Our third story in this theme is a little different. Abigail Fisher, aka “Becky with the bad grades” didn’t initially set out to sue when she was not accepted as an undergraduate at the University of Texas at Austin where her family matriculated. She made arrangements to attend her second choice school, Louisiana State University and has since graduated and moved back to Austin where she works in finance.
Her father was friends with a conservative crusader dedicated to undoing laws and policies designed to combat racial discrimination, Edward Blum. Blum was actively seeking a plaintiff to help him undermine affirmative action policies in university admissions.He recruited Fisher, found her a lawyer, and funded the suit through his one-man nonprofit, the ironically named Project on Fair Representation. This organization is funded in turn by the worst sorts of conservatives.
Blum has been doing this legal matchmaker for a long time, finding sympathetic white plaintiffs and interested attorneys to argue against laws he wants overturned. Fisher wasn’t about one college girl fulfilling a dream. Abigail’s name only appeared five times in the pages upon pages of written arguments. Instead it was an assault on the 14th amendment, arguing that any attempts to redress racial discrimination were themselves racial discrimination. That the Constitution is “colorblind” on race.
So the case really wasn’t about “Becky with the bad grades” but let’s discuss her anyway. Is she racist? Almost certainly. For one thing she’s white and all white people have a greater load of culturally imbued racism to get over. With a dad who’s friends with a man like Blum, Abigail probably grew up hearing racist ideas in the home, like suspicion of black successes as being unearned or bestowed because of race. The things she said in the lead up to the ruling, about how she would have been accepted with a darker skin color, were racist.
But this individual Becky’s racism isn’t the big story here. Whether she was a willing and shrieking overt racist or an unwitting pawn in a game played by more powerful men, Abigail is a kind of symbol. White men have long used the defense of white woman as justification for discrimination and violence. From lynch mobs to Dylan Roof, they kill in my name, and in the name of Abigail Fisher. “Protecting” white women is a code of brutal conduct.
When Edward Blum wanted to attack the 14th amendment, he did it in a white woman’s name, because as a whole, white America loves to “protect” white women in ways that hurt black people. (The whole slew of convicted white rapists escaping serious penalties shows how little we truly care about the safety of any woman, even white ).
Each of these stories shows a different variant on the same theme. Black women are accused of being men or n*****s or of being granted unearned college admission. The hard work of black applicants accepted at UT, the years of service of Jo Ann Bennett Grimsley, the countless hours of training of Caster Semenya: all are erased. Their efforts don’t count in the face of white doubt.
If you’re white like me and you find yourself questioning the achievements of black women and other people of color, ask yourself how much racism is influencing your perception. Recognize we’ve been culturally conditioned to distrust, discount, and disbelieve them, and that this is our sin, not theirs. Support beleaguered women like Semenya, as her country has done. Don’t accept your friend’s claim their black colleague got the promotion they wanted “because of affirmative action.” Value the qualifications of black women.