The Curious Case Of The White Underachiever
Essay by a Gradient Lair guest writer, Asia Brown:
Last year, the Supreme Court agreed to review Fisher v. University of Texas. The case—a challenge to Grutter v. Bollinger, in which the constitutionality of race as a considerable factor in the college admission process was defended—is still under review. Abigail Fisher’s sentiments were clear in her fervency and persistence with the case. She felt discriminated against—an active illustration of what many call “reverse racism”. Despite her not being in the top 10% of her high school graduating class, her scores and grade point average were still higher than many of the non-White students admitted. With no logical regard to the role race has played in the historical disadvantage students of color have faced and how this affects admissions processes outside of test scores and grade point averages, Fisher and her legal team blazed ahead.
The case was representative of Conservative fairy-tale reverse racism logic—that average, unimpressive minorities all over the nation are being chosen over amazing, superhero White people to comply with affirmative action’s requirements to meet racial quotes, which actually isn’t a requirement at all.
Then, last Friday the Wall Street Journal published a piece by Suzy Lee Weiss, in which she humorously laments colleges from which she was rejected. In the piece, Suzy Lee remarks:
Colleges tell you, “Just be yourself.” That is great advice, as long as yourself has nine extracurriculars, six leadership positions, three varsity sports, killer SAT scores and two moms. Then by all means, be yourself! If you work at a local pizza shop and are the slowest person on the cross-country team, consider taking your business elsewhere.
Suzy continues referencing her barren track record. She cajoles about being representative of White sameness, a lack of employment credentials, and even her parents’ role in her turning out to be such an average student. Suzy implicitly admits to laziness, underachievement, and envy of amazing students. But the undertones of the letter are as plain as day.
In a politically-correct response to Suzy Lee’s letter, Caity Weaver uses Suzy’s letter as advisement to students not to overestimate themselves as being qualified for college simply on the basis of uniqueness. She writes:
Suzy’s mistake, it seems, was interpreting the advice “Just be yourself” literally. Like perhaps someone told her, “Applying to colleges? Ah, just be yourself,” and she accepted this as an instruction to pursue no activities other than being herself.
Though Weaver’s critique of Suzy’s anti-charity tone reads valid, she avoids approaching the racist undertones of the letter. The role that Whiteness and entitlement play in these instances of young White people feeling slighted about seemingly fair rejection, go unmentioned in her article.
While assumingly satirical, what Suzy Lee meant and what Weaver skated around, was a sentiment that many average—and even underachieving—White people have. They’re flabbergasted and angry at a simple fact: their Whiteness is no longer allowing them access to privileged spaces—universities, places of employment, etc.—as it once did. This sudden limited access is forcing them to actually do stuff—credible stuff—for admission, hire, and recognizance as awe-inspiring and… oh, the horror!
White privilege is so deeply, and invisibly, ingrained in societal entry processes, that the possibility of White people having to do anything besides be White is evidence of heinous discrimination worthy of Supreme Court cases and letters to institutions who rejected them. These lawsuits and letters hardly reflect reality, in which average White people are still, in 2013, likely to be awarded jobs and admitted to institutions of higher education even before overachieving Black people.
On the other side of the tracks, minorities still worry about being rejected solely on the basis of their Blackness, which is so often framed as automatic unprofessionalism and inferiority. Last year, Britni Danielle at Clutch Magazine reported the story of a Black woman in search of employment who, after no replies from hiring managers, begins receiving an influx of interview requests after masking her application identity as a White woman.
White underachievers are an interesting bunch indeed. They’ve totally convinced themselves that the establishment is out to position non-Whiteness as the antagonist enemy to their rise to greatness, even if they aren’t particularly great. And this isn’t the most dangerous sentiment they hold—it’s the pervasive perspective that even if they happen to own a laundry-list of impressive credentials, that this somehow should guarantee their entry, hire, or recognition.
Institutions have limited space, and sometimes, even for amazing students, rejection is based on chance, brand, and season. This might be a complex, mind-boggling concept to grasp for these Caucasian castaways, but… you win some, you lose some.
More than two decades ago Sen. Jesse Helms ran a television ad appealing to Conservative White voters, pairing fear-monger and sympathy to discourage them from voting for a candidate who would support “racial quotas”. A voice appears over a video of White hands crumpling a job rejection letter. The voiceover says:
You needed that job, and you were the best qualified, but they had to give it to a minority, because of a racial quota. Is that really fair? Harvey Gantt says it is. Gantt supports Ted Kennedy’s racial quota law that makes the color of your skin more important than your qualifications.
Although the ad explicitly appeals to White people who are “best qualified”, which wouldn’t include underachievers, it’s the part about Gantt heinously supporting race being important than qualifications that’s pure, comedic irony, considering White skin reigned supreme to qualifications for decades. Not to mention, it was false advertising. There goes the mythical unicorn named reverse racism, trail-blazing through the sky in a fiery gallop, and by “sky” I mean the White imagination.
In closing, I’d like to welcome you underachievers to this weird, futuristic community of diversity. We’ve decorated your walls with pictures of Jesse Helms, Abigail Fisher, and Suzy Lee, since they’re obviously your heroes. We’ve got Kleenex for your tears, therapists to coach you through your traumatic rejections, and a heap of community college applications for when you come to your senses—not because community colleges are for underachievers, but because in this desolate futuristic matrix of equality, we do something strange and barbaric, called, “work your way up”.
Would you like sweet tea?
Asia Brown is a culture critic, writer, and author. Her 2nd novel, White Girl Hair, debuts on July 6th. She is currently attending the University of North Carolina at Charlotte for a Master of Arts degree in Communication Studies, specializing in rhetoric, media studies, and popular culture. Follow her daily musings on Twitter: @AsiaBrown
Related Post: Why Whites Hate Affirmative Action