The Great Affirmative Action Lie

The Abigail Fishers and George Wills think that minorities have unfair advantages. Not by a long shot.

Abigail Fisher and attorney Bert Rein (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Abigail Fisher and attorney Bert Rein (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

After the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968, access to these programs expanded slowly for minorities. And in 1972, Title IX was passed to guarantee women equal access to higher education, but even that mostly assisted white women, since the gains of the civil rights era were embryonic, at best, and still being negotiated.

The results speak for themselves, since many women — mostly white — now enjoy positions of privilege and power from the classroom to the boardroom. Fisher’s claims aside, the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics report, released last week, reveals that for most white Americans, discrimination is the least of barriers.

The unemployment rate for white women and white men over the age of 20 stood at 6.3 percent and 6.2 percent respectively, well below the national average of 7.8 percent and just shy of what is considered full employment — this even in tough economic times. In contrast, although the overall African-American unemployment rate has improved significantly from its peak of 16.7 percent, it remained well above the national average at 13.4 percent.

Fisher’s own story ignores the most crucial fact — namely, the original need for affirmative action. For descendants of African-American slaves, the combination of brown skin and state-sanctioned discrimination left no alternative option or recourse.

At the heart of Fisher’s argument is the misguided view that African Americans and Hispanics are given preferential treatment on race alone and, as such, are undeserving. Yet historical data show that white American women have been the biggest benefactors of affirmative action policies — undermining Fisher’s own argument.

George Will, in his misguided op-ed, reveals the cognitive dissonance at the heart of so many attacks on any success achieved by blacks — dismissing them as affirmative action babies. Yet he willfully ignores (pun intended) any privilege he himself experienced as a Princeton- and Oxford-educated white male, born into an America that legally deprived blacks of any opportunity to compete with him.

Though Will claims to be postracial, it is only the success of African Americans that he overtly racializes. As such, Will — whose career of covering American presidents extends over 30 years — has never once suggested that the re-elections of Reagan, Bush or Clinton hinged, in part or entirely, on their whiteness.

So why, in Will’s opinion, is race the sole factor of Obama’s potential return to the White House? Likewise, could it be that Fisher simply didn’t impress the UT admissions officers as much as another white candidate? Why must it have been a black or brown person who received the spot she is convinced belonged to her?

America’s original sin created a de facto affirmative action for white people that still plagues the broader sociopolitical consciousness. This malignant disease leads some white Americans to believe that they deserve something that, in an increasingly minority-majority nation, is being taken by someone who looks different from them.

The result? Hispanics and Asians are stealing their jobs. Blacks are taking their seats at university. Their Oval Office is occupied by a foreign-born, illegitimate president.

The line between white privilege and the status quo has become so blurred it’s invisible. It is time to redraw the line in black and white.

Edward Wyckoff Williams is contributing editor at The Root. He is a columnist and political analyst, appearing on Al-Jazeera, MSNBC, CBS Washington and national syndicated radio. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.