Thank You For That Affirmative Action Hookup, America

Last night I watched a little online footage of the Rachel Maddow show. What I saw -- President Obama's speech to the NAACP, footage of the confirmation hearings of Sonia Sotamayor and Rachel's conversation with Pat Buchanan-- got me thinking once again about something that happened to me during the spring of my senior year of high school.

When the references to Ms. Sotamayor's race are made, the look on her face makes me think, "I've had that SAME look on my face. It's a combination of, "Wow, you really DID just say that," and "Wow, I'd really like to punch your teeth in, but then I'd be considered angry and people of color can NEVER be angry."

In the spring of 1990 I received a letter from Northwestern University offering me admissions at the school. It was a dream come true for me because I'd wanted to go there since I was 12 years old.

I was also on the yearbook staff and during our staff meeting our teacher went around and asked everybody where they'd gotten into school. These were mostly other Honors and AP students that I'd had classes with for pretty much all of my high school career. I shared that I'd been accepted to Northwestern, and, although some of my white classmates were congratulatory, others were angry. Some of them had applied to Northwestern and had been rejected.

A discussion began to take place about how I'd only been admitted to Northwestern because I was black. Clearly, I'd taken the spot of a more qualified white student.

No, the teacher did not put a stop to this discussion. It was allowed to go on for a good 10 minutes or so. It did not matter that I had a higher GPA and SAT score than most of the other students in the classroom. It didn't matter if I was a better essay writer or that I'd been involved in EVERY club under the sun. It didn't matter that I was a National Merit Scholar, unlike most of the other kids in there.

Nope, the only thing that mattered was my race. Somehow, Northwestern had taken pity on me and decided to admit me because I'd checked the "Black/African-American" box on the admissions packet.

Later on my mom joked that if only I'd known that my color would be the thing that mattered most, I could've just coasted through high school with C's. Maybe I could've even ended up being President, because we all know our last President loved getting C's in school. I know, he wasn't black, but gosh, America wouldn't have had a problem with a black person like me in the Oval Office who only got C's, would it? Maybe the Depeche Mode obsession would bother them, but surely not my being a very average student, right?

Since that conversation in my high school yearbook class, almost every time I've gotten a job there has been someone white just waiting to step up and tell me I only got it because of a quota or Affirmative Action.

Even with blogging, if a company wants to send me to an event and asks me to write about it, some people think it's because of some sort of Blogging Affirmative Action. Never mind that I might be good at what I do. According to these folks that actually have the audacity to share their opinions on it, it has nothing to do with me being able to put together a coherent and maybe mildly engaging sentence.

So I can relate to the look on Sonia Sotamayor's face in the video. Here she is, busting her hump for years and years, and the thing that mattered most to too many of the Senators who interrogated her, people who are elected to represent us, was that they believe she is taking the place of a more qualified white person.

I guess I should thank this great country for what I didn't even know I had. Thank you for that Affirmative Action, America. And the next time I drive through the blocks and blocks of low income neighborhoods in Los Angeles or Chicago, I'll think about how much Affirmative Action is doing for all those people. The next time I step foot in a low performing school comprised of pretty much ALL children of color, or talk to my own children, I'll be sure to tell them that they don't have to work all that hard, because America has the hookup for them because of their skin color.

Not the incarceration hookup. Not the low-paying minimum wage job hookup. Not the last hired, first fired hookup. Nope, every Black, Latino and Asian person has the pass go, collect $200,000 and get on the Supreme Court hookup.

Good to know, America. Good to know.


Ingrid said…
(sorry, in advance for the long comment but this one got me riled up)

it's 2009 and this ridiculousness is still going on. it's amazing and not so at the same time. it's time for this s**t to become taboo.

it is not acceptable to assume that someone has achieved something because of their race (mind you, race is a man-made social construct). i know the assumptions happen on every side of the color spectrum but enough is enough.

yes, some people get lots of legs up in their endeavors; some get a few; and some get none whatsoever due to hardship after hardship and we're stunned that they made it at all!

life is filled with "leg-ups" and "hand-outs" and helping-hands". some assistance had to come about via legal action to ensure a level of justice that was so desperately lacking at times in our history; while others were as simple as families helping other families or a friend helping out another friend. i don't know of anyone who accomplished anything in this world without "help" from someone or something. the only person i know who ever did anything on their own was god, the unknowable universe, the divine or whatever name you use to define the enabler of creation.

it's funny because just a little while ago i was watching a dvd of a tv show and in that episode two women were fighting over an african-american man; one woman was african-american and the other was caucasion-american. the tussle was finally broken up by the man pulling them apart and repeating, "everybody just be cool. let's keep it real." and i mention this because the thing that sticks out to me in this moment is that none of these accusations and perpetrations based on race are "real". none of it is real. WE, a shamelessly-stunted humanity, are the ones who created these racial groupings, applied value to them according to our uneducated and lessened morality, at the time; and we continue to perpetrate it as truth.

what is REAL is that underneath it all, we are human beings who come in an array of packages, who have different capacities, on many levels and in varying arenas. and it is beyond frustrating that we are still making ignorant statements and veiled threats (masked as investigative questioning) towards other human beings that is essentially demanding that they prove their acheivements as valid and at the same time denying they self-worth.
nick said…
Great post, Liz. This thing about "you only got the house/job/award etc because you're black" is just so common and really pernicious. A UK report has just totally disproved the assumption that migrants get housing preference, but I doubt that'll stop people trotting out the same old bullshit.

Your aside about how much affirmative action helps all those low-income neighbourhoods says it all!
jstele said…
Well, you could tell those people that it was affirmative action when only white people were allowed to attend most universities. I don't agree with affirmative action for now, but it had a purpose in the 60's and 70's to address the discrimination of the past. Addressing social inequalities trumps favoring people due to their race.

It really bothers me when I hear some people complain so furiously about affirmative action or reverse discrimination. Like how some South African whites are so loud about affirmative action in their country. Where were their voices when they were benefiting from blatant discrimination against minorities? And still are to a certain extent.

People can have an opinion, but it needs to be educated.

Just because there are policies in place to help minorities does NOT mean every person from those groups is getting that help. That is to imply that X people are not capable of getting the grades, having the qualifications, to get the job/admission.

When they tell you that you only got the job due to affirmative action, just tell them that they are being racist. The only reason they are saying you are benefiting is due to your color. You are obviously an intelligent woman, so there is no other explanation. Challenge them on how they got their jobs. Why should you take them at their word for being qualified? They could have slept with the boss, benefited from nepotism, etc. If they can't be open with you, why should you be with them? Everyone deserves a chance to be judged fairly.
ieishah said…
girl, you forgot to thank those erstwhile, ever-toiling, industrious white men for single-handedly building this (or that, cause i don't live there no more) country in which we ingrates continue to get hooked up. you seem like such a thorough blogger. don't know how you forgot to mention that.
Liz Dwyer said…
"I don't know of anyone who accomplished anything in this world without "help" from someone or something." AMEN! But that does not get acknowledged by certain members of our population. And the pervasive belief that if someone else gets help, that means they're taking away something from you is just SO last century. Everybody has to have a place at the table, not just a few.

I just saw another report about hiring in the UK and how if you have an ethnic sounding name you are less likely to even get an interview. People want to act like it's all a level playing field now, and it's not. Not at all.

"Where were their voices when they were benefiting from blatant discrimination against minorities?" -- Such a good point. I do think there there is still a place for Affirmative Action because we have not yet achieved full equality in hiring or education. But maybe we need to change our mindset over what it is, and who benefits from it. And women have benefited lots from it. I don't want that to end!

There was only so much I could comment on in one post... trust me, I died over that ridiculousness. I wanted Rachel to ask him, "So, Pat if white men built this country, what did we need the millions of slaves for?" Jeez, who knew they could've stayed their behinds in Africa if the white man was sooo busy doing all the work!

Yep, Pat conveniently forgot that slaves built pretty much all of DC... and the agriculturally based wealth of this country in the first place. He just looked like a total idiot, but you KNOW someone somewhere was going, "Yeah, Pat! Tell 'em!"
nick said…
Liz, I've seen several reports saying just that, it's absolutely true. Even if your qualifications are impeccable, employers will see the name and bin the application. No shock to you, I'm sure.
Lotus Flower said…
Ah, yes, Pat Buchanan singing the same old tired song - that white Americans are being discriminated against. *rolls eyes* If only.

Whenever I hear a black person tell someone who's white that they've been admitted to college they ALWAYS follow it with, "I'll bet you got it through affirmative action". ALWAYS! It's happened to me and a few others quite a few times. Not realizing that many whites who attend the University of Virginia got there only because their parents were alumnis there. It's infuriating but I always smile sweetly at the asshat and chime in with, "No, it's because I blew your 0.5 GPA out of the water with my 4.0. You DO realize that waking up everyday in this country as a white person is affirmative action in itself?? That not having to worry about some sicko of your race committing a heinous crime and having it being blamed on the fact that he or she is white is affirmative action?? Or being in the lead role of movies,being paraded in popular magazines, or always being featured in 'Missing Person' reports is affirmative action??" That usually shuts them up.
Liz Dwyer said…
So I've probably thoroughly screwed my kids if things don't change! Or maybe folks will just think they're celebrity kids with different names! :)

Yes, the whole set up of our society has whiteness as the norm in everything. But it has to change because it is NOT working. And I know it is changing. My mom told me today how when she was in her early twenties, she couldn't even get a job as a clerk because they just didn't hire black people, period. So progress is happening. I'd just like it to hurry up!
Unknown said…
HOT DAMN! Tell it!
Lotus Flower said…
Yes, the whole set up of our society has whiteness as the norm in everything. But it has to change because it is NOT working. And I know it is changing. My mom told me today how when she was in her early twenties, she couldn't even get a job as a clerk because they just didn't hire black people, period. So progress is happening. I'd just like it to hurry up!

LOL, you're telling me. It's wonderful to see these types of changes happening. But unfortunately the more people of color start to get in the forefront the more some white folks will play racial victimhood and degrade minorities. It's a vicious cycle.
BlackLiterature said…

I had that same conversation in HS except it was in Government. And my advisor told me that I didn't qualify for the EOP program so don't check that box. But that didn't matter to a few angry White boys who asumed you'd get in EVERYWHERE as long as you were Black or Hispanic. Didn't matter that a bunch of Black kids didn't get in themselves. Sickening.
Julia said…
Great post. Thank you.

And thanks for this: "trust me, I died over that ridiculousness. I wanted Rachel to ask him, "So, Pat if white men built this country, what did we need the millions of slaves for?" Jeez, who knew they could've stayed their behinds in Africa if the white man was sooo busy doing all the work!"

You had me rolling on the floor.
Liz Dwyer said…
I think I was having a "moment" when I wrote this. I was flashing back to all the things I wished I'd said in that classroom in high school.

It is a totally vicious cycle. I think we only break out of it with genuine love and letting go of our raging individualism.

Yeah, I think only a handful of black kids from my class even went to college and I was the ONLY one to go to an elite college like that in undergrad. But no one cares about that. It's sick.

Really though, I just could not believe the lunacy coming from that man's mouth! It's like he thinks black folks were just standing around waiting to be cast as Mammy in Gone With The Wind! Epic fail on the part of Pat Buchanan.
Anonymous said…
The ironic thing about this entire debate is that African-Americans are not the primary beneficiaries of Affirmative Action policies. Any political scientist worth his salt can tell you this...seriously. Ask one.

The main beneficiaries of affirmative action policies are White women...overwhelmingly. (Please, ask a poli sci person about this and they'll tell you.)

The odd thing is that I often hear White women getting up and arms about affirmative action policy...claiming to somehow have been slighted. This is a perfect example of biting the hand that feeds you.

For this reason, I do not at all support affirmative action. There needs to be a better, more effective way. It's not benefiting brown folks in the first place.

It's interesting how primitive people can be in their thinking...even to this day. When it comes down to it, Americans can't seem to focus on anything other than skin color. It's bothersome.
Liz Dwyer said…
No need to ask a poly sci head, I already knew that about affirmative action. I didn't know that when I was in high school though. I didn't know how to really challenge what was being said about me.

Anyway, I do support affirmative action regardless because it's needed. I believe in achieving the full equality of women and men, and if affirmative action helps with that even a little, I'm for it. However, I would like to see it change so that it actually does help black families.

And of course another issue is that affirmative action is NOT reparations and so will always seem to fall short.

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