Abigail Fisher -#StayMadAbbey, racism and affirmative action

“If you’re a person of color, the racism beat is also a professional commitment to defending your right and the right of people like you to be treated with consideration to an audience filled with readers champing at the bit to call you nothing but a nigger playing the race card.”-Cord Jefferson

I have never written about racism professionally, like Jefferson has. However, I have frequently studied it, either in my free time or for my studies. The article that this quote comes from, essentially boils down to Jefferson’s dissatisfaction with the cycle of racism in America:

  • Racist incident
  • Angered outrage
  • Back to normal until the next racist incident

Every time racism appears, there are writers, such as Jefferson, who do their best to cover the issue and inform the public, only to be told they are overreacting or even that they are racist. In this era of supposed colour-blindness, people not only refuse to talk about race as a whole, but many also do anything in their power to deny or justify acts of racism. We have reached an era where people seem generally confused by the concept of acknowledging someone’s race, and also not being racist. Let me break it down for the people who struggle with this concept:

1) Most Jamaicans are black (Not racist)

2) Most Jamaicans are black, therefore most Jamaicans are stupid and violent (Racist)

I share Jefferson’s frustration, and it is part of the reason I usually avoid the comment sections of online articles about racism, whether it is yet another incident of Hollywood whitewashing, police brutality against blacks or simply racist comments by a public figure.

Many people will argue the comments are only an example of online trolls, people who get amusement from emotional online responses and deliberately make incendiary comments. However, denial of racism is a widespread phenomenon and it is very clear that a widespread social phenomenon can manifest itself online as well. People will use arguments such as “Why can’t we just be colour-blind” “You race-baiters are the real racists” to defend everything from the use of a slur to disproportionate killings of young black men by police.

Colour-blindness, or colour-blind racism, is the fulcrum for all of these ignorant comments. It is a mentality that assumes racism is either dead, or only isolated to fringe groups like the KKK. Colour-blind racists are ignorant of lingering institutional racism and genuinely argue that minorities are no longer discriminated against. This then makes it easier to argue that whites are now the most oppressed group in America since minorities have things like affirmative action. Eduardo Bonilla Silva’s Racism Without Racists also analyzes how many people who have this thought pattern also do not support interracial marriage and would not approve of more minorities moving into their neighborhoods. The guise of “colour-blindness” is just a smoke screen used to avoid the discussion of racism and support racist systems.

Affirmative action has mostly benefitted white women, but I am pretty sure most people who think it is racist do not know that. Although affirmative action policies include women of all races and numerous minority groups, “affirmative action” and “black people” usually go together like a game of word association. This word association makes it easier for colour-blind racists to argue that undeserving blacks routinely get into schools and jobs that they don’t deserve to have access to. One of these accusers is Abigail Fisher a women claiming she didn’t get into the University of Texas at Austin because she is white.

Abigail Fisher isn’t the first person to do this, and probably won’t be the last. Before the apologists jump in, the facts show Fisher is wrong. The admission records show that 42 white students with lower grades than Fisher got into U of T at Austin. Only 5 minorities (one black, four Latino) got in with lower grades. Additionally, 168 black and Latino students with better grades were not admitted. These statistics are a good material example that debunks one of the biggest misconceptions of affirmative action: that unqualified minorities disproportionately succeed due to it. It is against federal law to hire someone who is unqualified, yet the myth persists that affirmative action allows lazy, unqualified blacks to steal jobs from whites. Here is just one comment I found on the Time article about Fisher:

“… I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve seen a young black woman at my school and wondered “Do you really deserve to be here, or did you AA your way in?” – and I CAN’T be the only one thinking this!  I try not to think thoughts like this, but it is basically impossible now.”

 

Like most colour-blind racists, this person will probably be the first to tell you she doesn’t even see colour if you ask her if she is racist.

This case has been going on since 2013 and although facts clearly show Fisher doesn’t know what she is talking about she has also gained support from Supreme Court Justice Scalia, who said black people tend to fare poorly when admitted to more selective universities.

Black graduates at the University of Texas have responded amazingly, with the hashtag #StayMadAbbey, which is often accompanied by a picture of themselves in their graduation hat and gown. However, with so many comments like the one above and the high level of resentment for minorities and minority success in colour-blind America, it is hard for me to be hopeful. Incidents of racism like Fisher’s allegation never bring about a productive dialogue between two sides. It always degenerates into an argument between intelligent people and the colour-blind racists and apologists who refuse to heed arguments and verified statistics the other side has to offer e.g.

” Way to make a TOTALLY BS point using 19yo data sets! “- a commenter’s response to stats from 1995 showing that white women received most affirmative action placements. This comment jumps to defensiveness and denial and misses the point the article is making.

I emailed Eduardo-Bonilla Silva once, and he told me that I should remain hopeful for progressive change. Yet I still find it hard to heed his words. People who harbor racist thoughts deny racism time and time again. When they are called out on those racist thoughts they accuse other people of “political correctness” or “race baiting”. When someone else makes racist statements or acts on racism the colour-blind racists flock to their rescue. How can we move forward when we can’t acknowledge one of our biggest problems?

Allow me to close by stealing a passage from my poem “Our Post-Racial World”:

 

I always hear people use the analogy of a cut,

Why do we keep picking at a cut instead of letting it heal?

If you keep talking about racism it makes things worse,

To someone who is supposedly “colour-blind”, there is no cut,

They will ignore the cut, bleeding, and infection because they want to maintain the illusion of good health,

“You have a cut.” “No I don’t.”

“On your arm. I can see it.”

“I’m fine, you’ve got to stop being so sensitive.”

“I’m not being sensitive, but it’s a pretty bad cut. Maybe you should get a Band-Aid or something.”

“I don’t need to do that since there is no cut. Even if there was, it’ll go away if you stop talking about it.” “What? You don’t need to let the cut ruin your life but you need to acknowledge it and take care of it. It’s right there, you’re bleeding.”

“Yeah I’m bleeding, but the blood’s not coming from a cut. You’ve got to stop pulling the cut card.”

 

 

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