Like Betty Suarez on Ugly Betty, I too have struggled with affirmative action and its implications about my personal merit. When I was accepted to a particular selective college and my white friend with similar credentials wasn’t, she blamed affirmative action, thus belittling my individual merits. My last name was Ruiz, and that’s why I was accepted. Being an insecure high schooler, I agreed with her.
That’s not to say that I have put this particular anxiety behind me, even as a 27 year old woman. Just last year at a party, I expressed my fear of one day becoming a “diversity hire” on a TV writing staff to a fellow woman of color. Like Betty, I want to be hired because I am the most qualified, not because I fill a quota. Like Betty’s family, my friend told me that filling a quota doesn’t mean you don’t have merit. The competition for these positions is fierce, and you should be happy to stand out amongst the enormous crowd of underrepresented people clawing for a few spots on TV writing staffs. (So many people want these positions, in fact, that the 1,000 application limit for the HBOAccess Writing Fellowship was filled in less than two hours. That’s how desperate people of color are for writing opportunities.) Besides, the game is so stacked against women and minorities in Hollywood, affirmative action is just barely leveling the playing field.
However, that doesn’t mean that I should just be happy to get the one diversity spot on a writing staff and thank my lucky stars that white people have allowed me to join their club. Affirmative action isn’t enough to solve the problem.
The game is rigged because minorities are still constantly fighting against their race to prove their merit. We shouldn’t just have to accept that as the way it is and the way it always will be. We can no longer allow people in positions of privilege to “see themselves as innocent bystanders rather than participants in a system that creates, maintains and reproduces social injustice.” (Applebaum, In the name of morality: Moral responsibility, whiteness and social justice education, 2005, P. 286) Just like how feminism is a just as much as men’s issue as it is a women’s issue, race is just as much a white issue as it is a people of color issue. Change requires open and honest dialogue that confronts race instead of fleeing from it. That’s the only way to actually begin to level the playing field.