Affirmative Action Woes…

11 Mar

I’m well aware of the divisive opinions that exist on the subject of Affirmative Action. As a Puerto Rican girl whose k-12 education began in a very rough South Bronx public school and ended at an affluent suburban one, it’s important to me to share my minority education journey with you as the Supreme Court plans to take up this issue yet again (see below).

By the time I’d finished the 3rd grade and left the ‘Hood, I’d seen countless fights on my school playground and more violence on the streets surrounding my temple of learning than any 8 year old child should see. While I can only hope my teachers in the ghetto were doing the best they could, I know for sure that when I transferred to my fancy-pants P.S. 158 in Manhattan I immediately noticed a higher level of caring and involvement from my more affluent teachers who made me do my school work. I also remember feeling like I wasn’t as smart and prepared as my new classmates. This self perception continues, while every single day of my life I still wonder if I’m good enough.

I believe the goal of educational self confidence is more available to those who aren’t living in poverty, worrying about how to eat, avoiding violence and who don’t have to battle negative stereotypes constantly. For kids like me who have all these distractions on their minds as they head off to school every day, can you really expect them to perform as well in school? Sensing these obstacles, don’t you think the teachers at these schools are either a) caring, but completely overwhelmed with crisis issues and overcrowding and/or b) detached, sub par and/or maybe burnt out? Further, if you think our urban/minority schools have the same Taj Mahal facilities as our non-minority schools, then I beg you to schedule a visit to our village ghetto land. Simply put, the sad truth is that most of our minority students aren’t competing on a level playing field. Trust me, for those of us whose childhoods began amongst the broken glass and felons in the neighborhood, we emerge with scars and insecurities that follow us the rest of our days; making it twice as hard for us to be successful in school.

So, I bet you think I believe in Affirmative Action. Well, my position is a lot more complicated than a yes or no answer. This is the case because even after I “faked it till I made it” to graduate out of high school and continued my charade until I somehow finished college too, I entered the world of non-minorityville and saw for myself that I wasn’t really accepted there. Increasingly people would say to me “gee, you don’t look Puerto Rican,” like that was the highest form of flattery they could think to bestow upon me. Years later, when I finally developed a functioning level of confidence and began to push the envelope, I started pushing back on my non-minority peeps asking them what their question meant; offended while observing their discomfort as they answered. Increasingly, as I was selected as the first Hispanic on prestigious Boards – only to quickly realize I was their token – I saw firsthand that, left to their own, the majority community rarely, willingly chooses diversity.

Thus, until such time that those in power in our country see the light AND the dark; welcoming those to the table who don’t look like them, they leave me no choice but to support Affirmative Action. When I’m certain that they’ve voluntarily embraced all the colors of the rainbow, then I’ll know it’s okay for me to stand down. Affirmative Action doesn’t exist because minorities need it. It exists because the majority does.


3 Responses to “Affirmative Action Woes…”

  1. Salinas! March 12, 2012 at 4:01 pm #

    Your post reminds me of how many people have been rushing to tell me America’s become “Post-Racial”. I laugh. No American bears personal responsibility for slavery, only a minority for segregation, and even fewer for lynchings. But the scars of those injustices are still fresh. White people assume blacks can integrate themselves like the Irish or Polish. That opportunity never existed. The Irish and Poles came of their own volition. The best blacks can ever hope for is the begrudging respect (and fear) that America has for assimilated Asians. But that’s in a perfect world, where proud, motivated men and women can ignore the past and a present stigma that’s as close and inescapable as their own skin.

  2. Maria March 13, 2012 at 9:10 am #

    I lost my last commnent as I was trying to write it so here is is again. I think that because younger people are mixing it up, folks think there is no need for affirmative action. Overall I also think that affirmative action is designed to fail. Having worked in government most of my life I have seen how “minorities” are politically placed, rather than actually hired per qualifications. Some of these folks come in and they are just about “getting theirs–seeing on whose back they can climb to get to the next junction. Many of them wind up in trouble, and then associated with an affirmative action example of failure and corruption. When I attended a prestigious college, some snickered and disrespected my presence because that is how they saw me–and with that the notion that I came in through the back door. My response is this: though I may have entered through the back door (this in spite of graduating with honors), NOT ONE PERSON IN THAT SCHOOL EVER WROTE A PAPER FOR ME OR TOOK A TEST FOR ME. I graduated Cum Laude from that university and no one can make me feel less than they because afterall, it was God who made us all, and God never said I will make this one of a lesser quality than that one. No one should ever forget that. It is always a reminder to me when someone tries to say I am less. It just ain’t so.
    Affirmative action was put into place because people assign worth to each other. And you are right, we went to schools that were not pretty, and we might have had to dodge trouble over and over again, but we did, and that fact already put us in a position to have gotten an education beyond the books. And that experienced, if we remember that God made us all equal, keeps us going strong. I also like to remember that there was always someone along the way to take our hand and leads us to the next level. There were incredible teachers who despite being sent to the frontlines, or who volunteered for the front lines, protected us and helped us along the way. There were friends who did that, or neighbors along the way who did that. We were never alone, have never been. We just need to remember that as we walked through wherever. With or without Affirmative action, we will overcome because there is a stronger force within us than the force of people who have no clue.

    One more thing. With regard to college admissions, isn’t it interesting that those who go to court claiming they were denied admissions because of a minority quota, don’t claim that they were denied admissions because some other white person got in with lesser grades? Is it really possible that every white person at any institution had exemplenary grades? Did not one white person ever get accepted to a college with a C or with less than perfect SAT scores? I could probably find several at any college–but instead they choose to blame minorities for their own personal failure. Could it be that they could have gone to a different school and gotten in? Yea. It’s easier to point to us as being less deserving than to ask commonsense questions. The important thing is to rememember that we were not molded of lesser quality material. Really. We were not.

    • Bruce March 13, 2012 at 11:13 pm #

      “One more thing. With regard to college admissions, isn’t it interesting that those who go to court claiming they were denied admissions because of a minority quota, don’t claim that they were denied admissions because some other white person got in with lesser grades?” Maria

      Good point Maria. So why not get rid of Affirmative Action and let everyone compete on their own merits. It is the quota’s associated with Affirmative Action that have some many “white people” ticked off.

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