“Lesser Schools” and My Experience as a Black Texas Ex

Fisher v. The University of Texas at Austin is in the Supreme Court again. The lawsuit centers on whether or not “less qualified” students were admitted to The University of Texas at Austin, at the expense of Abigail Fisher, due to their race. The case targets the black population at the school. Despite the fact that less than 5% of the students who were admitted were black the year she wanted to attend. Ms. Fisher and her lawyers don’t believe the legacy admits, athletes, or musical prodigies “took her spot”, no, it is the people of color who deprived her of her opportunity to walk the Forty Acres.

Full disclosure, I was attending The University of Texas at Austin at the time the lawsuit was working its way to the Supreme Court for the first time and submitted a statement in support of UT-Austin with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. I was President of the Black Student Alliance at the time, and the case served as another instance that we were told by some we simply weren’t welcome.

In 2003 the Martin Luther King Jr. statue was egged on MLK Day. When I got to campus and served as a student leader we learned of students from a particular fraternity wearing blackface at an off-campus party. I was heartened by the leadership of the fraternity president, who acted unequivocally, only to be heartbroken later when I learned that his stance against blackface cost him his chapter presidency and alienated him from his fraternity brothers to an extreme point. One night, being a drunken college student, I was walking through the drive thru line at “Jack In The Box” and was told “get out the way nigger” by a young man in the SUV behind me.

This last anecdote captures the spirit of the lawsuit currently being heard in the United States Supreme Court. Abigail Fisher, her supporters, and the justices who insist this case has merit believe that a great force is impeding more “deserving” people. Being more sophisticated than a drunken undergrad they simply can’t yell “get out the way nigger”.

Instead, Supreme Court Justice Scalia eloquently lays out the rationale thusly:

“There are those who contend that it does not benefit African­-Americans to get them into the University of Texas where they do not do well, as opposed to having them go to a less ­advanced school, a less ­­ a slower­ track school where they do well. One of, ­one of the briefs pointed out that most of the black scientists in this country don’t come from schools like the University of Texas… They come from lesser schools where they do not feel that they’re pushed ahead in classes that are too fast for them…I’m just not impressed by the fact that the University of Texas may have too fewer. Maybe it ought to have too fewer. And maybe some, you know, when you take more, the number of blacks, really competent blacks admitted to lesser schools, turns out to be less. I don’t think it stands to reason that it’s a good thing for the University of Texas to admit as many blacks as possible.”

This is not the first time I’ve encountered this argument.  Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia shares the same thought process of a feIlow student I debated. We were sitting in class and my esteemed peer, of a mind with Justice Scalia, declared that white people are the most discriminated people in the United States. Being a know-it-all, I promptly raised my hand and disagreed. The professor, being reasonable, as most people who are not asked to justify their humanity are reasonable, was intrigued. He decided we should have a debate on the question during the next class period. I embraced the challenge. I went directly to the library to look up all the theory and statistics relating to discrimination and who suffered most from the biases of our nation.

The next day in class my esteemed peer was set to present first. He promptly shifted the debate from white people being the victims of discrimination, to black people getting undue entry into the university through affirmative action. I sat and listened as he expressed with all the sincerity of Eddie Haskell that he “truly wished black people would attend the university, but only when they have earned it.” I was taken aback but I had an argument to win. I went ahead and laid out the empirical facts. I spoke of the conditions in which black people lived in America. The discrimination in housing, criminal justice, education, and employment. I cited theory, I related anecdotes, I tried my damndest. Once my presentation was over I fielded questions. The moment that stands out the most is when a young woman, who was black like me, raised her hand and in a cracking voice asked “when will we as black people stop making excuses…”, I was able to answer her but my mind was sent reeling. Afterwards some of my fellow students told me how brave I was, how proud they were, and all the like. I went to the Center for African and African American Studies and cried like a child.

The young woman’s question is what I reflect upon most as Ms. Fisher’s case is being argued in the highest court in the land yet again. The question of worthiness of black students to attend the best schools, is not just a debate about schools. A people unfit to attend school are also a people unfit to operate on you as a surgeon, manage your fiscal affairs, and participate in governing themselves and others. It is not surprising that there are many people who support this view in the white community. What is heartbreaking is that this insistence on the inferiority of black people is often internalized by black people who disprove the notion with their very existence.

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