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Obstructing the Path to Equality

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I am one of the many students at The University Of Texas at Austin who Abigail Fisher believes she deserved a spot over. I didn't graduate in the top 10 percent of my high school class. The admissions board holistically judged my application, taking into account my half-black, half-Persian ethnicity under a 2005 provision that allows race to be considered in university admissions.

For some reason Abigail Fisher thinks that sharing my racial identity would have helped her avoid discrimination. This isn't true. A majority of the provisional spots for students at UT Austin outside the top 10 percent were given to white students. If Fisher were black, she wouldn't have had a better chance at getting into UT Austin. She would have had a lower chance of graduating college altogether.

Fisher is suing UT Austin in Fisher v. The University Of Texas on the grounds that she was discriminated against because of her white skin color, costing her admission to UT Austin and thus violating the 14th Amendment. Edward Blum, the man who orchestrated the suit and many other racially related ones like it, told Reuters that race-based policies obstruct the principles of equality they were intended to uphold. "Affirmative action," he said, "treats whites unfairly and stigmatizes minorities." Blum and Fisher legitimately believe that they are helping racial relations and preventing discrimination in the United States. Their views, however, stem from a narrow and incomplete perspective of race.

Though my family has had many successful black entrepreneurs, military officers, and lawyers, as well African-American students who attend prestigious colleges like Wesleyan, Georgetown, and Fisher's sought-after UT Austin, we are the exceptions, not the status quo for African-Americans. Racism, contrary to popular belief is still very real and very prevalent.

In education, minorities are typically thought to dominate scholarship pools. In actuality whites receive a disproportionate majority of scholarship money. Prior to college, 26% more white boys will be proficient in reading, and 32 percent will be more proficient in math than their black counterparts. They will score 104 points higher in the critical reasoning section of the SAT alone.

By way of employment, economists Roland Fryer and Steven Levitt found that "resumes with traditional names are substantially more likely to lead to job interviews than are identical resumes with distinctively minority-sounding names." Moreover, unemployment for African-Americans is twice what it is for whites. Appallingly, a white male with a criminal record has a higher chance of getting a job than an African-American male that has never committed a crime. Racial stereotyping is still so prevalent that employers are willing to factor in race over a proven record of criminal behavior. All of this seems far more unconstitutional than the consideration of race in college admissions, especially when Affirmative Action's purpose is to mitigate these problems.

Fisher cited the loss of UT's alumni network and a potential chance at a better job after college as the biggest thing she missed out on. Blum's work in racial policies is focused on reducing white discrimination. Fisher's hypothetical job loss and Blum's attempts to reduce white discrimination are negligible compared to the discrimination other races face. African-Minority groups lose far more from structural racism than less-than-ideal job prospects.

Even on UT Austin's Campus, there are still racial divisions. Bleach balloons, racist theme parties, and unintended segregation have allowed racial problems to persist at the university.

There isn't any reason to think that the 14th Amendment, which is the crux of Fisher and Blum's argument, forces colorblindness that would prevent the government from helping clear a route to racial equality. Erwin Chemerinsky, founding dean of the University of California, Irvine School of Law agrees. He told ProPublica that during the creation of the 14th Amendment, he said, Congress recognized "an enormous difference between a white majority disadvantaging minorities and a white majority acting to remedy past discrimination." Proceeding rulings further established this. In 1971 the ruling on Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education stated that implementing colorblindness would undermine the integration requirement of Brown v. Board of Education. In a 1977 ruling Justice Harry Blackmum wrote, "In order to get beyond racism, we must first take race into account. There is no other way."

Justice Blackmum's argument wasn't speculative. Federal action has proven to be an effective tool in helping end discrimination. The closest periods of racial equality (judged by the narrowest gap between white and black unemployment) came in the 1940's, late 1960's and early 1970's. University of Chicago professors William Sites and Virginia Parks write that those periods correlated with new federal anti-discrimination actions: the Fair Employment Practice Committee in 1941, Civil Rights Act of 1964, Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972. If they are successful, Fisher and Blum seriously threaten our ability to use Federal policy to end racial inequity.

Blum and countless others are fond of the argument that African-Americans and any other marginalized peoples should bring themselves up and attain their own justice. The problem with is that you can't pull yourself up by your own bootstraps when someone else took your boots away from you. If institutionalized racism (conscious or subconscious) wasn't an embedded reality of American culture then Blum's argument would be valid. Unfortunately, there isn't an open path for minorities to simply gain equality. It's a path riddled with unjust obstacles in employment and education that need to be erased before we have a conversation about accountability.