061013-CALLIE.mp3

“You’re the reason I couldn’t get a job here before now!”

I was being yelled at by a red-faced, angry colleague in the middle of my Midwest newsroom.

I was thrown by his tone and temperament — our conversation minutes before was about something mundane; however, I instinctively knew he was talking about affirmation action.

When I was accepted to Wellesley College, lots of people had no problem telling me to my face I was accepted because of affirmative action, only because I was black. No matter that I did well academically in high school, winning honors, including a national scholarship.

Affirmative action policy was first implemented in the '60s. The goal: to level the playing field by outlawing routine discrimination against minorities, but also forbidding religious and gender discrimination.

I will not debate its effectiveness — that’s been documented by numerous studies. But I will push back against the persistent and insulting belief that affirmative action beneficiaries are not only unqualified, but also usurp spaces that would otherwise go to qualified whites.

That’s the argument in Fisher v. University of Texas to be decided by the Supreme Court soon, perhaps even later today. Abigail Fisher is the plaintiff in the 2008 case. Fisher is white and claims she was rejected because of her race, even though white students with lower scores in the same applicant pool were admitted, as were black students with much higher scores. The irony is that the face of affirmative action today is black, but white women have been the biggest beneficiaries.

I’m clear about the deeply ingrained structural racial inequities in America that few have overcome without affirmative action. I have only to look at the struggles of my parents and grandparents to see the protection it offered me.

And yes, I know Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas believes affirmative action forever stigmatized him and other persons of color; that’s even though he acknowledges that he could not have gotten to where he is without it.

In that newsroom so many years ago I refuted my colleague’s assumptions noting I had replaced the black reporter who left, that in a 14-person newsroom, he had 13 spots to apply for and I had one. And I pointed out that before the legal threat of affirmative action, I would not have been considered, even for that one opening. And for the record, I was qualified.