My Thoughts and Experiences with Affirmative Action

Fun fact! I didn’t know what affirmative action was until after I had already turned in my applications for college. Seven of them, only two of them in-state. All of them ridiculously expensive, with me hoping and praying that them touting themselves as loan-free providers of need-based financial aid wasn’t just something they put in their pamphlets.

It strikes me as odd now that I didn’t know what affirmative action was. I honestly don’t know how I managed to so thoroughly miss it in all of my research. But, somehow, I managed. I even remember when I first found out what it was:

I was at Amherst as a prospie or a pre-fresh, whatever you call it. The college had paid for my plane ticket, so why wouldn’t I fly up and check it out? I was talking with another prospie one night. He was Chinese American, and he was talking to me about getting the most for his money as far as picking a college went. He asked me if I was an affirmative action student, and I just nodded because I am excellent in social situations of all kinds. Later that night, I actually looked up what being an affirmative action student was, and I was confused, to say the very least.

Colleges had race preferences? Black people could be not as good as other applicants yet still be accepted over them? I was more okay with it before I started getting acceptance letters. It’s just another convenient thing to help me leave my shit town, right? I get a leg-up, isn’t that awesome?

But I worked hard. I worked my ass off. I took AP classes and rallied to get more of them so I could take those too, not content with simple Honors courses. I dual-enrolled at a local college my senior year. I ran my school’s newspaper for three years. I applied to writing competitions. I did everything I could to bring up my math grades. I went to conferences in the summer. I got to school early every day to be an English tutor. I taught piano to school kids. I worked my ass off.

And I didn’t just do those things to impress colleges. I didn’t even care about college until my junior year. I liked writing and tutoring and teaching piano. I liked having harder classes. I liked talking to my teachers. I liked being smart, as stupid and elitist as that sounds. But, as much as I enjoyed stereotypically nerdy things, I was still aware that I needed to be impressive, really, truly impressive if I wanted to go to the calliber of school I had set my sights on. I don’t care how much of a nerd you are, you don’t take the ACT twice along with a slew of SAT subject tests unless you have the extrensic goal of impressing a college interviewer.

I lived my life under the impression that I had to be a competitor. I had to be someone who could stand beside people who went to private New York boarding schools or charter schools in the city and not just be as good as them, but be better than them. With my economic background, I couldn’t rely on Daddy’s money or my parents’ connections to get me an impressive college degree and a good job. I had to prove that I was good enough to be there on my own, that I had merit on my own.

And it wasn’t until I got my letters back that I started to wonder. Was I good enough? Am I good and impressive, or am I good ‘for a black girl?’ Impressive ‘for a black girl?’ Was I just inherently not as qualified, with my acceptance focused on putting my face in a pamphlet next to a quote about diversity, and not on what I could contribute with my ideas? Yeah, she was probably not going to accomplish anything impressive, but hey, we can pat ourselves on the back for giving the black girl a chance, right?

After nearly four years, I’m still not sure if I was accepted only because my demographics look good on a piece of paper. Seeing as how I have a borderline crippling fear of failure and inadequacy, the notion that I wasn’t good enough but “fuck it they needed someone who looked like me in order to impress the Bay Area moralizers” is one that kind of makes me have a mini mental breakdown every time I think about it. It was necessary in a time when schools actively didn’t accept black students, but now? REALLY?

I just don’t understand how affirmative action, in this day and age, is something that is seen as helpful. It overlty fucks over perfectly qualified white people and Asians. It actually fucks over Asian kids more, so you even have to throw the “well, if it hurts white people it’s still okay” idea out the window. You can act like  Chinese kids getting rejected from Harvard for no reason  besides “we didn’t accept enough black kids yet” is a facet of white supremacy all you want. Everyone knows you’re talking out of your ass. And it actively ruins many minority kids’ chances at being successful.

Someone got in real trouble for phrasing this idea badly, so I’m going to be very clear here. You are not doing anyone any favors by accepting someone based upon race and gender whe  they otherwise wouldn’t be qualified. That is essentially setting them up for failure in an environment that they weren’t prepared for. Instead of letting someone go on to a program that they are qualified for and can grow and succeed in, you thrust them head first into a situation they are not qualified to deal with. This is not me saying that black people are stupid and should be cordoned off in air conditioner repair school. This is me saying that the black kid who gets a 25 on the ACT is not being helped by being thrown into a class made for kids who got 30s. That kid could have gone to a less rigorous college, improved there, and then applied to a more advanced school after that progress was made. But affirmative action bypasses that step and leads directly to failure for a good portion of students.

How many times have you heard social justice talking heads complain about low retention rates as if the fault is solely to blame on anti-black racism from the college? And this low retention  rate happens even with the myriad programs out there made specifically to cater to people of color in college in order to help them out even further. Not “people who need help,” mind you. Just “people of color,”as if those are synonymous, which is kind of insulting in of itself. But I guess that mentality makes sense when you pretty much know for a fact that a decent chunk of your non-white/Asian students are affirmative action kids.

This also contributes to the rampant anti-intellectualism found in the black community since the 1960s. Why try as hard as your white cohorts when you could conceivably get the same reward? Why spend as much time on that final report when it not meeting the standards will simply be dissmissed as an understandable byproduct of you being disadvantaged? Why be as good as everyone else when you’re not expected to be, and people are perfectly okay with lowering their expectations without it counting as a strike against you as far as you are concerned? Why try to be impressive when people are going to automatically assume that you’re not impressive on first glance. SJWs call that last one a micro aggression, but it’s a mentality that they created and cultivated. You cannot spend decades insisting that black people need help and that they’re not going to succeed unless someone gives them a leg up even when they’re not as good as someone else because them not meeting your standards is understandable, and then get insulted when  people assume that successful black people aren’t successful based on merit but because they got a leg up. You are the ones saying that. You are the ones enforcing the idea that the black community’s best and brightest are still only a 50 wat bulb compared to everyone else’s 100, and we just have to accept that.

And this is really sad, because it is yet another example of social justice painting black people as perpetual victims in constant need of saving, unable to succeed on their own merits, who you shouldn’t expect much from as a group. Not only that, but it’s telling black people to be okay with the standards being lowered for them, to see it as something so normal, so status quo, that not lowering your standards when regarding them is considered weird and racist. This is not empowering, people. This is empowering the same way giving the kid who came in last place a ribbon makes him a winner. The black community and its “allies” are insisting that standards should be lowered for them, as if they are permanently handicapped by having a dark skin tone. Even ignoring the incredibly low self-esteem that implies, as well as the unfortunate implication that black people can only succeed in situations tailor made to ensure that they do well, this mentality ignores people who actually are disadvantaged.

Being black is not an inherent handicap. I don’t even think the stereotype effect is a legitimate thing, but social justice people definitely do. Using the logic of that theory, them constantly insisting that ‘black’ should be synonymous with ‘disadvantaged’ is actually hurting more than it’s helping. And I’m actually okay with affirmative action if it’s based off of things that are objectively academically handicapping. Being a certain race is not an inherent obstacle anymore – unless you want to tell all the African and Carribean immigrants that being black is hindering them. Affirmative action based on class is something I’m fine with. If that was the affirmative action we had, I wouldn’t be complaining.

I grew up as a black girl in the Deep South. Being called nigger by a stranger in a passing car didn’t make me shit at geometry. Going to a school with one geometry teacher who was out all year with a broken knee and who was replaced by a series of progressively more incompetent substitutes because no qualified math teachers lived in bumfuck, nowhere made me shit at geometry. Being one of two black kids in the AP program in my school didn’t make it difficult for me to study for the exams. The AP practice book being $100 made it difficult for me. The other black kids calling me an Oreo didn’t stop me from filling out the Common Application for college. Not being able to afford a new computer after my laptop broke and being unable to go to the library because you had to drive there and my mom used my family’s only car driving two hours to work every day made it difficult to finish the Common App. Are you noticing a common trend here yet?

It’s hard to have a laundry list of extracurriculars and leadership positions when you spend all your time babysitting your four younger siblings. It is hard to take college level AP courses when your school doesn’t even have a Spanish class, let alone an AP program. It’s hard to take the ACT when your school does not require it and definitely does not help prepare you for it, and even harder to find the fee waiver information buried in the ACT website without a college counselor there to tell you it exists. It’s hard to fill out financial aid sheets when your parents are always out working and none of you would know what any of it meant even if they were home and your mom is embarrassed to give you her financial information. These are situations where someone not meeting the established academic standard actually makes sense. These are situations where leeway is actually warranted, because it’s not the smart kid’s fault that they were born in a place with no upward mobility and no chance to take Advanced Calculus or learn the cello.

Being black doesn’t mean any of those things apply to you. But, under the current system of affirmative action, the black kid who didn’t do as well on the SAT as he wanted is deemed the most disadvantaged by default. Because it’s institionalized racism’s fault that his scores are lower. The teacher administering the test was a white guy, and he was sitting next to a white person, and that just ruined his chances. Because, as you know, anything less than ideal test taking conditions is reason enough for doing poorly. It’s not like places have tried the weird “let’s segregate the classes and teachers!” idea and had it glean no statistically significant results.

The second generation Chinese kid whose dad is a sporadically employed construction worker and whose mom works at a nail salon sweeping the floors deserves to have points taken off his SAT score because his last name is Lin, which of course means that his family has to spend all their extra money on piano lessons so that he can do something to seem more impressive to the colleges they desperately want him to go to. The white guy living in a trailer in rural Kentucky who would play football if he didn’t spend all his time working at his neighbor’s garage to raise some meager funds for his sister who is knocked up at 15 deserves to be put at the bottom of the application list because his ancestors came over on a boat from Europe. Meanwhile, the kid who just didn’t do quite as well as he wanted gets special treatment because doing slightly not as well must mean that he’s faced tremendous adversity hindering him from reaching his full potential. That must be the case.

You want my solution? Take names, genders, and races off of college applications. Give everyone a number. Make sure the Common App has demographic-neutral topics. Have income level and citizenship be the only specific demographic information. Randomly trash a certain percentage, because the college acceptance game (especially for elite schools) would work better as a lottery anyway. Go through the rest. Accept people, and then figure out what they look like. And if your incoming freshman class does not have the demographics you want, that is in no way the college’s fault and you can rest easy knowing you accepted people based on merit and actual need. If you want to get rid of racial bias in college acceptances, focusing specifically on race is not how you do it.

The most ridiculous element of all of this, though is that, in my experience, the college system gives no fucks about people who are actually disadvantaged. This can and does include black kids, by the way – there are black kids who try super hard but who go to shitty urban high schools that don’t even have real names where the classrooms are packed and the teachers are incompetent. That happens, and they also deserve leeway based upon their financial situation. Even they wouldn’t be helped, though.

There are programs upon programs available to help people of color in college. Scholarships and clubs and special advisors and programs made specifically to connect people of color to other people of color to help networking. They are ever present. There is a new event every week for people of color. You know what isn’t though? Programs for low income students – you know, the ones who actually do inherently need some help. And seeing as how that “fast track to failure” idea can apply to low income students who aren’t prepared too, you would think that people would be chomping at the bit to help them.

You can throw a rock at my college and hit some demographics – based club. Black student society, afro-Latino, regular Latino, black immigrants, Native American, Asian American, multi-ethnic, etc. etc. My school got a group for low income students a year ago. A fucking year ago. We had to petition to get our college to pretend like it cared about low income students’ inexperience with financial aid processes which often screwed them over. Our work study program, which me and other low income students are required to do, pays less than minimum wage because “work study isn’t a real job even though we expect work study to replace a real job.”

Low income students typically have a very small number of options for summer programs and internships, which are the things that help you get a job, because my school provides almost no aid for them even though it says it does. My school told me it would definitely fund a summer program I was going to do, the money was already doled out and everything, I just had to ask for it.  But I had to pay over $1000 in advance since I went ahead and applied for it since they told me they would pay, which was money I didn’t have. So I spent half a year with $80 in my only bank account because that money I could get “at any time” did not work out that way. I had to get a loan to afford a plane ticket home. No one helps with that. Even the low income student group quickly devolved into its founders unabashedly making fun of a low income white student for daring to feel disenfranchised because he was held to high standards that he didn’t have the educational background to meet and was given no real assistance or aid and his claims of being disadvantaged were not taken seriously. The irony is palatable.

Meanwhile, the middle class black kids majoring in black studies who only ever hang out with their racial affinity group are skipping classes to protest because anti-black racism is rampant on our campus with a black studies department, black student center, multiple well funded black student clubs, black students advisors, a diversity dean, multiple scholarship programs in almost every field specifically for black students, multiple symposiums a year about race that favor the black perspective, funding for Black Lives Matter speakers, a program for black students to go tutor minority children, a demographic makeup where white people are the minority student base, a system made specifically to report and deal with racial biases, a general culture quick to scream racism at anything that makes a black student even slightly uncomfortable, and a black college president. Rampant, I say!

But what am I talking about?! Of course they should be allowed to skip classes their parents pay $60k a year for. They’re black! They weren’t going to do as well as everyone else anyway. No, it’s okay, we have a black alumni program to help them get jobs no matter what their grades are.

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