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.