By Jacob Y. Chin
In my third year of college, one of my favorite professors showed in class a web cartoon titled “His Fault” about affirmative action in higher education. To be specific this cartoon was her way of highlighting how ridiculous it is for a white person to say a student of color, a black student in this case, was the reason why they were not accepted to a college. This class being an Asian American Studies class and predominantly students of color, this cartoon was met with knowing laughter. However, just like every other time I have heard this laughter it has always been bittersweet. We all knew this person was being ridiculous but the situation depicted was all too familiar for us. That day we chose irony to cope with this reminder. So yes, this cartoon was a painful reminder to us but what else are you going to do about all the messed up shit that comes your way on a daily basis? Some times you just have to laugh to remind yourself you still can.
Growing up as a millennial, the racism I have experienced has differed vastly from my parent’s generation. And while it is true I have also been in situations where I have been called a “chink”, “boater”, “ching-chong the Chinaman”, you name it; I instead grew up primarily with a laundry list of microaggressions informing my day-to-day interactions with racism. These microaggressions are translated into practically every sphere of my life both private and public leaving barely anything untouched. When I applied to college this was really the first time I had to reflect very critically about my own experiences in growing up with racism. Then only after several years of studying critical race theory in college was I able to actually frame my own experiences within the larger context of racism in America. It was this cartoon depicting racism in admissions that I finally realized I could understand and put into words why we were all laughing. This was not just the cartoon character’s reality but also the reality my classmates and I lived with.
Signe Wilkinson created “His Fault” back in January of 2003 for the Washington Post. This comic illustrated and satirized the one of the long-standing arguments against the usage of race in determining college admissions. Wilkinson is a liberal left leaning cartoonist who started her career as a reporter but switched when she realized she could combine art and politics without too much writing (Washington Post). In “His Fault” there are six characters with different labels underneath admissions. The characters are as such; the first is the daughter of an alum, the second is the son of a big donor, the third is a soccer player, the fourth was raised in a distant state, the fifth is a minority student, and the last did not get in. The one who did not get in is shouting and pointing at the minority saying, “It’s his fault!” For all the reasons why students are admitted to college this person is blaming the minority student. As hilarious as this cartoon is, this issue is still very relevant.
As Eduardo Bonilla-Silva has stated aptly in his book Racism without Racist, we live in a racist society without having actual racist. Seemingly innocuous phrases, stereotypes, reverse discrimination, and colorblindness have become the new forms of racism allowing people to treat racism as being individual as opposed to systemic (Silva). For African Americans this means living in a society where the focus has been shifted to the individual or group rather than the system as a whole. This framework blames African Americans for living in the “ghetto” because they are too criminal, too lazy, and too hood to get out as opposed to African Americans have been redlined, denied proper loans, and terrorized by police (Krivo 16). Ironically, this is an incredibly lazy viewpoint. As lazy as this approach may be it has all too real consequences. As demonstrated in “His Fault”, the white student is assuming the only reason why the black student got into college was because they were black. This dangerous view is not exclusive to higher education either, it was present through every level of American society in 2003 just as it is still present today and just as it was present back in the 1965 when Lyndon B. Johnson first explained what affirmative action was (American). This meritocratic approach to access is not only a lazy approach but also a highly racist approach that marginalizes and ignores historical oppression.
By buying into the idea that America is based on a meritocracy an illusion is created. In “His Fault” the clear emphasis of the cartoon is upon the ridiculous assertion of reverse racism. From Did-Not-Get-In’s accusation of the black student the focus of the cartoon throws historical oppression into the spotlight. What gets overshadowed is the white privilege of the other four students and Did-Not-Get-In. Imagine if instead of pointing at the black student, what story would be told if Did-Not-Get-In pointed to the other four students or instead asked why he simply assumed he was only competing with students of color? Or imagine if this cartoon had a black student pointing at the other five students screaming, “It’s their fault!” Where the attention is placed makes all the difference on who is scrutinized underneath a microscope. In the Supreme Courts ruling upon Regents of the University of California v. Bakke Allan Bakke is Did-Not-Get-In. When he did not get into the Davis Medical School, he pointed and screamed at the 18 seats held for students of color saying, “It’s their fault!” But when the by shifting the focus onto Bakke the story told becomes of a rather underwhelming applicant to med school who had been rejected from numerous other programs (Liptsitz 32). He is at a clear disadvantage in comparison to other students who were admitted just as with Did-Not-Get-In and yet he is incensed by the perceived disadvantage to students of color. Both Bakke and Did-Not-Get-In represent the defense of white privilege in their condemnation of affirmative action. In their accusation they both refused to see how the disadvantages created through racism gives them advantage (McIntosh). And when that advantage is threatened, they react as follows, “It’s their fault!”
As sad and pathetic Did-Not-Get-In sounds and looks by screaming and wailing over his rejection, this is the state of racism in America version 21st Century. It makes me want to cry and give up every time we end up having to fight tooth and nail for every single step towards ending racism. When I, and so many others, have been deluged since birth with racism it is frankly disheartening. This is why when my professor showed “His Fault” to my class, I laughed. What else am I going to do? I spend so much time constantly being the one pointed at being questioned whether or not I even belong in the country, state, and city of my birth that I am always angry. But I can’t indulge in this anger for every single time. All I can really do every time is laugh. Laugh until it is no longer bittersweet.
Americans for a Fair Chance: Opportunity Through Affirmative Action. N.p.: n.p., n.d. PDF.
Bonilla-Silva, Eduardo. Racism without Racists: Color-blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in the United States. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003. Print.
Lipsitz, George. The Possessive Investment in Whiteness: How White People Profit from Identity Politics. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1998. Print.
McIntosh, Peggy. “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” (1988): n. pag. Web.
Peterson, Ruth D., and Lauren Joy. Krivo. Divergent Social Worlds: Neighborhood Crime and the Racial-spatial Divide. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2010. Print.
The Washington Post: News Service & Syndicate. N.p., n.d. Web.
Wilkinson, Signe. “His Fault.” The Washington Post. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.