chapman.0830 - 08/29/05 - A Supreme Court headed by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has questions for Chapman University Law School professor John Eastman as he and California Attorney General Bill Lockyer argue the 1905 ''Lochner v. State of New York'' case during a re-enactment Monday afternoon at Chapman University. (Credit: Mark Avery/Orange County Register/ZUMA Press)

Forgive me, as this is being written at 3am in the midst of cramming for a 10am final.

Justice Scalia reminds me of my high school guidance counselor for the IB Program, who, after being asked to write a recommendation letter for me, called me out of class and rather politely suggested that I apply to a community college because it was more my “speed.”  She explained to me that I was a beautiful young woman, but me attending (insert prominent University name here) was little more than a dream.  [If anyone has ever wondered where Simone’s random and rather lonely “Beautiful Dreamer” tattoo came from, well there you have it.]  I remember slowly sliding the recommendation form across her desk and stepping out of her office without as much as another word.  I later asked two of my favorite teachers for letters instead, and weeks later, received acceptance letters from each of my schools.  I never checked back to see if she actually wrote the recommendation.

Maybe it is my high school German teacher that Justice Scalia reminds me of.  I came to her classroom one day after school to see how well I did on a test that I had spent the entire night prior studying for.  I will never forget her tone and the look on her face as she accused me of cheating off one of my classmates (because of course, there was no way that the one Black kid could legitimately score that high on her own, right?)  I cried that day.  It was the worst “A” I have ever earned.

I was never one to take kindly to someone’s attempts at questioning my intelligence.  But I cannot lie.  It took me years of restrained hand raises and fake, “no-your-joke-wasn’t-funny-in-fact-it-was-quite-hurtful-but-I’m-too-embarrassed-to-say-so” type chuckles to even begin feeling like I was comparable in intellect to my peers. However, if it were not for those constant reminders of my inadequacy—of being discouraged, questioned, pre-judged, and advised to be content with mere mediocrity—I would not have applied to college. I would not have made it through three and a half years of private-institution tuition and graduated.  And I would have not have survived my first year of law school exams, only to realize that I actually hate contracts and I still love criminal law and that I am not ready to start adulting for-real for-real just yet, so I might do the JD/MBA program for kicks.  Me and many of my then-future classmates would learn to embrace it, suck it up, and keep pushing.  But how tenacious can we be when we are reminded in 2015, from a Supreme Court Justice, about the miniscuality of our personal achievements in the grand scheme of things?

It truly bothers me that Justice Scalia is suggesting to us that the problem with affirmative action (in its most corrective nature) is that it allows minority students to be placed into schools that are “too advanced” for them.  Almost as much as it bothered me when I was informed that my English degree came from a “slower-track” school.  Scalia, you’re reaching, bruh. If that were true, those same kids who opted for a different route and decided instead to attend an HBCU, would not have been successful at top institutions such as Howard University, Morehouse College, Spelman College, FAMU (I can go on for days, my G) whose curriculums are just as advanced and challenging (if not more), and whose acceptance rates rival the selectivity of many of your so-called “elite” universities.  In reality, the only distinguishing factor between the two is that while your “elite” schools are busy giving breath to the notion of having to be “twice as good as them to get half of what they have,” historically Black institutions are supplying students, like myself, with a both supportive and challenging environment—encouragement that many of us had never received within the confines of a classroom.

Look at the underlying message, y’all. Look at what is really being said. This affirmative action issue and the Fisher case is simply a vessel used to communicate a message that has been expressed in a variety of different ways for generations.

Maybe—JUST MAYBE—the problem is that in a world full of Scalia’s, students of color, and Black students in particular, are susceptible to constant allegations and silent ridicule suggesting that WE DO NOT BELONG HERE. That we, with our wild dreams of graduating college and becoming doctors, lawyers, and entrepreneurs, are only doing so at the expense of the white kid whose spot we wrongfully took. As if I don’t deserve this?

The education system does one hell of a job of discouraging our people from seeking higher education.  And when we finally do make it, after all of the hard work, sweat, and (literally) tears, our accomplishments are undermined by the belief that somehow, we had an advantage over kids who were told since grade school that they could be absolutely anything they wanted in life. Kids who, unlike many of us, actually believed it because they had no reason in the world to ever doubt that that notion may be true. 

~S. Taitano

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