and race counting towards an applicant’s likelihood of acceptance. Now sure, there may have been applicants of other races with similar portfolios who were accepted, but when you’re in a pool of only around 1000 students, things are always going to be, to some extent, a crap shoot. Not to be too down on Ms. Fisher (because coming down to earth from a position of privilege is understandably hard), but it seems to me like the biggest beef she has…is with herself. If you know only about 3 percent of all students who apply to UT are in-state students outside of the top 10 percent of their classes, then it would probably behoove you to get better grades. Or go to another solid school (like LSU, where Fisher received her degree).
But less about the actual case, per se, and more about what I think it really means.
We basically have a woman who is alleging that she was denied her spot solely based on race, despite her own performance landing her the same odds of admission as rolling snake eyes, whose case has made it ALL THE WAY TO THE SUPREME COURT. On a campus where 25 percent of the population is Black or Hispanic (compared to 50 percent statewide), and in a state where arguments for “reverse racism” (at least in specific cases) should be weakened because of the “top-ten” policy, this case has made it all the way to the highest arbiter of justice in our country. I don’t know why it’s gotten to this point, and while a counterfactual analysis is impossible, I can almost guarantee that had any Black student in her position made this case, even in a land without affirmative action, it would have begun and ended with the University sending a letter home with a big fat, “Welp,” on letterhead. I can’t help but think that the very prominence of the case is based on “pulling the race card”, and is indicative of White privilege. Again, I’m not saying anyone is being purposefully racist or hateful here, just that certain people still get further with certain (silly) things than other folks.
But in the backwards post-racial society that we live in, this is a referendum on Black (minority) privilege, a narrative which has gained more and more steam in the past few years. A wide-scale reversal of affirmative action says that we really believe that Black folks (as well as other minorities and women, to be fair), are recipients of privilege over Whites in employment and education. Now, affirmative action isn’t perfect, and it would perhaps be better policy if we could just END discrimination in total and stop advantages for being a White male and disadvantages for being a minority or a woman; but as of right now, we can’t. Thus, affirmative action seems like the best we can do to boost up high performing minorities and women and give them a better shot at success as opposed to waiting on the admissions committees and HR teams to come around of their own volition. Sure, there may be a few White individuals who get the short end of the stick because of their race, but do those cases add up to some larger extensive setting of Black privilege? No. In fact, for those individuals, you could use the phrase that’s bandied about to many Blacks who have to struggle through obstacles just to make a living:
Pull yourselves up by your bootstraps.
To be clear, Black privilege is a myth. It doesn’t exist. It is the result of a false equivalency where somehow people are allowed to complain at all of the things we “get” to do that they can’t. And those things are so petty and ridiculous. We get to say words that you can’t, we get to listen to hip-hop in our offices, we get more people into sports, and SOMETIMES we have an extra point for us when applying for positions or slots. But I guarantee you that for every minority that gained a leg up because of affirmative action, one more was denied a position because they, “didn’t fit the company profile,” or were, “too threatening,” or had an, “unprofessional name.” In spite of the Affirmative Action Leviathan, Black privilege surely doesn’t show up anywhere in national jobs or education numbers, where we have upwards of 15 percent unemployment and college representation that only approaches half that of our real population. There can be no Black privilege when laws still target us unfairly and we are incarcerated at rates that are orders of magnitude higher than those of Whites for the same crimes. Where is the Black privilege in inner-city neighborhoods and elementary schools?
Up until only 40-years-ago-or-so, White privilege was codified law in this country (hell…there are several arguments to be made that it still is). Centuries of terrible policies don’t just vanish by giving everyone the right to vote and insisting on “looking past race”. We have to talk about race and not be so ashamed of acknowledging the things that, fairly or unfairly, come with being born a certain way. You don’t get to a place of equality by telling everyone to just stop playing racist. You have to work hard at it. You have to make people work against their prejudices. If Fisher’s allegations are true, and she did lose a spot because of her race, hers is one of a few regrettable instances that would diminish if we actually tried to end racial disparities with stronger policies, whereas a reversal would only further shift those disparities toward already disadvantaged groups. There is danger in thinking that removing policies to help people overcome is equivalent to holding people back who are already ahead because of historical circumstances. The reason we don’t need affirmative action now is because we need something more, not something less.