Within the next few months the Supreme Court will issue a ruling in Fisher vs. University of Texas. The plaintiff, Abigail Fisher, who was rejected by the school in 2008, has accused the school of racial discrimination, which, her lawyers argue, violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. “There were people in my class”, The Atlantic quotes Fisher as saying, “with lower grades who weren’t in all the activities I was in, who were being accepted into UT, and the only other difference between us was the color of our skin.” Tellingly, the university offered 47 provisional spots to students whose grades and scores were lower than those of Fisher. Out of those 47 spots a grand total of five went to black or Latino students, while the remaining 42 were given to white students. UT also rejected 186 black or Latino students, whose grades and scores were higher than Fisher’s. Are they suing the university and claiming those 42 white students were given preferential treatment? No. But Fisher launched her crusade because she believes, as a white American, she is entitled to certain privileges; and if she does not receive them when she wants them, then it must be because she is the victim of black racism. Abigail Fisher is a spoiled pawn that is now being used by those committed to destroying affirmative action. The details I have just cataloged are not widely known. They may be mentioned in passing on television, or buried within some newspaper articles, but Fisher’s sense of entitlement is certainly not a part of the broader media zeitgeist.
George Orwell, after reading a book he clearly loathed, wrote, “If it were possible for pages to give off a physical stink, these would”. I felt the same way after reading a column by the New York Times’ Washington bureau chief David Leonhardt. His piece, which was placed in the paper’s coveted Sunday section, was titled “The Liberals Against Affirmative Action.” Leonhardt argued for a class-based program because “race plays a role unlike almost any other factor. An African-American student with a similar application to a white student received the equivalent of a 310-point lift in SAT scores.” He then said athletes and legacy beneficiaries also receive large bonuses, but, of course, the author omitted what those bonuses are. Perhaps it is because those students receive larger lifts than black applicants and yet there is no effort to dismantle those schemes, which are responsible for a larger proportion of student enrollment at the top schools, that the race-based programs currently under attack. I know this because if you look around such campuses, including ours, there are not many black bodies. But if one were completely ignorant of this saga and read Leonhardt’s work, he or she would think black people were flooding the nation’s top schools. He also charged the present system with preventing different perspectives from being allowed into the classroom, which is absolute nonsense because black Americans naturally bring a different outlook to the table. After reading the author’s op-ed I could not help but think he believes diversity is fine as long as black people are not included. But because of people like Leonhardt and institutions such as the New York Times, we are fed this one-sided propaganda that suffocates the possibility of any encompassing discussion about affirmative action.
Every decade when these cases rear their ugly heads we are not told of the successes of affirmative action. Those liberals who are supposed to be on our side in these fights for justice have let us down. They are quick to write glowing profiles about Fisher and her cello playing, while ignoring the countless under-served blacks and Latinos who have used such schemes to advance themselves and their communities. These liberals take to the op-ed pages and present the liberal case against affirmative action, while denying similar space to intrepid proponents such as Vassar Professor of Political Science Luke Harris—whose think tank has played an important role in this battle. Professor Harris conveyed to me recently the difficulty that people like him, and UCLA Law School Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw, have faced in getting the sort of coverage now readily available to those who oppose affirmative action.
The great Nina Simone, in her 1967 song “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free,” crooned, “I wish you could know / What it means to be me / Then you’d see and agree / That every man (and woman) should be free.” And therein lies the problem with disappointing characters like Leonhardt; they do not understand these fights because they live in isolated bubbles where most people look and think as they do. Many of us who are opposed to America’s racist past and present are quick to target the obvious bigots but we should take a look at some of our supposed allies because they are not truly committed to this struggle.
—Juan Thompson ‘13 is a Political Science major.