Affirmative action in college admissions has been brought to the Supreme Court once again with the case of Fisher v. University of Texas-Austin. In 2008, Abigail Fisher sued the university, claiming discrimination against her as a prospective white student because she was denied admission through a process that favored minority applicants.
The case was returned to the lower courts for further deliberation, and the Supreme Court heard oral arguments for the case just last week. In a hearing on Dec. 9, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia made remarks on an inescapable point of contention when discussing the viability of affirmative action within college admissions.
Scalia said, “There are those that contend it does not benefit African-Americans to get them into the University of Texas where they do not do as well” and even went so far as to say, “most of the black scientists in this country don’t come schools like the University of Texas.”
The point Scalia may have been trying to make is that minority students who come from a background that left them ill-equipped to navigate the curricula of the country’s more rigorous and prestigious universities would be better off at “a slower track school where they do well.”
There is some validity to the idea that insufficient pre-collegiate education can result in significant learning curves and periods of adjustment for prospective minority students. However, Scalia’s comments speak on the perpetuation of an idea more harmful to the state of higher learning than supposedly depriving white students of admission slots.
Scalia’s remarks discredit the success of minority students in favor of continuing the narrative of white mediocrity as the gold standard of higher education. Minority students are criticized for failing in environments they were not adequately prepared for by a society that systematically discriminates against them. If they do succeed, their achievements are invalidated by the idea that their success should be attributed entirely to handouts and not their own merit.
We can’t win because society wants to see us lose. When we don’t lose our victory is seen as an illegitimate exception. Affirmative action is not the holistic solution to addressing the disparities between minority vs. non-minority students in institutions of higher learning. However, citing the fact that affirmative action is not a magic bullet that that will rectify a monolith of discrimination and oppression is silly.
The color of one’s skin does not equate to the likelihood of academic success. White skin doesn’t make you a better test taker, but it does afford other privileges. A lack of melanin announces that by virtue of your birth you are deserving of preferential treatment within this society that will ultimately position you at the top of society’s power hierarchy. You are part of the problem if you believe that society owes you more than the ever-present suit of armor that is white privilege, and any advantage given to minority students at the cost of your white privilege is an affront to you.
True equality requires sacrifice, and the sacrifice that needs to be made isn’t going to come from minority students. How can you criticize minority students for performing poorly in a society designed to see them fail? If our society was truly fair and equal we wouldn’t even need affirmative action, but since that isn’t the case, we do for now.
Affirmative action is a half-measure that should remain in place until we as an entire society decide to fix the cracks in the foundation of this country that mandated its necessity in the first place.