My White Prep School Track Captain Trolled Me About Affirmative Action, But Should I Have Trolled Her About Cheating?
The recent college bribery scandal has unearthed a lot of, well, dirt. For me, the feelings of watching people lie, cheat and steal their way into elite colleges is a sobering realization that someone (someone white, anyway) is able to just take something that I, (someone Black) had to work my entire life to secure. Let me explain.
I am a first generation African woman who was raised by a single mother in New Hampshire. Being the child of immigrants, Sierra Leonean immigrants to be precise, there was no excuse to bring home bad grades since my parents overemphasized their struggle just to get to this country in order for my siblings and I to have a better life. I am proud of all my accomplishments, especially in terms of obtaining my college degree. I'm currently a grad student, so I'm pursuing a second. My parents came to the United States on academic scholarships and were teachers, so education has always been a focal point of our family. But I basically went into the process of applying to college completely blind: taking the SATs because everyone else was just doing it, paying for my college applications all on my own, learning college tours were a thing but then not taking any because of the inability to pay for flights, which ultimately meant deciding on schools based on what I saw on the internet alone. The whole system was totally baffling to me without any road map as a guide for how it is really done in America.
My mom did her best to give us a competitive edge by having my twin sister and I attend a predominately white prep school in New England. While I attended school, there were, at the most, 10 other Black students. There were roughly 750 students in total. My sister and I ran track and we were two of four Black girls on the team. This meant that we were the unofficial spokespersons for the entire Black community. After all, who else could it possibly be? We were the receptacles for many of my classmates' biases and microaggressions, and this was especially blatant when it came to our involvement in any extracurricular activities. We weren’t track stars, but Black girls are supposed to be fast, right? We liked to run but it was unlikely that we would become Olympians. We enjoyed track with a kind of innocence that can only be destroyed by the cunning commentary of a "not racist" white person. One day, our track captain (white, female) insinuated that we weren’t actually fast enough to get track scholarships, but at least we were Black so there was always affirmative action to help funnel us into college. This thought that "affirmative action" gave anyone with melanin a free pass into college was a common narrative amongst the prep school community, one that was 99.9 percent destined for the elite liberal arts colleges wrapped up in this scandal. Yes, we were Black, but shouldn't my response have been, "Well, I mean, there's always cheating for you!"
Most people think they know what affirmative action is and what it does. It was a well-meaning initiative that was originated to support and secure racial and gender diversity in schools as well as the work place. According to the ACLU, they believe that, “Affirmative action is one of the most effective tools for redressing the injustices caused by our nation’s historic discrimination against people of color and women, and for leveling what has long been an uneven playing field.”
To be honest, I don’t believe that affirmative action has really served its intended purpose for people of color, especially in terms of income. According to the Stanford Review, the acceptance rates of Black and Hispanic students to Ivy League universities has dropped in the last 30 years. On top of that, Black and Hispanic students who were actually let into these schools didn’t come from low-income households. Though this doesn’t account for the excellent education that minority students get at HBCUs or non-Ivy schools, it’s interesting to note that Ivy Leagues continue to promote the few Black and brown faces at their universities on the their most visible platforms as a way of proving that they promote diversity.
There are STILL de facto forms of segregation that hinder Black people from being great at school or at work. The school-to-prison pipeline continues to criminalize Black children, especially Black boys, at an alarming rate compared to their white peers as young as 5 years old. Just this year, New York City finally acknowledged the fact that Black people get discriminated against for their hairstyles and made it illegal to do so. The psychological minefields that Black students have to navigate while also performing well in school is something my white peers could never even grasp.
Despite this, Black girl magic is real, and the numbers prove it. Still, we rise, right? It’s a well-known fact that Black women are the most educated group in America and are pursuing higher degrees more than any other race or gender. My mother has been in school basically my entire life. As she continues to grow as both a student and a medical professional, it inspires me to keep seeking knowledge in the form of higher education. While our numbers continue to steadily rise in terms of obtaining degrees, we as Black women still don’t have the paychecks to back it up. This is where white women come into the equation.
Corporations in all different industries continue to emphasize the importance of diversity in the workplace. But there’s an overwhelmingly staggering number of white women compared to people of color receiving these managerial positions in order to fulfill their “diversity quota.” Yet, white women are the individuals who have the most to say when it comes to affirmative action, though they benefit the most from affirmative action policies. It happened to me at 16, and naturally, it became a pattern I noticed throughout my life. My track captain was attempting to suggest that I would have an easier time at getting into a school simply because I was Black, but when had that ever made anything easier for me? Never. Including in that moment when she isolated my sister and me even further than we already were.
As someone who is very well-versed in victimized white women, I recognize when they are trying to use their position to manipulate narratives in their favor. In fact, white women are the individuals who sue institutions the most when it comes to discrimination during the college admissions process. I think we all remember when Abigail Fisher sued University of Texas Austin because she believed she was not accepted due to affirmative action policies. Not only is that school hard AF to get into, Abby’s grades and SAT scores weren't even close to the ones typical of any of the students accepted, let alone the minority ones.
College admissions really highlights the fact that some make the cut and others don’t. That’s life. We can't logically complain about the "fairness" of it because nothing is fair, but as we saw last week, wealthy parents continue to rig and abuse the system that's already tilted in their favor. While Black high school students are dealing with the likes of structural inequality, exclusionary institutional practices, trans-generational disadvantages, or unconscious biases, Lori Loughlin, Felicity Huffman and other white parents thought that if their children could not even perform well enough to get into the likes of USC, they would just, you know, skip the whole performance process and sail right ahead to acceptance. One of Lori’s daughters, who before she became a USC student, was already a successful influencer, making six figures on sponsored content, even said in a YouTube video that she didn’t care about going to school and really wanted to attend so she could experience the parties and tailgating at sporting events. Really?
Kimberlé Crenshaw explained it best by comparing the need for affirmative action to track runners and said, “… the problem affirmative action seeks to address is not damaged runners, but damaged lanes that make the race more difficult for some competitors to run than others.” Affirmative action has nothing to do with white people’s inability to compete with hardworking, intelligent minorities who not only run the race faster, but run it without complaining about their injuries or the damaged lane that they are forced to run in.
Black students are excelling and deserve to be rewarded for their efforts in the form of college acceptances, especially considering that while they are performing well in their studies, they are also overcoming all the obstacles that are still in place to hinder Black people all over the country from surpassing white progress. White women thinking it’s OK to use their wealth to push their mediocre children into spaces that they don’t deserve to or even want to be in, discredits the efforts of Jordan Nixon, Dylan Chidick, or any Black student who works incredibly hard to set themselves apart against all odds.
Some people think that this scandal involving affluent, white parents helping their children get into college with their privilege and wealth solidifies the need for affirmative action. As someone who has witnessed white parents misuse their wealth and power to prop up children who are otherwise ready to pretend that they are disenfranchised and even discriminated against for their privilege (not in spite of), I believe that this moment really calls for a need to take a hard look at who actually benefits the most from affirmative action: white women. And I'm calling BS on their victimhood.