Rethinking Affirmative Action at Colleges
As a new case heads to the Supreme Court, it's time to admit that disparities are about more than race.
Not all black people would put it as straight as the woman I spoke to did, but her way of thinking is typical of a kind of shorthand that many use when thinking about race and society. When the black numbers are low, then "you know what that's all about" -- the deck is stacked against you when you're brown.
But as the chatter starts up about Fisher v. Texas, it would be a shame if the black punditocracy fell into this way of thinking once again. It makes for good conversation and good copy -- you know what that's about! -- but it leaves people behind who need better.
Example: Stuyvesant's parent coordinator says that one problem is that brown people in underserved communities often don't know about the entrance test or, more important, don't know that kids who get into Stuyvesant prepare for the test rigorously -- or about how they do it. And it's understandable that the word hasn't gotten out in black communities about such things as test prep the way it has in Beverly Hills. There isn't even any problem with saying that the cause of this contrast, historically, was racism.
But not of the kind that you can supposedly just "see" in broad daylight as you walk by Stuyvesant in 2012. Everybody there wants more black kids to come. New York City's Department of Education wants more black kids to go there. No one, and nothing, is working to conceal from people of color information about tests and how to take them.
As such, treating racism as the problem in cases like this helps no one. Rather, in 2012 there is an information problem regarding how to make the best effort to get into Stuyvesant. That's a problem more easily solved than waiting for a society where no one perceives race at all, or even where all races face the exact same hurdles.
Stuyvesant is a microcosm for the larger issue: It does nothing for black people to treat racism as the most interesting reason that not as many black students qualify for top universities as we'd like. Getting the word out to black parents about how to make their kids top students is just as important, as the Minority Student Achievement Network has found.
This just in: A report in the New York Times this week reveals that this year there were 51 black students admitted to Stuyvesant, compared with just 36 in 2009. Overall, this year, 730 black and Latino students have been admitted to the eight super-selective high schools in New York, 14 percent more than last year. It shows that we can start getting where we want to be on our own steam. After all, who would say that institutional racism is 14 percent less pernicious in New York now than it was a year ago?
Are we as interested in the day when black kids don’t need a bonus as much as we're interested in showing how racism makes them need one? Do we really find identifying racism sexier than teaching ourselves how to get past it?
John McWhorter is a contributing editor to The Root.