“Let me set the record straight … ” is how I began a Facebook post on the day after President Trump announced that he would investigate colleges for discrimination against white applicants. Using the term “white rights,” the announcement was a thinly veiled promise to go after Affirmative Action. That policy, which stems from the Civil Rights Act of 1964, is a remedy to discrimination by increasing the underrepresented classes on a campus.
This administration’s statement on discrimination against white applicants is yet another illustration of the myth of affirmative action: that white applicants are rejected and their spots are given to less qualified women and people of color. The move was also another presidential green light for racists to once again start attacking black culture.
This time, the attacks are on all the hard-working kids entering college for the first time in a few weeks. That includes my kid, Cate. Cate, who wrote a moving college essay about the struggles of her parents. That essay, her stellar GPA, her strong SAT scores got her into her dream college on a full scholarship.
Instead of spending my time getting her packed for college, I was on social media speaking out on behalf of my kid and other kids of color who worked hard and won spots in the top colleges across the country.
Because conservatives, ignorant white supremacists and a surprising number of parents of white males went on the attack bemoaning their losses at the hands of the alleged Affirmative Action “liberals” in college admissions. Since the administration’s announcement, social media has been inundated by voices of parents whose kids didn’t get into their desired school, or who got in but couldn’t get financial aid. To these people, Affirmative Action has slapped them down because of their whiteness, only to elevate a kid of color who is allegedly less qualified.
Let me tell you: My kid stole no one’s spot. She worked from the first day of kindergarten until the day she walked down the aisle to pick up her diploma. She and I scoured the Internet for information on scholarships. She wrote and rewrote her college essay too many times to count. She studied for weeks for the SAT. She was a distinguished graduate who earned every dime of the scholarship she received. She did not take anyone’s spot. She earned her own.
Something else the president doesn’t know: He just reaffirmed decades of black mom wisdom.
I remember the first time I had to give what I call “The Black Hard Work” speech to my kids. This is a speech that every black mother has to give her kids, and it comes at different ages, usually after the first academic disappointment. Mine was when Cate was in the second grade and really wanted to win “Student of the Month” in her class. Even at that age, she was always driven to be the best. She didn’t win in September and October. By November, she was devastated. My shy Cate had done everything she could to get the “Student of the Month” distinction. She had gotten high grades on all her assignments, aced her spelling tests. She was helpful to the teacher and tried helping her fellow students. She cried to me that she had done everything to win and hadn’t yet. Why?
So I sat her and her sisters down and told them that as black women, we are often-times overlooked. Throughout history, people have been used to us being a part of the scenery. You have to do something to stand out, always, I told her. You have to work twice as hard, be twice as creative, and do something good that your teacher remembers. Cate ended up winning her cherished title that spring. I never found out what she did to stand out.
Black parents know that above-average achievement is what we must put forth to get the minimum attention from our white supervisors, teachers, admissions committee members.
My daughter is more than her skin color and thankfully, the colleges that accepted her (yes, she was accepted at more than one college) saw her greatness.
Whenever any of you — this includes family, friends, and colleagues — post an affirmation of Trump’s new policy, which questions all colleges and their ability to admit students of color based on merit, then you are questioning my daughter’s achievement and that of any successful student who is a minority. By perpetuating the myths of “white rights” in college admissions, you are saying that the only reason Cate got into her college and received her scholarship was because of her blackness. You are also questioning her legitimacy in an institution of higher learning.
You are erasing that achievement.
You are wiping away all those nights she stayed up writing notes until her fingers cramped and falling asleep covered in ink and highlighter from the open pages of her textbooks.
You are throwing away all those hours spent memorizing Japanese characters and conjugating French verbs so that she could enter college as a freshman who can write and read fluently in both languages.
You are deleting all the Popsicle-stick projects, the posters, the reports, and the millions of hours of reading that this kid pulled off to get the grades.
You are expunging her record of an entire year of anxiety spent writing and rewriting essays, and waiting to hear if she would get into a college, let alone get a scholarship.
From the clunky strokes of her kindergarten crayons to the last mark on her senior exams, my daughter put every part of herself into getting the best grades she could to earn the seat she will occupy in a week-and-a-half.
I remember being in college, hearing people talking openly about black students taking spots that should have gone to more qualified students. I sat quietly during those talks, knowing I had high ACT scores and a flawless GPA. But I still felt like it all meant nothing to the country. I was another black face taking up what they saw as a reserved seat.
But this time, as a mother, I’m speaking up: We will not be the scapegoats for your rejection.
I spent my morning reading remarks of parents whose kids were turned down for their top colleges. Those parents turned around and started spouting the myths of Affirmative Action in an attempt to excuse their child’s failure. Stories like “my friend of a friend’s white son lost a scholarship to a Latina girl whose scores were worse than his” and “the schools have diversity quotas to fill” as reasons their kids were pushed aside. These stories will continue to run rampant now that Trump has begun an investigation that is emboldening white supremacists even further.
I know that black children will forever be, in the eyes of the white conservative, the person who took some white male’s spot. Even when our kids work themselves to a nub to get into a great school. Even when they put in the extra sleepless nights, aching muscles from extracurricular activities and finger cramps to pen fabulous essays that have the colleges throwing scholarship dollars their way.
But guess what, America? That black child has a mother. And she was there every tedious step of the way, watching and protecting and nurturing that black kid as she set out to achieve her dream. That mother is not going to stand silent while you try to shuffle her kid’s hard work under the rug of generalizations.
So let me set the record straight.
I am one of those mothers, and I will not let you erase my kid’s achievements to assuage white failure.
Jonita Davis is a freelance writer based in Indiana. Find her on Twitter @surviteensntots.