Abigail Fisher’s Supreme Court Loss Is Another Reminder That As Long As Race Matters, Affirmative Action Matters

June 23, 2016  |  

Abigail Fisher


Since news broke today that the Supreme Court decided to uphold the affirmative action program at the University of Texas and shut down Abigail Fisher’s challenge of the policy (a challenge that began in 2008), I’ve read quite a few interesting responses and tweets surrounding the decision. The University of Texas, #SCOTUS and #BeckyWithTheBadGrades were all trending at one time or another on social media today. And despite the “Becky” hashtag and a lot of the scathing (yet comical) headlines in reference to Fisher and the SCOTUS conclusion, what truly caught my eye in the conversation surrounding this ruling came from UT President Gregory L. Fenves. He said in a statement, “The educational benefits of diversity for all students enhance The University of Texas at Austin, the higher education community, and the nation. As I said when the Supreme Court reviewed this case last December, race continues to matter in American life.”

Race continues to matter in American life.

Who else has been trying to find the right way to explain this to folks for months if not years now? Because in all honesty, that’s the takeaway from the basis of Fisher’s lawsuit, the Court’s ruling, and the affirmative action debate as a whole. It would be nice if affirmative action weren’t necessary, but left to their own devices, diversity would be the last thing on the list of priorities of universities, companies and more.

I could go in on Fisher, which I already did last year in “Dear Abigail Fisher, I Didn’t Get Into UT Either — But I’m Not Suing Anybody.” I could do an evil laugh at conservatives who swear they know what real discrimination is. I could do a lot of things. But at the end of the day, I don’t really want to talk about Fisher’s story anymore.  I just want people to understand that affirmative action is necessary because “race continues to matter in American life.”  Understand that diversity is important because “race continues to matter in American life.” And know that many of us, including White women like Fisher, are where we are (or are where we shouldn’t be) because “race continues to matter in American life.”

That message has been clear to many for quite some time. Including the many young college students who protested around the country last year to speak out about the mistreatment they have to deal with on the campuses of predominately White institutions.

The message was clear for quite some time when it came to the treatment of young men and women, and even children of color, who had been killed by police officers or were found dead in their custody. To this day, the idea that a 12-year-old could be shot and killed on sight for playing with a toy gun and not only could those behind his death not be held responsible for it, but that adults would make excuses and reasons for why officers were justified in their actions, should have made the message crystal clear.

Race has mattered in which missing children get their story broadcast on the news, who gets a mortgage loan, who gets a call for a job interview, which protesters are deemed “thugs” and which ones are just “armed protesters,” and which microaggression folks will face when they walk out into the world on a daily basis. Race even matters when it comes to who gets what role in what movie, who receives help in the store and who gets followed, and as Charing Ball previously reported on this site, who gets a call back for mental health care.

I say all that to say, again, “race continues to matter in American life.”

And it mattered in Fisher’s case, as her White entitlement allowed her to go forth with a lawsuit against the University of Texas, all because she didn’t get in and assumed it was due to the colored kids taking her spot. (All while managing to get acceptance into and graduate from Louisiana State University and go on to be a successful financial analyst. Oh, the struggle. Oh, the horror.)

And yet, she still doesn’t get it. In a statement following the ruling, Fisher said, “I am disappointed that the Supreme Court has ruled that students applying to the Univ. of Texas can be treated differently because of their race or ethnicity. I hope that the nation will one day move beyond affirmative action.”

If we could move past racism, maybe so. But, alas, when you don’t have to face serious disadvantages and setbacks and discrimination on a daily basis, it’s easy to understand why someone like Fisher, who assumed she could ride the coattails of her father and sister, both UT grads, to gain admission, wouldn’t get it. Until they do, people are going to keep having to have these conversations to educate educated people who just so happen to be ignorant. We’re going to have to continue to go out of our way to prove that the jobs and opportunities we have, we’re deserving of, but probably wouldn’t have had access to without affirmative action. We’re going to continue to have to explain why certain publications, places, clubs and safe havens for people of color are necessary. We’re going to continue to have to justify our presence in the world around us. And I, for one, am tired of doing so.

Still, I’m hopeful that the Supreme Court shutting Fisher’s lawsuit down, a third time a court is doing so, will be the wake-up call and reminder for stubborn people who refuse to recognize what’s real: “race continues to matter in American life.” And trust me, ending affirmative action to dry the tears of one mediocre woman could never be the catalyst necessary to get people to stop mistreating, misidentifying, and denying the talents and capabilities of one another based on the color of their skin. Try again, Abigail. Or better yet, don’t.

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