Wednesday, January 17, 2007

It's a Black/White World

With all the hype about MLK's birthday on Monday, there has been a lot of talk about race recently, and the conversation here in Michigan is probably more interesting than most. In November, Michigan voters repealed the Affirmative Action amendment to our state constitution, sparking huge debate over what really constitutes fair and equal. For those that are unfamiliar with Affirmative Action, it basically states that governmental institutions are required to hire or accept minorities in certain percentages thought to be representative of their population.

The proponent of the Affirmative Action appeal (and please forgive me, I've heard him in an interview as recent as earlier this week, but I can't remember his name) is a lawyer who represented a white female who was refused admittance in University of Michigan while minorities with lower grades and test scores were accepted due to Affirmative Action. It was not a question of scores 50 or 60 points lower...the scores were hundreds of points lower. Hundreds. Not only were their scores hundreds of points lower, but U of M actually had a completely separate application process for minorities. Instead of being presumptively handled as "assumed rejection" as all other applicants were, they were handled as "assumed acceptance." This meant that while non-minorities had to build a case for acceptance at U of M, minorities had to merely exhibit a pulse and proof of their minority status. Well, that is the way he made it sound, anyway.

To make matters even more insulting, he used Martin Luther King's own words to defend his stand against Affirmative Action, saying that because MLK dreamed of a time when his children would not be judged by the color of their skin, he would applaud the repeal of Affirmative Action as a step in the right direction of minorities being judged according to their accomplishments and not by the color of their skin. To me, that appears to be a deliberate distortion of MLK's intent: he meant that his people were being detrimentally judged by the color of their skin. Duh.

Now, even with Affirmative Action, the number of minorities attending such colleges as University of Michigan did not match the percentage of minorities in the population at large. So, even with Affirmative Action, there were simply not enough minorities applying to colleges. That, to me, is the crux of the issue. Affirmative Action applied to the college enrollment process made the correct assumption that standardized tests are racially homogenic - that is, the way the tests are administered, worded and graded favor the predominant cultural characteristics of white people. This happens to be true. How do I know? My children went to school with black kids, and my brother and I both taught black kids in Sunday school at church. Their culture is very different from ours, and the way the black children are taught to view the world and the way they interpret the world around them is considerably different from that of a white child.

By making that statement, I do not mean to say that they are less intelligent or less capable of learning the material. But what I am saying is that we teach and preach and write textbooks and devise learning strategies around certain cultural assumptions. For instance, we assume that the students will understand the highly anglo-saxon language. Well, guess what? Black people don't talk like white people with the consequence that many times, teacher lectures go right over the heads of their black students.

Another assumption related to the education of our students is that they will sit quietly and pay attention while the teacher goes through a lesson. In my experience, both in Sunday school and observing the classes my children attended at public school, this is something that is very difficult for the black children to do, probably because the lesson doesn't appear to relate to them when it is delivered in such a whitey-white way.

Given the cultural assumptions that go into creating a school atmosphere and curriculumn, it is not surprising that many blacks feel educationally disenfranchised in our public education systems and consequently, test lower than white kids. Does that mean that Affirmative Action was working? I really don't know. But I do know that black kids deserve an education as much as white kids do, and the lower academic standards applied to black college applicants to some degree offset the extreme cultural biases in our educational system. But is it fair? Well....probably not. The concept behind Affirmative Action is noble, but the application is flawed. But clearly there is a problem to be addressed, and eliminating Affirmative Action does not make the problem go away for the black population in Michigan. The conundrum it leaves us is that black people either need to conform to the anglo-saxon culture to get ahead (which is obviously not right nor likely to happen) or end up disenfranchised educationally and economically. At least, that is the way it appears to me.

If I were a minority, I can tell you right now I would be making a beeline for another state. It used to be Michiganders kept their racism carefully concealed under a sheen of acceptance and "Some of my best friends are black" declarations. Now, we appear to be saying, "Hey, you ARE black! I didn't notice before, but now that I do, it's back to old Jim Crow!"

9 comments:

Radmila said...

This is an interesting post.
I see the merits of affirmative action, but like with anything, there are the downfalls.
Black American culture is quite distinct, and different, and I understand the need for affirmative action. However, there has to be a bar that must be reached that is not significantly lower than the average. If it is, it's an insult to black americans. I know that here in Ontario, significant effort has been made to entice black canadians to apply to the police force and to fire departments. There is a problem with the interest level in the black community where those two careers are concerned. Given the black community's relationship with for example, the police department in Toronto, I understand the reluctance. Plus, systemic racism which resents even more an applicant who didn't get in on merit, but on some sort of quota requirement.... makes a career in these two systems not very enticing.
What with all the resentment and all.
I don't know what the answer is, but I'm not sure if affirmative action is helping or hindering.

VeeFlower said...

I for one am sick of hearing how bad it is for black people and how it is whitey's fault. There are so many white people I know who work hard every day, who didn't get a ticket to go to college, who struggle and go without and live paycheck to paycheck. When they go to get help they can't get it because they are...white. I don't disagree that opportunity hasn't been equal in our country and I don't have a problem with programs that promote and help minorities. But I do have a problem when there is no gratitude or appreciation for all the dollars that come from a working man's check. Those dollars to go to complainers and whiners and people that want everything handed to them...they don't want equality, they want superiority, they hate you just for being white, and they want you to feel guilty for the color of your skin.

DaveM said...

We dont have affirmative action or positive discrimination in the UK, but strong Equal Opportunities legislation, where its illegal to discriminateon the grounds of race, religion, disability or sexual persuasion. [Agesim has just recently been added.] I can see that using positive discrimination to try and reflect the local population in an employers workforce could cause problems, if someone is given a job just because of their race. If people are employed because of their qualifications, skills and ability then there can be no argument.

HUBBYMAN said...

DAVEM MAKES A GOOD POINT. EVEN THOUGH I HAVE A HANDICAP, I HAVE NEVER TRADED ON IT FOR WORK. I SUSPECTED ONE OF MY FORMER EMPLOYERS IN RADIO OF USING MY NAME FOR THE CORPORATE EOE ROSTER ("SEE, WE HIRE THE GIMPS!"), BUT I COULD NEVER PROVE IT. I KNOW I GOT THAT JOB BECAUSE I WAS RELIABLE & HAVE A GOOD VOICE. I ALSO KNEW MY JOB WELL & GAVE A GOOD PERFORMANCE EVERY DAY.

I HAVE ALWAYS LOOKED TOWARD GETTING A BETTER JOB/BETTER WAGES/BETTER HOURS TYPE OF THING THROUGH MY _QUALIFICATIONS_ & NOT A HANDOUT BECAUSE I'VE GOT A DISABILITY.

I WAS SHOCKED ONCE BY AN ADMISSION FROM AN ARROGANT EX-RELATIVE THAT I SHAMED HIM BY WORKING & SUPPORTING MY FAMILY (WHEN HE APPEARENTLY DOESN'T HAVE THE DRIVE OR DESIRE TO DO SO). DUH! THAT'S A GIVEN. MEN SHOULD ALWAYS SUPPORTS THEMSELVES & THEIR FAMILIES. I DON'T TAKE OVERT PRIDE IN THIS - I'M JUST DAMN GLAD I CAN DO IT. IF MY CIRCUMSTANCES HAD GONE JUST A LITTLE BIT WORSE (OR IF I'D HAD PARENTS WHO JUST PATTED ME ON THE HEAD & TOLD ME THE STATE WOULD TAKE CARE OF ME - I KNOW A GIRL THIS HAPPENED TO - AND LET ME LOLL ABOUT), I MIGHT NOT BE THE MAN I AM WITH THE PRIVILGE OF THIS WONDERFUL FAMILY I'VE BEEN ALLOWED INTO. I WAS TAUGHT TO WORK & EARN WHAT I GET. IF BLACK PARENTS AREN'T TEACHING THIS VALUE TO THEIR CHILDREN - WHERE ARE THEY SUPPOSED TO LEARN IT?

Marcheline said...

1. Way to go, HUBBYMAN! Amen.

2. I agree that ethnic minorities should not be prevented from attending schools or getting jobs because of their color.

I do not agree that ethnic minorities should be accepted to schools or be hired for jobs because of their color.

Basically, there are standards for every school and every job. If you meet the standards, you should be considered for acceptance. You say that some black people talk differently, so it's not "fair" that those who do are not doing well in school and are not chosen for certain jobs. I would like to point out that there are just as many white people that are illiterate and unable to afford good colleges and who cannot pass entry exams to high paying jobs.

Perhaps rather than worry about what color people are, we should be worrying about restructuring the economics of our country so that the poor are not excluded from decent education, decent health care, and the opportunity to better themselves.

DaveM said...

The Uk has a fantastic welfare and health system but unfortunately the bad press that it gets is down to the abuse of the systems in that it is not being used for what it was originally designed for all those years ago. The abuse of the system is that people can be better off not going to work, and we now have generations who have not worked but used /abused the system to provide for them and their families. The education system "fails" as there are children who leave school with no intention of working as they know that the state provided for their parents and so will provide for them. We have moved from a system that encouraged the non academic to learn trades and skills to one which is too biased towards academic qualifications.
This gap has been filled by workers from the E U, maily Polish people, who have come over and filled this gap. These Polish workers have a tremedous work ethic and are valuable to employers. This has sometimes caused resentment but the problem is caused by our home grown short comings.

bunnyjo georg said...

Wow...I am blown away by the thoughtful quality of the comments by everyone here. We can agree that a problem exists, but the question remains how best to address the problem. While people should always be considered solely on the basis of their accomplishments and not on other criteria whether skin color, quality of education or economic deprivation. I think that if we could address the hopelessness experienced by many minorities that undermines what education is available, we could go a long way toward moving their races forward. Unfortunately, many of the hopeless situations extend from their own bad decisions. Ugh, it is a complex problem and it will take a better head than mine to figure it out. However, some type of Affirmative Action may be needed in conjunction with other initiatives, but hopefully this time around the Affirmative Action that is applied will be better thought out!

DCveR said...

This may seem strange to you but I do oppose any measures like that Affirmative Action.
Be it minimum quotas for women, minorities or handicapped people.
All should be given the same opportunities, the so called rights however should be earned according to ones capabilities.
I’ve seen “positive discrimination” measures in action. I’ve seen how they manage to get people who are not suited for a task being picked while someone who would be the right choice is not. I’ve also seen the effect of such measures in college, where people are allowed in due to their minoritary status but they fail to graduate thus keeping a position occupied for years (we have something called numerus clausus in here, every university can only have a limited number of students) and so keeping others from getting admitted.
Sometime ago I’ve already stated some of this in post inspired by another post of yours.

bunnyjo georg said...

As always, DCvR, you have the ability to sum up a difficult question with a simple yet profound logic. Your observations are the same here in the states where positive discrimination or Affirmative Action eventually works against those it is trying to help and hinders those who - based on merit alone - would have been given the opportunity that was instead given to the minority. You make another interesting point in your post - forced tolerance is not true tolerance and only drives the negative feelings underground until they eventually errupt. One thing about the United States is that in a country that has so-called free speech, we bite our words to avoid even *seeming* like we are discriminating against someone. It seems this is an issue that begs more questions than it seems capable of answering.