When People will not be Judged by the Color of their Skin, But On Where Their Ancestors Were Judged by the Color of their Skin
Martha E. Pollack, nearing the six-month mark of her presidency, is facing her first major test at Cornell after hundreds of black students, responding to the arrest of a student who may be charged with a hate crime, marched into her office last week and hand-delivered a series of demands.
The most interesting of the demand is:
We demand that Cornell Admissions to come up with a plan to actively increase the presence of underrepresented Black students on this campus. We define underrepresented Black students as Black Americans who have several generations (more than two) in this country. The Black student population at Cornell disproportionately represents international or first-generation African or Caribbean students. While these students have a right to flourish at Cornell, there is a lack of investment in Black students whose families were affected directly by the African Holocaust in America. Cornell must work to actively support students whose families have been impacted for generations by white supremacy and American fascism
Harvard law professor Lani Guinier and Henry Louis Gates Jr., chairman of Harvard’s African and African-American studies department, reported that 8 percent, or about 530, of Harvard’s undergraduates are black, but somewhere between one-half and two-thirds of them are “West Indian and African immigrants or their children, or to a lesser extent, children of biracial couples.”
Not counting those who are classified as “foreign students,” Guinier and Gates said, only about a third of the students classified as “black” at the nation’s most prestigious university were from families in which all four grandparents were born in this country.
I was not surprised by those findings. Like many other African-Americans, I have been noticing for years how the children of black immigrant families tend to be much better represented among high school honor-roll achievers than their native-American black counterparts are.
Now that they are showing up in disproportionate numbers at selective colleges like Harvard, both advocates and opponents of affirmative action are raising a howl in their various ways.
Page goes on:
Now Harvard has to ask itself what its affirmative action plan is supposed to accomplish. If its goal is simply “diversity,” it may not matter how American the roots of its black and brown faces happen to be. But if its goal is to address historical racial inequalities in American life, Harvard may have to take black ethnicity into account in the way that some institutions have argued over which nationalities should be counted as “Hispanic.”
A bigger question to me is this: Why are black students whose families have been in America for generations being left behind by newcomers, including black newcomers from other countries?
Gates plans to organize a study group around that question. I can offer the group one easy possibility, no charge: Immigrant kids work harder.
They work harder, in part, because their parents work harder–and their parents work harder because of their relentless optimism: Where others might see a dead-end job, immigrants of all colors see an entry-level opportunity.
I don’t want to comment on Page’s conclusions; that may be a post for another time. I do note that what probably derailed the thought process brought up by Lani Guinier, Henry Louis Gates Jr., and Clarence Page was the meteoric rise of Barack Obama. But Barack Obama is no longer president. Furthermore, it isn’t clear that Americans descended from American slaves are better off relative to other Americans after eight years of Obama than they were before his presidency.