Chiara de Blasio
THE SANTA CLARA
February 25, 2016
Andrew Hudlow, when you see me on campus, do you wonder if I’m here unjustly because of my race? Because I wonder the same when I see you.
In your article, “Colleges and Universities Are Still Racist,” you wrote, “Leave behind this racist policy of Affirmative Action, and start to judge people by the content of their character, not by the color of their skin.”
When the great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke the words referenced above, he was speaking from the pain of his experiences in a world where people of color are systematically denied the opportunities afforded to white people.
Despite the decades that have passed and the progress we have made, we still live in that same world today. I read your article and was reminded—as I am every day—that we live in a society in which racism is deeply entrenched.
And I am not talking about “racism against white people.”
Although people of all backgrounds can experience prejudice, systematic racism against white people does not exist in this country. White people receive better treatment in virtually every aspect of society, because they are white.
There is endless evidence, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll just give you one example. In 2013, the median net worth of households in the United States was $11,000 for Black households and $13,700 for Hispanic households; compared to $141,900 for white households.
These numbers cannot be explained by a few “lazy” people of color who don’t work hard enough to earn more than minimum wage, or a few blatantly racist white employers who don’t want people of color working for them.
These numbers reflect a pattern that has existed in this country since European colonizers violently seized control of the land from its indigenous inhabitants. It is a pattern of exploiting, disenfranchising and socially marginalizing people of color.
White people have been shielded from the lived reality of racial oppression in American society—so they often underestimate the severity of racial inequality in this country. Furthermore, we have been socialized by media and popular culture to believe stereotypes and negative generalizations about non-white racial and ethnic groups.
We have been conditioned to believe that Black people are dangerous, that Latino people are lazy, that Native Americans are drunks, that Asian men are effeminate and Asian women are sexually submissive. Then we are taught to believe that white people are honest, hard-working and trustworthy.
From the day we were born, we have seen this in television shows and movies, in the way our teachers treat our classmates and in the way the police treat our neighbors.
In short, the negative depiction of people of color on the basis of their race causes us to believe negative things about them (whether we know it or not), which in turn causes our society to treat white people better.
Socialization is a powerful thing, and nobody—no matter the color of their skin—is completely immune. However, white people are less inclined to recognize that these messages are untrue because they are only shown to have good qualities on the basis of their race.
And what does any of this have to do with Affirmative Action? Well, to understand Affirmative Action, you must understand the broader social context to realize why it is necessary.
In debates about Affirmative Action, some implicate that universities are accepting unqualified candidates of color because they need to fill a “quota.”
In reality, colleges are often only assigning a slightly higher value to applications submitted by students of colors as a response to a) the significantly fewer opportunities that these students have in their lifetimes in comparison to white students; and b) the longstanding practice of rejecting students of color due to their race.
Affirmative Action systematically addresses racism against people of color. It is not preferential treatment. It helps to rectify past and present injustices and levels the playing field for minorities.
True, Affirmative Action neglects to give white students “extra attention”—because they are already receiving it. The value placed on minority students’ applications is anything but “undue,” seeing as we’ve been devalued on the basis of our race for centuries.
So yes, it would be beautiful to live in a world where the color of your skin does not determine the opportunities you are afforded. I, too, believe that “our society should be constantly striving to erase boundaries between groups of people, not reinforce them.”
However, ignoring the problem of discrimination against people of color is not the way to break down these barriers. This country’s racial hierarchy will not just disappear—we have to work to erase it. And we can’t do that if we pretend it doesn’t exist.
Last thing—please—don’t quote Martin Luther King to defend white supremacy. Especially not during Black History Month.
Chiara de Blasio is a senior sociology major.
Articles in the opinion section represent the views of the individual authors only and not the views of The Santa Clara or Santa Clara University.