The Soapbox: Protecting Affirmative Action Is A Feminist Issue

As a Black woman, I sincerely want to see feminism present a united front in the fight against sexism and racism. However, with so many racist White women — like Abigail Fisher, who sued the University of Texas at Austin for race discrimination — left unchecked, women of color are left wondering how and when such an alliance will be possible. How can we ever truly be united if large swaths of white women harbor racist notions and ideologies that have major implications for Black women? White women have been and and continue to be responsible for the oppression of black women and the perpetuation of White supremacy, hindering the progress of their own demographic in the process.

Abigail Fisher, in case you have not been keeping up with the details of her case, filed a lawsuit against UTA claiming she was discriminated against during the application process because she is white; Fisher’s lawsuit, which has the support of a cadre of conservative white men, is a direct challenge to affirmative action. The Supreme Court recently agreed to take another look at the lawsuit, and a ruling in her favor would have a major impact on affirmative action programs in colleges across the country, and will certainly reinvigorate the anti-affirmative action movement nationwide. For women of color, this is particularly worrisome, since both opponents and supporters of the programs agree that minority enrollment in elite higher education would most certainly drop. But the implications do not end at race.

I imagine many women are aware of the blatantly racist agenda of those fighting to tear down affirmative action, and a few feminist-leaning sites have addressed the problematic nature of Fisher’s lawsuit, even revealing their own personal experiences with the college admission process. Yet I wonder why this issue has not drawn the attention of the broader feminist movement and been addressed as an attack on women’s basic rights. Consider the fact that Affirmative Action has benefited white women more than any other demographic and it’s clear that it is in all women’s favor to protect Affirmative Action programs.

Affirmative action was born out of the need to address the rampant discrimination that was a staple of the Jim Crow Era and challenged by the Civil Right’s Movement. The intent of these programs was to display the government’s commitment to realizing true equality for all, despite their race, creed, color, sex or national origin after centuries of minority and female disenfranchisement. As a result of affirmative action, these groups saw an increase in enrollment rates for institutions of higher learning ad in employment opportunities, while liberty protections were sanctioned and safeguarded as well. White women like Abigail Fisher were among the primary beneficiaries of such programs, which awarded them access to spaces from which they were long barred participation or left vulnerable to abuse and mistreatment.

Abigail Fisher and her supporters’ attack onaffirmative action programs should not simply be viewed as an affront to people of color, but also an attack on women as a whole, and thus a huge feminist issue. The danger of White racism is that it is often used to disenfranchise and curtail the progress of not only POC, but also white women and those who are less economically advantaged. Just imagine how many poor white people vote for politicians who are against government welfare programs (from which they largely benefit as a demographic), merely because better-to-do, more influential whites have painted such programs as “minority” assistance that help lazy folk avoid personal responsibility for their own financial circumstances. All the while, these same politicians seek tax breaks for the rich and fail to address rampant corporate welfare, which is totally against the interest of poorer whites.

Similarly,affirmative action has been painted as program for Blacks and other people of color, when it actually benefits all minorities and disproportionately benefits white women. This misrepresentation clouds white female judgement. It allows white women like Abigail Fisher to fight harder to safeguard white supremacy and patriarchy than their own well-being or progress. That is the power and danger of unchecked racism. This is an example of why it is so essential that racism is always addressed by feminism, because it is white patriarchy’s biggest defense. White women become pawns in a war against people of color where both demographics lose to white male patriarchy.

It is important that affirmative action is rebranded if we truly care about protecting the rights of all women. These attacks on affirmative action are not merely about race – they are an assault on the progress of women and should be treated as such by the broader feminist movement.