With the help of HP, I’m beginning to better understand the mentality of the minority conservative. I don’t mean to generalize – obviously minority conservatives are just as varied as WASP liberals – but for this series I’m going to make some general observations. A lot of liberal minorities call conservative minorities sell outs. They claim these conservatives got lucky and found success in what is otherwise an unjust society and therefore want to hold everyone else to the same standards. (remember That Colored Fella’s post saying minority conservatives, by nature, had a psychological problem?) I think those criticisms are unfair. After several beers, conversations, and emails with HP, I am beginning to better understand what makes him a conservative and what both repeals and appeals to him about liberals. And I can say with confidence it’s not to hold other minorities and the working class to the same unjust standards with which he was able to succeed.
Let me tell a story about a job I had a few years ago. I had just transferred to UCSD and was looking for more meaningful work than pouring espresso. The problem always was that – after tips and the free food and coffee – I made more money working at a cafe than I would have doing something like substitute teaching or working as a research aide. But then a friend of mine – also upper-middle class, White, and liberal – from high school told me about a job she just got as an inner city tutor/mentor … pay: $13 an hour, plus transportation.
Perfect. I interviewed with a pretty girl who seemed to be more on top of her shit than just about any other college student I had ever met. I remember leaving the interview thinking she seemed simultaneously impressed and reluctant. But I got the job and went to our next weekly meeting on Wednesday night. That was when I realized I was hired as the token white guy. The program, called Early Academic Outreach Program (or EAOP) was established in 1976, but didn’t really take off until 1995 when UC regent Ward Connerly (we’ll talk more about him later) successfully outlawed affirmative action on UC campuses. What many conservatives don’t understand is that even if the courts or regents outlaw affirmative action, university administrations and companies will continue to come up with programs which seek diversity because they understand it is better for their business. For example, while proposition 209 barred employers from affirmative action hiring in 1996, many companies such as Qualcomm still have aggressive programs seeking diverse and well qualified candidates.
So the idea of EAOP is to send minority students at UCSD to high schools in low income neighborhoods and evangelize the importance of higher education as well as help the students out out in math and English classes. Since the program seeks greater diversity in higher education, it would (arguably) be hypocritical to not hire a single white male.
Which was me. There were also two and then three white girls, a handful of Asians, Persians, and Native Americans, and the rest (about 50) male and female Latinos and Blacks. Which, if you’ve been to UCSD you know, is a large chunk of the minority student body.
When I first walked into that meeting, I felt the skeptical gaze of just about everyone in the room. It’s not just minority conservatives who question what I call the Peace Corps Syndrome (upper-middle class, suburban Whites feeling they are destined to save all the poor brown people of the world) – minority liberals are as well. In fact, I remember Cindy posting about her own inherent skepticism (if I could only find the link) of a bunch of white kids who showed up at some low income community meeting she was at.
I pretended not to notice. Sat by myself in a corner, listened intently, and only spoke when spoken to. I was assigned to Gompers High School in Chula Vista, which had recorded the lowest average SAT score in the county as well as lowest percentage of graduating seniors. The year before, a student was shot down and murdered because he crossed out the graffiti of another student. When some of the veterans of EAOP heard I was assigned to Gompers, they flashed me a raised eyebrow and ironic grin. One longtime mentor told me he used to arrive late to class at UCSD because when the police order a school lock down at Gompers, nobody is allowed to leave until it is lifted.
I would go to Gompers two days a week from 7 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and tutor kids in geometry and algebra. I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy task and I was expecting some hostility from the students, especially after everyone kept hyping up Gompers’ reputation. But I didn’t expect it on my very first day.
“They must be paying you a grip of cash to come all the way down here from La Jolla.” It was the first thing the kid had said more than “uh huh” or “nah” in the 20 minutes I had been explaining to him and his friends why x-1 is the same as 1/x.
In a matter of micro-seconds I thought about how I should respond or if I should respond at all. At first I was going to say that it wasn’t for the money, that’s not why I was there. It was to help people and make the world a better place, yada, yada, yada. But I realized in time that that was my Peace Corps Syndrome coming out. And that it wasn’t entirely true. There are plenty of volunteer organizations in San Diego where you can go and tutor at inner city after school programs, but I never did. Not until I was offered a salary to.
“Yeah, they pay me well. Because I go to a good university and because I know why x-1 equals 1/x.” (I left out the part about them needing a white guy)
“Ahhhh damn, you just got balled son!” all his friends taunted him. Even from kids across the classroom who, up to that point, pretended I didn’t even exist. I got up and walked over to a quiet girl in the front of the class to see if she needed any help.
I wish I could say that’s all it took That the kids trusted me from that moment and came to me for help on their homework or advice about where to take the PSAT or which colleges to apply to. But they didn’t. Not that year. I was always the one coming over to pester them and make sure they understood their assignment or to constantly ask when they were going to give me their fee waiver and SAT registration forms.
It wasn’t until the next year – when they recognized me as familiar – that the trust really started to develop.