In Chapter 12 of Gender, Race, and Class in Media by Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez, the authors discuss a particular episode from the sit-com Ugly Betty “When Betty Met YETI,” which spotlights affirmative action decisions based on race (2011). Affirmative action is defined as when factors such a race, color, religion, sex, or national origin are taken into consideration to benefit an underrepresented group, according to National Archives (1965). In this episode, Betty, a Latina, and her co-worker Marc, a gay white male, both apply to an internship called YETI where magazine assistants are trained to become editors. Betty and Marc are competing against each other for one position, and while Marc has worked on his presentation for three months with two celebrity sponsors for his application and interview, Betty only finds out about the opportunity forty-eight hours before the interview. Betty ended up getting the internship, leaving Marc upset and frustrated. When confronted, Marc tells Betty that the real reason she got the position over him was because she helped YETI “meet their quota…because [she is] Latina.” He then calls her a “token ethnic girl (2011),” leaving Betty not only upset but also self-conscious as she starts questioning if her abilities really qualify for the position.
Betty and Marc from the series Ugly Betty
According to the book, affirmative action “became policy in the 1960s under President Johnson” where it was “launched to help improve the employment and educational access of ‘minorities (2011).’”Additionally, affirmative action also caused a lot of debate on a candidate’s qualifications over another’s in education, employment, and business. In education, for example, colleges now consider an applicant’s school grades, SAT scores, extra curricular activities, and on top of that, race and ethnicity. During my senior year in high school, my advisor for college applications told me that I should look for schools a little higher than where my SAT scores stand. I applied to Syracuse University, where the average SAT score is 1,738 (Find The Best, 2012), and other universities alike. With an SAT score of 1,600 at the time, I believed Syracuse was a stretch for me. I was beyond excited when I received my acceptance letter, but the excitement soon became a wonder, as I could not bring myself to believe my admission was because of my luck.
In the episode, Marc tells Betty that she got the YETI offer because she is a minority; during my senior year, I was told that I got the admission letter because I am a minority. Like Betty, I started questioning my abilities as a prospective student at Syracuse University. I thought I was admitted to meet the university’s diversity quota, which, as explained in Gender, Race, and Class in Media, is “a word indelibly linked in popular discourse with race-based affirmative action policies (2011).” Affirmative action was created to provide additional help to those minorities in need, but it now has been “charged with creating ‘reverse discrimination’” as it “enables people of color access to education and employment” which were “preciously reserved as the ‘property’ of whites, according to Harris in his publication Whiteness as property (1993).” However, the book does not discuss Betty’s perspective extensively. I, like Betty, wanted to believe that my qualifications were deserving enough for my enrollment, but trying to believe that is very difficult. Each college’s admission decision is a product of very complicated formulas, and very few of them are objective. When multiple students’ applications are products of intersectionality, simple affirmative action does not suffice college admission decisions. Based on the definition given by the Center for New Racial Studies in University of California, intersectionality is defined as the interactions of multiple systems of oppression or discrimination for different disenfranchised groups, especially of minorities (2011). Betty is a female of minority, which means her intersectionality is based on two systems of oppression and discrimination. Realizing this, Betty would be lying to herself if she believed that her YETI internship admission was solely based on her hard work and passion. This is especially true after YETI doesn’t “exactly deny it” when Betty calls and asks if Marc’s accusations are true (2011).
I do not have an answer to the questions raised and the problems caused by affirmative action. While many may see that affirmative action takes away white privilege, not all the minorities who are supposed to benefit from it do. It may cause a qualified candidate such as Betty to question her abilities, and it may also raise some unanswered concerns where an individual will never be able to reconcile. When and where does affirmative action come into the formula leaves minorities wondering how they can present themselves so that their disadvantages become their advantages. While this provides greater opportunities for minorities, it also takes away the pure qualifications of a candidate for education, employment, or business.
I choose to actively accept that my race background influenced my admission to Syracuse University, and I also choose to reinsure myself that my grades, my hard work, and my passion are also strong factors in the admission decision as well. I cannot change my race; neither can I change the fact that I will be judged whether positively or negatively on my race. Therefore, I choose to simply work harder than everyone else so that I can always be sure my accomplishments are because of what I earned and not what I was given.
National Archives. 1965. Executive Order 11246 – Equal employment opportunity. http://www.archives.gov/federal-register/codification/executive-order/11246.html
Harris, C. I. 1993. Whiteness as property. Harvard Law Review 106: 1707-91
Dines, G., Humez J. M. 2011. Gender, Race, and Class in Media. What does Race Have to Do With Ugly Betty p.97
Center for New Racial Studies. University of California. 2011. “Race/Gender/Class ‘Intersectionality’” http://www.uccnrs.ucsb.edu/intersectionality
Find The Best. 2012. Department of Education http://colleges.findthebest.com/q/2983/2549/What-is-the-average-SAT-score-for-Syracuse- University-SU