“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” —Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Dr. King’s Dream
I was having a discussion recently with a colleague, wherein I expressed the opinion that Dr. King’s dream was for all Americans. His dream was not to turn the world upside-down, so that white people would be discriminated against instead of minorities. My fellow teacher was stunned at my statement, insisting that the only racism that existed was against minorities. White people, he said, have it easy. I was then asked to “check my privilege.”
It was at this point in the conversation that I decided to explain something to my friend. He had often complimented me on my high level of knowledge and expertise, saying on more than one occasion that I should be training teachers at a university full-time. I decided that perhaps it was time to explain why that had never happened.
Tough Luck or Stacked Deck?
The last time I applied for a teaching position in the Cal State University system, I came to the table with an excess of qualifications for the job. After going through the entire application process, I was feeling pretty confident that I was a perfect fit for the post, and a job offer seemed well within reach. But, alas! The job went to someone else. When I followed up with the department chair to find out why, so I might better prepare for possible future job opportunities, I was told that there was not much I could do to improve. In fact, during the interview process, I had earned the distinction of “best-qualified candidate.” But school policy was not to hire the “best-qualified” applicant, if a minority candidate was available who was “sufficiently qualified.” In other words, I was passed over because I was white.
I was curious to find out about the person who did get the job. It turned out he was a doctoral candidate who had not even completed his dissertation; so, technically, there was no assurance that he would finish (50% of doctoral candidates, it bears mentioning, will never finish writing their dissertations). This particular new-hire also had all of his education in the same area of endeavor, whereas I had earned degrees in four different fields. His qualifications were barely enough to qualify; in fact, the California State University system was bending the rules by accepting a candidate whose degree was unfinished.
In the job-application process for college jobs these days, the most qualified person often tends not to get hired. A lesser candidate obtains the job offer, so long as he or she is, first off, a government-protected minority, and, secondly, “sufficiently qualified.” I have had other similar experiences happen to me, and many of the follow-ups revealed a similar dynamic to be at work. But rather than complain, in each instance I chose to move on. However, I have found these experiences instructive, in that I have come to know institutional racism intimately.
It Is All About the Students
Although I do not bemoan the unfairness I have experienced, I do believe my experience lends valuable insight into what is now happening in American higher education. Many talented people are being cast aside, and their rich experiential backgrounds and diverse fields of study will now be lost to university students. And it is not chiefly white students who will miss out; it is minority students as well. What minority students need—as all students do—is the highest-quality education they can receive. It is only high-quality instruction that will help minorities overcome any perceived need to have the bar continually lowered to accommodate them.
The irony is that, by lowering the bar for minority college teachers, we worsen the educational outcomes for the current crop of students who might wish to become the college professors themselves one day. This means the bar will have to be lowered yet again for the next generation, as it was for the last. And since every successive generation is at risk of receiving worse instruction than the generation preceding it—at least, as long as this dumbing-down process continues—then each subsequent generation will become less competent than the one before it.
Lowering the Bar Is Racist
Is it not racist, in the first place, for the university system to claim that, without lowering the bar, minorities will never be able to measure up? Why not implement the fairer solution of helping every person until all measure up? Help for everyone in need, irrespective of race or ethnicity, is not racist, while lowering the bar for minorities, who are constantly deemed to be incapable of measuring up, sends a message of racial inferiority to those who are being made into perpetual victims by that selfsame message. Now is the time to stop disempowering—even crippling—minority groups by labeling them victims in perpetuity.
It Takes a Minority to Hire a White Person
Interestingly enough, I tend to get job offers only from people of color anymore. I may as well not even attempt employment with a white interviewer. I have quizzed many school administrators over the years, to find out why this appears to be the rule nowadays, and I have reached the following conclusion: White people are generally not willing to offer me a job—unless only white people are in the pool of applicants—because most white people, it would seem, are afraid of being dubbed racist, if they do not offer the job to a minority.
Not to Be Misunderstood . . .
So, not to be misunderstood, let me clarify: I am glad there is no “white privilege” to speak of anymore, but I now believe we are challenged to replace the patronizing politics of bar-lowering with the guarantee of equal assistance for all in the process of preparing people. It is time to realize a policy where people are no longer judged preferentially, based on their minority status. It is time to begin to live the dream that Dr. King had for all Americans. It is time, at last, that people “not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”