I was reading an article about Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor (aka the Queen,) and the comments (never read the comments,) were all about reverse racism. About how helping out minority students is somehow an attack on white students. What a load of bullshit.
As a white Hispanic male, who comes from a background of enough privilege where my family was able to afford private education from Pre-K through NYU, I get frustrated when I see race conflated with ethnicity.
Yes, ethnically, I am half-Hispanic, and pretty damn proud of it, but I am still very much a white male. I may have dark hair and dark eyes, but to paraphrase Justice Sotomayor, nobody walks on the other side of the street when I approach. I also have not had structural institutions in place to put me at a disadvantage when it comes to access to education or other needs. That’s not to say I haven’t had other struggles. But my struggle has never related to my skin color. And even my last name was not enough to give me a disadvantage.
If anything, it made me the safest candidate, because I was a white person of Hispanic descent with access to a good private education. I mean, I also worked my ass off throughout high school, college and my professional career because I wanted to combat that stigma of having a Spanish-sounding last name and because I didn’t want to have my success be tied to the fact that to many people in the States, my colonial-era Venezuelan last name was no different than “Perez,” “Garcia,” or “Gonzalez.”
But seriously, when I look at my own students, many of whom are incredibly viable candidates who are non-white Hispanics, or mixed Hispanics, or black, and I see that colleges are literally not willing to up their scholarship money even though they could actually benefit from it, I become enraged.
Because, I am sorry. Let me tell you about the underbelly of education and how this all really works…
Affirmative action did not create a culture of lazy minorities. It created a culture of wealthy people finding ways to cheat the system.
To give you a case study, one example out of the thousands I am sure exist across the country, I gave all of my AP students the same test. Let’s look at two of my female students. Both are bright young women who know the material, know how to take the test. I gave them extended time in order to gauge how successfully they could handle the questioning. One has accommodations for extended time. One of them doesn’t, but really needs them. I like them both equally, and I think they’re both wonderful people.
The results proved my theory right:
- The white student, who has the money, the privilege, and the legal accommodations scored well. She may very well have ADHD, and these accommodations may help her. But with limited time, she’s an average/above-average student. She’s largely unbothered by her scores, not because she’s unintelligent or uninterested, but because she knows that at the end of the day, these scores don’t really matter to her. She will still go on to college, and her parents will pay for it. She’s not a bad person, and I adore this student, but I know her success in my class is not something that is keeping her up at night, because she knows she has options.
- The black student, who does not come from money, is structurally and statistically underprivileged, lacking the legal accommodations, scored significantly better. She won’t get the accommodations on the actual exam. She won’t get to finish the test because she reads more slowly. That is by no means an indication of her intellectual capacity, because with extended time, she always earns one of the highest scores. She intrinsically knows the material better than her peers, but she’s a slower reader. I credit this, based on my own professional opinion, on a combination of limited exposure to higher-level texts as a younger person and a serious inferiority complex that stems from her own feeling that she is somehow less-deserving to be in an AP class. We have had this conversation. It’s not conjecture. She legitimately believes that she doesn’t deserve to be in the class, and it’s because of institutional and structural boundaries that were placed on her before taking my course. She is terrified that if she doesn’t pass this AP test, it will be proof that she’s stupid. And she’s not stupid in the slightest. She doesn’t have the vocabulary some of my other students have. But critically and analytically, she skews toward the top of her class.
So I’m sorry, if I, as a person who benefited from Affirmative Action for all the wrong reasons, believes that this is still a very worthy cause to fight for. I am enraged, on a daily basis, by the ways that my deserving students lose opportunities to children of privilege. I was a child of privilege. And a big reason that I became a teacher was to help battle those misconceptions. So if you could all take a moment to read through this, and really consider the practical application of these abstract concepts, I think we’d all have a better understanding of why these institutions exist, and why they’re very much still necessary.