If you haven’t already read the latest installment of Northwestern racism, courtesy of The Daily Northwestern, take a deep breath and read it now. The piece is so awful from beginning to end that I could never finish talking about every single thing that’s wrong with it, but I’ll give it my best shot.
The author begins by expressing her support for Abigail Fisher, who recently challenged her rejection from UT at the Supreme Court on grounds that she was discriminated against because of her race. The author defends her, proclaiming that “affirmative action has become its own insidious form of discrimination where the preference is not for one skin color over another, but for skin color over merit.” Thus, affirmative action tarnishes America’s wonderful meritocracy. Implicit in this account is that Fisher was obviously more qualified than the Black and Latino students that took her place, since race is a factor in admissions at UT for those who don’t make it into the top 10 percent of their class (as Fisher did not).
Surely, Zink must think, UT’s lawyer was lying when he said that “even if Abigail Fisher had received a perfect Personal Achievement Index score she would not have been admitted… because her Academic Index was simply not high enough.” In Zink’s universe, it is simply not possible for Blacks and Latinos to be more qualified than Fisher, otherwise why would we have affirmative action in the first place?
All of this ignores the fact that the methods universities use to judge merit, such as SAT scores, are racially biased to begin with. As a recent study published by the Harvard Educational Reviewtells us:
The confirmation of unfair test results throws into question the validity of the test and, consequently, all decisions based on its results. All admissions decisions based exclusively or predominantly on SAT performance—and therefore access to higher education institutions and subsequent job placement and professional success—appear to be biased against the African American minority group and could be exposed to legal challenge.
While the sources of this problem are many, we should not be surprised that questions which are probably designed mostly by white people are biased towards whites. The most famous example of this bias is the “oarsman-regatta” analogy, in which students were asked to pick the pair that most resembled “runner-marathon.” This analogy is easy to figure out if you’re a rich white student that had a rowing team in your high school, but not so easy if you’re a poor Black growing up in the South Side of Chicago.
But there is a much bigger problem with Zink’s piece. Throughout her piece, she claims that racism is a thing of the past, and that affirmative action is just a way to “relieve guilt over a history of which most living today were not even a part.” This line of reasoning makes perfect sense if you’ve never had to experience the racial realities of the United States, but outside her little bubble of color-blindness, things are quite different.
I wonder how she explains that Northwestern University is only 8 percent Black and 9 percent Latino, when the same figure for Cook County is 24 percent for both. Surely it has nothing to do with the fact that public education in this country is still segregated by race, despite all formal laws claiming the opposite. In fact, school segregation today is worse than it has been at any time since the Civil Rights movement. This is not a coincidence, it is not just a leftover from previous, admittedly worse times, but the product of active discrimination happening here and now. Real estate agents racially steer 87 percent of people inquiring about a new home. Blacks and Latinos were especially targeted by subprime loans, the same loans that caused the financial meltdown that erased a significant portion of Black and Latino wealth, and have left the wealth gap at its largest in a quarter century. And since education funding is sourced locally, this means the poorer Black and Latino neighborhoods get woefully underfunded schools, while whites can afford to live in Winnetka and go to New Trier.
And don’t even get me started on racial discrimination in the criminal injustice system. Many may have seen this widely-shared video documenting the racist Stop and Frisk practices of the NYPD. There are now more Blacks and Latinos in prisons than in college dorms. Ask a young Black kid if having her dad or brother in jail for a minor drug crime makes it any easier to focus on her grades. Right here in Evanston, the 13-year-old son of a Black Northwestern professor was racially profiled by police, and we don’t even hear about all the children of parents who are not in a position to defend their kids. Right here on campus, I’ve never heard a white student complain about being stopped by University Police while not doing anything suspicious, but similar accounts from Black students abound.
Not to mention that campus culture itself is hostile to minorities. Just in my brief time at NU, we’ve had students wear Blackface for Halloween, students get made fun of for being Latina, students get egged for being Asian, and other students, not finding it enough to make fun of one culture at once, have hosted whole parties dedicated to mocking various cultures.
So don’t come tell us that “today, in terms of direct statements of discrimination and disdain, one is more likely to hear disapproving sneers about ‘rich white people’ than anything derogatory about minorities,” as if they were the same thing. It’s like Romney’s now infamous quip: “It would be helpful to be Latino.” This kind of fake victimization of rich whites is the most absurd of a series of attacks on the fight against racism and class inequality. Back in the ’60s, the same people fought tooth and nail against every gain of the Civil Rights movement. Now that we no longer have a mass social movement to defend the interests of the real victims of this racist system, rhetoric like Zink’s is being used once again to regain the old privileges of whiteness.
Much like “grace” was used to justify the rule of the nobility back in the times of feudalism, merit is now nothing but the ideological catchword used to defend the privilege of the ruling classes. We cannot let them get away with it.