by Nick Baez
I remember my days as an undergrad, when I would give tours to incoming freshmen. One of the many stops along the tour was the always popular student center, home to, among other things, the various student cultural centers that allow ethnically diverse students to feel at home away from home. During one such tour, as we passed the Latino student cultural center, one incoming freshman quipped, “Why isn’t there a white student cultural office? How come these Latinos get to be admitted into college just because they are Latino?” In addition to my rising blood pressure, I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed with the feeling that myths were alive and well in the 21st century.
Myths about the Latino community arise out of created narratives that often have a specific political or sociological agenda, particularly with respect to finding a tangible and direct cause for civil hardships. From the false belief in a “welfare crisis” to the false belief in vast numbers of “welfare queens” who each own five Lexus convertibles, myths surrounding the Latino community produce very real harm and very real resentment. However, among the many myths perpetuated against the Latino community, the myth of affirmative action is one of the most damaging. The fact that a majority of people believe that affirmative action is all about “racial quotas” speaks to the collective ignorance of those who attempt (but fail) to speak intellectually on the matter.
Affirmative action programs were put into place (and continue to exist) because of the continued legacy of systemic injustice, which permeates through this country like a perpetual and invisible tsunami. They are designed to prevent institutions from completely discounting someone simply based on ethnic identification…nothing more, nothing less.
However, since their inception, the narrative created regarding affirmative action programs has been one of “reverse racism:” the idea that Caucasians in this country are being unfairly targeted for “oppression” as payback. The backlash has been so absurd in some instances, that we have seen cases of university students creating “whites only” scholarships. Why this backlash exists is pretty straightforward: social scientists have referred to this phenomenon as perceived injustice. But such false perceptions have served to create very real and very misplaced resentment toward Latino university students, who have achieved upward educational mobility on their own merit. And this type of resentment, when felt on even a small scale, has very tangible effects on self-efficacy and academic performance.
But perhaps an even sadder reality is that many Latinos themselves can buy into (and unwittingly perpetuate) such myths regarding affirmative action programs. This leads some in the community to react with vitriol whenever a Latino achieves a position of status or accomplishes a noteworthy goal, as was evidenced by some of the reactions to our recent article on the hiring of Katherine Archuleta. If we are to assume the task of leading this world into the 21st century, we must not as a community fall victim to the absurd notion that we as Latinos, in spite of our status as a historically disenfranchised group, are somehow granted special privileges that account for any significant accomplishments we may make.
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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those
of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.