Too often we talk about "race" when we mean "class." We say "African-American/black" and "Hispanic/Latino" when we mean "low-income," "first-generation college students," or "limited English proficiency/English language learners."
I am Latina, but I'm not low-income. I'm not first-generation college. I'm not LEP/ELL.
When we talk about "minorities" and the "minority experience," we're talking about growing up poor, with limited resources. Parents who never went to college, and either don't value education or don't know how to show they value education, encourage you and give you the tools you need to succeed. Who don't have the resources needed to make education a priority.
That's not me. That's what made me feel like a poser. I never had to overcome those obstacles, so I feel uncomfortable claiming "minority" status because I don't deserve the credit.
Both my parents went to college. They read to me (in two languages) since birth. We bought books ALL THE TIME. My parents instilled in me a love of books and reading. We never went without. I grew up with two parents at home; even after my parents divorced (when I was on high school) they were both present in our lives.
I never had a language gap/issue in school. (I had a hard time understanding the nasaly, thick Texas accent of one of my teachers when I very first arrived in the US, but I think I was over that by the second day.)
This is why the race- and sex-based affirmative action that granted me admittance into UT-Austin offended me so much: I did not need the help. I had had all the advantages one could ask for; race- and sex-based affirmative action sends the message that you are genetically inferior, because of your race or sex, and cannot compete on a level playing field. Regardless of your background, the mere fact that you are a Hispanic female means you are not as "good" as a white male (or a white female) and therefore deserve special treatment.
Which is why we need class-based affirmative action.
I'm not saying racism and sexism no longer exist, sadly they are still alive and well, but race- and sex-based affirmative action are not an effective way to fight that beast, and they are also not addressing the problems they were created to solve (at least in education).
We need class-based affirmative action. We need to recognize the need to level the playing field based on class, socio-economic status, not race. Unfortunately, a disproportionate amount of low-SES people are racial minorities, but when we focus on race we're focusing on the wrong thing and ignoring the root of the problem, which prevents us from ever solving (or aleviating) the problem.
We don't like talking about class. And the worst part is those who have the discussions, those who make the decisions, are the priviledged, the members of the high classes. This causes two problems: A) they don't want to admit they are the priviledged (and there's always someone who's better off than you, so how can you say you are priviledged, when they guy over there had MORE advantages than you???), and B) they don't understand the problems that afflict the not-priviledged. They don't get it because they haven't been there. They don't know what it means to not have. They don't know what they don't know about how the other half lives.
I'm at the Council for Opportunity in Education's National Conference, finding out how much I didn't know. And how to fix it, for me and for you.