I’ve been largely quiet on race, lately. I’ve done this, despite the fact that every other time I’ve posted about Sonia Sotomayor someone has tried to call me out on this. I’ve been reading, as I always do, all the latest news on racism, racism all over the world, racism in America, liberals and conservatives whispering (SCREAMING) sweet nothings about racism into each other’s ear.
Mostly, what I’ve been hearing is a lot of fear and confusion. There’s fear that trying to fight racism has only led to more racism. There’s fear that non-whites are “taking over.” But I haven’t seen anything that has reflected my concerns, my worries about how racism works in this country (until today, see article below). And I won’t bother telling you how I felt about the Ricci case because I don’t think most people can hold a coherent conversation about it. Plus, you might keel over if I told you where I stood on it. You know, from the shock.
And let me tell you, people think they understand how I feel about racism just by looking at my skin, or rather, while aiming astonished glances s at my hair. I am a first-generation child of immigrants, poor immigrants, one of whom raised me while collecting welfare fearing the whole time that I would be swallowed by the ghetto and never get out. I’m no expert on racism or poverty, but I’ve been the unwilling a victim of it, nonetheless.
Often, I’ve had people try to bait me on affirmative action and they are surprised to hear that I watched several of my friends, with lower grades in high school but from similar income brackets, open up shiny, special acceptance letters from NYU while I was told that with my better grades, with my too-high SAT scores, I wasn’t considered disadvantaged enough. I got rejected.
My first SHOCKING C+ in a college English class, after mostly As and Bs, seemed to suggest otherwise. And I wonder how many of my classmates with better grades, easier lives, petty cash accounts, spring and summer vacations, had spent most of their childhood escaping into Shakespeare and Dickens. Probably not many and still, I did not have the tools to compete in a fair fight with them.
A lot of my friends failed out of NYU eventually but I never failed out of Fordham because just as I was trying to decide whether or not it was more important to eat or go to college, Fordham awarded me a full scholarship and I found myself handwriting over 30 personal letters to my generous donors.
I was lucky when the time came to kidnap my sister I had incredibly supportive, understanding professors at Fordham, in fact I’ve always had supportive teachers–financially and emotionally. They never made the work easier for me, but they gave me to the tools to step up when the obstacles in my way were piled higher and higher.
Still, I ran into professors who thought my papers were too good to be written by me. I ran into professors who said my English wasn’t good because it wasn’t my first language (I learned English and Spanish simultaneously from college-educated parents who were non-native speakers). Other Hispanic students asked me if I was half-white while the whites asked to touch my hair and complimented me for being so light-skinned.
And no, I still haven’t told you how I really feel about affirmative action, just in case you haven’t noticed.
I don’t know how to solve racism but I do not think it will be solved by colorblindness. I think there is a great hope that someday, the world will be colorblind. Great. I won’t hold my breath just yet. I hope being colorblind doesn’t mean people will stop noticing that I tan better than a huge percentage of the population. I can only hope this means that people will stop thinking that because I tan better, I am stupid, backward, ignorant, unable to string coherent sentences, lazy, trying to take over America, trying to steal their sons for all manner of sordid behavior, illiterate, and of course, a virulent socialist.
And no, I won’t try to pretend that I think the welfare system in America is perfect, especially since I have actually scrapped by on it. In fact, that welfare system ensured that I was hungry 3 out of 4 weeks a month. Quite the luxury. I am sorry for you in more ways than one if you believe I should have been hungry 4 weeks out of 4 weeks and you’d rather have given your money to some organization feeding hungry children outside America. Would you like me to write you a check now?
A good read: “Color-blindness, Racism and Impact” by A. Serwer.