Dear My People: Affirmative Action Isn’t a Weapon


Author’s note: This piece is written in an effort to clarify a term that we often manipulate to have meanings that are contrary to reality. In creating clarity, I hope that people will begin productive conversations that change the way we use it. 

“Dear White People,” Volume II Episode I. Sam receives a message from AltIvyW: “…How did you get into Winchester? Oh right. Affirmative Action.”

You might think that this never actually happens in real life, or maybe you’ve heard about it but never seen it. In reality, the Twitter war that Sam gets into is based on real things that people have said to Justin Simien, the creator of the show. 

This scene is an example of how students of color are attacked and told that they don’t belong in certain spaces. It is used to demean and negate their presence in a space because white people feel entitled to it.

Affirmative action, to clarify, is the idea that employers, admissions counselors, and those who buy and sell houses will not discriminate against people of color (note that women were later added to these efforts) because of the historical discrimination they faced. The idea is to look more broadly when considering people for positions, because there are plenty people of color that could fill them and do well there. This definition is important for a few reasons.

One, it shows that affirmative action is connected to a history of discrimination and inequity. Furthermore, it shows that restricted access to institutions and economic growth is because of a racist past that (some) politicians, professors and employers want to counteract. This implies that as long as this inequity exists, affirmative action should be in place because it will ensure that people are seeing people of color and women as equal candidates for this work. Therefore, we currently live in an unequal world full of prejudice that needs correcting at an institutional level. 

Attempts to eliminate affirmative action are attempts to say that we are in a post-racial world which, hopefully considering our current political situation, we are clearly not living in. The erasure of this idea would revert us back to a world that ignores racist and gendered policies. This would be destructive to the steps we have taken toward equality, no matter how small they have been. 

This definition also means you cannot weaponize the term and say that people are only at this college because of their race, because of affirmative action. 

 This attack does a few things; it suggests that affirmative action is the lowering of standards of admission in order to accept more POCs and marginalized groups. It implies that she does not belong at an elite college because she doesn’t have the intelligence or ability to be accepted on her own merit. It effectively misconstrues what affirmative action is, transforming it into a weapon that questions a person’s qualifications and ability to succeed in a given space. 

The concept of affirmative action is not a threat to our (white people’s) place on this campus.

We are still the overwhelming majority on this campus, and that has not changed in the many years of its existence. In the past year, we have seen a higher number of students of color matriculate at Middlebury College. Yet spaces remain mostly white, despite the influx.

Overall, affirmative action is not a threat to the white community. But let’s stop for a second and think about something; why do we think that colleges, jobs and housing are automatically meant for us? Why do we feel entitled to spaces and work? Why do we automatically assume that a seat in a classroom belongs to us? That something that technically was never ours can be “stolen”?

The truth is, this college was made for white men to do research or learn racist anthropology practices. But now? Now it is meant for people who, having proven their academic ability, can grow and learn. 

This shift means no one person is entitled to a spot here (or at least they shouldn’t be). Instead, everyone must earn it. And if the person sitting next to you deserves it more, then they rightfully should be offered the spot before you. 

Affirmative action is not a threat to our “possessions.” 

It is not an insult that signifies inferiority. 

It is an effort to right the discriminatory wrongs that have historically oppressed people across education, employment and housing.

Ask yourself, why am I attacking equity efforts? Why do I feel entitled to all of these things, without even questioning how much I deserve them? Why does the presence of people of color feel like a threat?