Does White Culture Set Us Up for Failure?

21 May

This news is a little old, but I wanted to chime in on the Suzy Weiss story because it raises important issues about the idea of white culture and perfection. Suzy Weiss is the young woman who wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal titled To All the Colleges that Rejected Me. In the article, the 18-year-old Weiss writes that she may have had a better chance at getting into the Ivy League schools she was rejected by if she had been the daughter of lesbians, a student of Color, or a variety of other things. My take? She simply wasn’t “good enough”  and that it was easier for her to blame diversity issues than to accept that she didn’t meet their criteria.

First off, all I know about this young woman is from her article in the WSJ and an interview on the Today show.  She’s young, white and doesn’t know the severity of what she is saying. I know without a doubt that at 18 I picked through the scholarship booklet and realized there were no scholarships for middle class, average white girls like me. I  guarantee I complained about it at the time. 18-year-old Buffy hadn’t put all the pieces of the world together yet. I thought I knew a lot about what was happening around me, and I felt very grown up at the time.

I also knew I was not qualified to apply to Ivy League schools. I went to a poorly ranked school. I felt unprepared for college. I had terrible SAT scores. A limited number of people from my class went to a four-year college right after high school, and only one I knew went to an Ivy League school. There wasn’t an assumption in my school that we were entitled to get into the colleges we wanted. I applied to one state school. It accepted me. I went there. My guess is that Weiss goes to a school where it’s assumed you will go to college, and that going to an Ivy League school places a higher value on who you are and where you stand in the world.

This young woman is 18 years old. She doesn’t know anything outside of her high school experience and whatever else she has done. She may sit in a class like I did her freshman year of college, take a course in social justice and think to herself, “What the hell was I thinking when I wrote that article?”

The bigger question to me is why did the WSJ print this? From my limited understanding she had a family member–perhaps her sister–who knows someone at the WSJ. I wonder if they read this and thought it might be provocative, so they printed it at the expense of making Weiss look like a spoiled, ignorant girl. Then again, maybe they agreed with what she said and thought they would point out the plight of being white and average. I don’t know.

I’m not validating what Weiss wrote. I found the article offensive and degrading. I don’t feel sorry for her that she didn’t get into an Ivy League school. But I watched her on the Today show and had a feeling of “That was me.” She is so naive and ignorant, and she doesn’t understand the weight of what she’s saying. Rejection is painful, especially as a teenager. And it’s amplified when you have probably never experienced rejection before in your life. It’s easier for Weiss to blame “diversity” than to look at herself and think “Maybe I just wasn’t good enough.” Most white girls in her shoes haven’t experienced a door closing in their face, and if they do they don’t have the Wall Street Journal as an outlet.

I want to point you to the article Characteristics of White Supremacy Culture written by Tema Okun and Kenneth Jones. After reading it, how could this piece relate to Weiss’s struggle with rejection? Does white culture set people up for failure and the feeling that they aren’t good enough?

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16 Responses to “Does White Culture Set Us Up for Failure?”

  1. demogirl06 May 21, 2013 at 4:10 pm #

    While I do not work in an admissions office, I REALLY would have loved to see Syzt Weiss’ applications. I would like to know what differentiates Suzy Weiss from the hundreds of other 4.5GPA/high SAT scores that apply to these universities as though such numbers were a golden ticket. She should know that the acceptance rate of Yale is less than 7%. That her other schools, marginally higher. These are TERRIBLE odds in the first place, compared to other VERY GOOD institutions like UCLA (22%), or University of Washington (of 50%).

    This logic about the entry into Ivy League schools–that grades/scores are what count–is as erroneous as thinking a B.A. from a 4-year university will actually GUARANTEE YOU A JOB. It doesn’t There are no guarantees… there are minimum criteria in ORDER TO BE CONSIDERED. After that, it’s all X Factor.

    I was a Bulldog Buddy; and also, through the National Youth Sports Program, I volunteered as a sports summer camp counselor for black, underprivileged, inner-city youth. I can tell you one thing. These kids grow up in the back yard of Yale University. Their parents work in the dining halls; they mop the floors; they clean up the VOMIT of spoiled white kids every weekend. And the children, they don’t think they have a chance.

    I have personally worked with these kids. I have suggested the idea of college to them, And the response from a 12 year old girl is heart-breaking: “College? I’m not going to college. I’ll move into my granny’s house with my mama when I’m 16, so I can help take care of her.”

    This is the “American Dream” for a lot of minorities. These kids don’t grow up thinking they are going to be Obama.

    Imagine, Suzy Weiss, studying for your precious GPA and SAT scores, thinking that the best you’re going to get it grandma’s house. THAT is a mental hurdle you can’t imagine.

    • White Mom May 21, 2013 at 8:28 pm #

      Totally! Thank you for sharing!

  2. Katie Seibert May 21, 2013 at 4:36 pm #

    Wow. I wish I had known that I could write to the WSJ when this exact thing happened to me in high school. just kidding. I’m not that full of myself.

    True story. My best friend Maggie graduated valedictorian her senior year. To me she was quite exceptional, but she was rejected from every private school she applied to (all 5 of them, 3 Ivy leagues). Instead of crying about it, she ended up going to Berkeley (ever heard of it, Suzy?) and is getting her PhD in Organic Chemistry. Life goes on.

    I ALSO got rejected from every private school I applied to, AND I had the broken home/poor cards in my deck. I ended up going to UCLA and getting a fine education.

    I never ONCE considered that I was somehow slighted because I was a white girl. I’m not sure why. I feel like arguments along the lines of “The *insert minority* are taking our jobs/places in college” are characteristic of sheltered white kids who don’t know any better. And who have connections at the WSJ.

  3. Kristen Chapman Gibbons May 21, 2013 at 5:52 pm #

    Reblogged this on Big Blue Dot Y'all and commented:
    Trying to understand…

    • White Mom May 21, 2013 at 8:34 pm #

      The basis of her whole argument totally discounts that she wasn’t good enough for these schools. Simple as that. But white culture doesn’t allow that as an option. It has to be someone else’s fault. I’m trying to say that I understand her 18 year old naivety because I’m sure I had similar thoughts at that age. Our culture of perfectionism is setting kids up to blame others instead of looking inward and saying, “I didn’t get this because it wasn’t a good fit” or “Wow, this college thing is so ridiculous! I’m not going to buy into this as validation of myself or others.”

      Does that help at all?

  4. ohiasia May 22, 2013 at 7:34 pm #

    Firstly, I love how her name is Weiss (German for “white”.) Secondly, thanks for posting the link to the Today Show interview. Holy crow, this chick is annoying. I’m sure her type A, hear-me-roar personality will serve her well in the long run, but I could not make it through the entire interview. She comes off as overconfident, entitled and quite pleased with herself. (For what, I have no idea.)

    As for one of the questions you raise: I think more and more people AREN’T “good enough.” At least not with colleges’ single-digit acceptance rates. Lower the bar, accept more people and devalue the credential. I believe it’s that simple.

    • White Mom May 22, 2013 at 7:58 pm #

      The Today show interview really gives you a picture of this young woman, doesn’t it? I had no idea Weiss means white- HA!

      I want to understand what you’re saying. Do you think we should devalue the Ivy leagues?

      • ohiasia May 22, 2013 at 8:23 pm #

        No, I don’t think we should! If everyone (or even 20% up from 7%) got accepted, it would cheapen accomplishment. College degrees are dime-a-dozen as it is; if anything, they should raise the bar even higher for admissions. This chick wasn’t good enough – end of story. (And they figured that out without seeing her in person. Oy.)

    • White Mom May 22, 2013 at 8:48 pm #

      It makes me think– do we still need a system that values people based on where they went to college? I’m sure plenty of kids get into Ivy league schools due to the simple fact that they are legacy at the school and their parents can pay for it. Not based on qualifications either. It’s a crap shoot like Weiss says but it’s not a crap shoot because of the color of her skin or her parent’s sexual preference. I personally don’t buy into the whole, “I’m better because I went to an Ivy league school”. I actually think (if you’re paying for it yourself and limiting your debt) that going to a state school is a better option in terms of more bang for your buck. What are your thoughts on that?

      • ohiasia May 22, 2013 at 9:15 pm #

        I don’t have a problem with the system; some people (students, employers, etc.) value an Ivy education but for others, it matters not a hill of beans. There doesn’t seem to be any one “best” route anymore, whereas a few decades ago, a college degree was a given (if one could swing it.) IMO, it’s not a matter of being “better than” but best playing the hand one has (aptitude, interests, goals, socioeconomic status, etc.). Of course, stellar grades, enviable credentials and “a job that people would kill for” can be more curse than blessing for someone who wants to be someplace else.

  5. Colin May 30, 2013 at 10:13 pm #

    Great post!

    I remember reading about this and being reminded of someone I went to school with. They, (blonde, blue-eyed, and academically successful) were convinced that they quite literally would not *be able* to go to college because they were White. Not that they wouldn’t be able to get into their top school, but not able to go to college at all. I don’t fully blame them, though, because they came from a home where their parents quite loudly complained that our Economics teacher was not sufficiently praising the virtues of Capitalism. There must be a good deal fear of failure of there actually ever was a “level playing field.” :p

    The other thing this story reminds me of is the concept of a “gossamer promise” made by our political and corporate (as if there’s a distinction) overlords that if we only choose to be complicit in maintaining oppressive systems, then we will 1) be rewarded and 2) things will be “back the way they used to be.” Never mind that 1) they’re lying and 2) things weren’t actually the way the nostalgia machine suggests they were AND things were actually pretty awful for most people back in the “good old days.” Melissa McEwan, over at Shakesville (one of my very favorite blogs) writes about that idea quite a bit. http://www.shakesville.com/2011/09/grand-old-promises.html

    In all seriousness, I do feel for those who are hoodwinked into believing that they’ll ever get the carrot, but that doesn’t mean I won’t hold them accountable for the damage they do trying to reach it.

    • White Mom June 4, 2013 at 10:29 am #

      Colin, thank you for reading 🙂 I totally agree. I’ve really been reflecting on what we (white culture) tell kids and how it isn’t working out for them. I’ve been trying to come from a place of compassion above all and this post is my attempt to think about what this young woman has been taught and how that has blown up in her face. It sucks and at the same time it’s to be expected.

  6. Jean June 10, 2013 at 5:37 pm #

    Good post. Ah to be 18 and not really know. The sad thing some adults will nod their heads with her.

  7. Kathryn July 22, 2015 at 4:08 pm #

    It may be that she was “good enough” but that the school was choosing a diversified student body and she didn’t make the cut that way, and that’s just fine with me. What we all (and by that I mean all white people) need to take in to account is that we ALL benefit from this at the end of the day. My daughter has spoken often about how much she values the “education” she got because we sent her to very diverse public schools. She knew after first grade what it was like to be the only white girl in her class.

    It is interesting to note that in the book Outliers Malcolm Gladwell points out that across the variations of who gets accepted to college students with stunning academic records are no more likely to be successful post graduation than those with mediocre records. He suggests the entire application process is built on misunderstanding of how to predict success and that a lottery would be more fair.

    • Buffy July 22, 2015 at 4:13 pm #

      I agree with your daughter as that was my experience in school as well. I will always value growing up in a diverse environment and I think it enriched my life in a million different ways. I grow more and more weary of the golden promise of “better college, better success”. There is so much more to life! Thanks for reading.

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Bicultural Familia

Celebrating familia & culture in South Texas.

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