Monthly Archives: May 2008

The Intersection of Presidential Politics, Race, Culture, and Higher Learning

By Dr. Pamela Reed

 

Much has been made of education levels and voting patterns in the Presidential nominating contests of the Democratic Party for the 2008 general election, particularly since Barack Obama emerged as the presumptive nominee. Well almost. Week after week, exit polls indicate that highly educated White Americans—Democrats, Independents and even some Republicans—are more likely to cast a vote for Senator Barack Obama. 

By contrast, those Democrats with no college education tend to support Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, even when most experts agree that she has absolutely no chance of overcoming Obama’s pledged delegate lead.  An even more curious statistic is that the majority of these same respondents often express doubts about Clinton’s trustworthiness.    

Further, the polls also report that rather than pulling the proverbial lever for Obama in November, well over one-third of Democratic respondents with no college education maintain that they will vote for the Republican John McCain in November.  This, even after the undeniably disastrous soon-to-be eight years of the George W. Bush-led Republican era in America—and at a time when gasoline is now priced at, near or over $4 a gallon, and the Iraq War rages on, well into its sixth year, now longer than both World War I and World War II. 

What are we to make of this pattern?  Does this mean that Whites with only a high school education are not smart enough to realize that John McCain represents a continuation of the Bush/Cheney policies that have many of us holding our collective breath, lest we too find ourselves inhabiting the proverbial Poor House?  Or does it suggest that these Whites with less education are too racist to vote solely on the basis of merit, irregardless of race?  That is, is there a direct correlation between education level and  “racial tolerance”?  After all, significant numbers of Whites with no college education, when polled, say that race is a factor in their voting.

To the contrary, it is this writer’s perspective that it is not a matter of intellectual capacity, but cultural competence that is lacking in these White voters who have not matriculated in institutions of higher learning.  After all, studies indicate that cultural maturity can be a major benefit of college education, particularly at culturally diverse institutions. For instance in 2000, arguing in favor of the University of Michigan’s affirmative action standards, a consortium of Fortune 500 corporations offered in a court brief that students imbued with the richness of higher education in a diverse university setting are more likely to understand, appreciate and willingly work with those of varied racial and cultural backgrounds.

In view of this, it is not a stretch to suggest that this same principle can be extended in the area of voting patterns.  This is the only reasonable explanation for the willingness of some Democrats to consider voting for the Republican candidate for President of the United States, at a time when few would argue  that we are approaching a point-of-no-return with regard to the American standard of living—thanks to the policies of the Republicans.

I think this is what Barack Obama was attempting to say in his historically clumsy “bitter” remarks, in response to a question about the unwillingness of many “blue collar” voters in Pennsylvania to consider voting for him (the same people who Governor Ed Rendell announced would not vote for an African American candidate).  He was not saying that people “cling” to God and guns ONLY because of tough economic times. 

What he was trying to say, at least in the mind of this registered Independent, is that some White Americans—primarily those with no college education— even when confronted with the obvious shortcomings of the economic policies of the Republican Party, which are directly attributable to their own (and all of America’s) personal hardship, will then tend to look to other Republican platform planks to stand on.  That is right-to-life issues, gun control, gay marriage, etc.

Perhaps nothing speaks more to the need for diversity and inclusion infusion in the American education system than this political quandary. Clearly, we can no longer afford to put off this cultural enrichment for post-secondary education. After all, alarming numbers of American students are failing to even reach the high school graduate threshold. The good news, though, is that intercultural competence levels are on the rise in the United States; however, one need not be a rocket scientist to realize that there is still much more work to be done. And it must begin at the very earliest stages of American pedagogy.  Our very future depends upon it.

 

 

Dr. Pamela D. Reed is a diversity consultant and assistant professor of English and African-American literature at Virginia State University.

 

 

A Moving History from the Era of Jim Crow

By Alfred Brophy

I’ve been talking about African American intellectuals, their literary output, and the era of Jim Crow a bunch of late.

One of my favorite works of history is W. Sherman Savage‘s The Controversy Over the Distribution of Abolitionist Literature, 1830-1860 (1938), by the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. Why has it won this place in my heart? In part because of the conditions under which Dr. Savage (who was a professor of history at Lincoln University) wrote and published it–in the dark days of Jim Crow. Its newsprint paper testifies to the difficult economic conditions of its publication. Yet, despite the hardships of being an African American scholar of extremely modest background and means, Dr. Savage persevered.

I first fell in love with this volume when, as a third year law student (now many, many years ago) I was working on the response to abolitionist literature that was mailed through the United States mail to southern slaveholders and free blacks alike. The abolitionists’ campaign was a shrewd one–to use that great engine of commerce, the mails, to get their ideas into the hands of people where they might have an impact. The response testifies to the power of ideas to liberate us as a people.

Savage’s volume collected a lot of wisdom and presented it in simple and therefore elegant prose. And as I wondered about why such an important work was printed on such, well, inexpensive paper it dawned on me that this was the case because this was likely all the publisher could afford. Ah, further testimony to how ideas can find expression and an audience, even when they are not clothed in the trappings of wealth and majesty.

It’s further testimony to the perseverance of people who sought to tell the truth in those dark days–and were able to help our country remake itself.

Savage’s book is also a reminder that the mainstream academy does not always address issues of importance to African Americans. As Christopher Metzler’s been talking about here of late, we need to be careful to produce scholarship of importance to the African American community–and to our country as a whole. Similarly, we ought to be very suspicious of our colleagues who tell us that issues of race aren’t important or that we’ve already learned what we’re going to from research on race.

Black Scholarship or White Imperalism?

By Dr. Christopher Metzler

 

There has been considerable debate among my colleagues about Black scholars and the production of Black scholarship. On the one hand, some White academics complain that Black scholars spend too much time on “ghetto scholarship.” This usually refers to Critical Race Theory, Africana Studies, and the impact of racism on our lives, both historically and contemporaneously. On the other hand, some Black scholars argue that we have a responsibility to study, analyze and write about the continuing significance of race in a thoughtful and substantive matter.

 

The reality is that the halls of academe are dominated by many White, imperialistic scholars who are rarely taken to task when they write about cultural issues of their choosing, i.e., feminism, essentialism, etc. Yet, many of them see no problem with marginalizing Black studies. Moreover, many of the same ones proudly call themselves liberals and, as such, believe that their White privilege endows them with the inalienable right to judge African diaspora studies by ostensibly neutral standards. Of course, since they set the standards, they determine neutrality.

 

For all its talk about diversity, the academy lags shamefully and unapologetically behind corporate America in this regard. One only need be a member of the academy to experience the contradiction between what the members of the “ivory tower” say and what they do. So then, does this mean that if Black scholars take to heart the responsibility to interrogate the ways in which racism affects our people, we will have no recourse but to join the faculties of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCU’s)? Does it mean, moreover, that a generation of Black scholars will be discouraged from the pursuit of “black scholarship” if they expect promotion and tenure? Will we take the bait of imperialistic “liberal” scholars and model the segregated American society? For at least two reasons, the answer is a resounding no.

 

First, we have an obligation to study the continuing significance of race, whether on the faculties of majority institutions or HBCU’s. Second, in my experience, we need to confront the arrogance of so many White liberal academics who preach inclusion, yet routinely “Jump Jim Crow,” as they say. If we do not, we will do a disservice to academic freedom and the civil rights movement, both of which are critical to the advancement of our scholarship.

 

We should define for ourselves what scholarship is and then rigorously pursue it. I, for one, am tired of the academic institutions that airbrush Black faces onto their Web sites, while far too often relegating Black faculty to the institutional margins. Or they attempt to hire chief diversity officers, as if a CDO alone could change the deeply embedded culture of denigration and disrespect that many Black academics face.

When all is said and done, the goal posts for achievement are set up by the dominant culture in the academy. Many of us reach those goal posts, only to find that they have been moved. So, we have to ask ourselves, is this about “Black scholarship” or about the imperialistic, hegemonic nature of the academy?

 

 

Dr. Christopher Metzler is Associate Dean at Georgetown University.

Hutchinson on “Racial Exhaustion”

By Alfred Brophy

You may be interested — perhaps very interested — in Darren Lenard Hutchinson’s new article “Racial Exhaustion,” which is forthcoming in the Washington University Law Review. Here’s Hutchinson’s abstract:

Contemporary political and legal discourse on questions of race unveils a tremendous perceptual gap among persons of color and Whites. Opinion polls consistently demonstrate that persons of color commonly view race and racial discrimination as important factors shaping their opportunities for economic and social advancement. Whites, on the other hand, often discount race as a pertinent factor in contemporary United States society. Consequently, polling data show that Whites typically reject racial explanations for acute disparities in important socio-economic indicators, such as education, criminal justice, employment, wealth, and health care. Echoing this public sentiment, social movement actors, politicians, and the Supreme Court have all taken a skeptical stance towards claims of racial injustice by persons of color and have resisted demands for tougher civil rights laws and race-based remedies. They have viewed these policies as: (1) unnecessary, given the eradication of racism and the prior implementation of formal equality measures; (2) excessive in terms of substance or duration; (3) futile because the law cannot alter racial inequality; (4) misguided because nonracial factors explain racial disparities; and (5) unfair to Whites and a special benefit for persons of color. Adhering to these beliefs, a majority of the public has reached a point of racial exhaustion.

This Article argues that the public’s racial exhaustion did not recently emerge, and it is a product of a hard-fought and successful battle against racial subjugation. Instead, throughout history, opponents of racial justice measures have invoked this discourse to contest equality measures and to portray the United States as a post-racist society, even when efforts to combat racial hierarchy were in an embryonic state and persons of color lived in extremely vulnerable political, social and economic conditions. To elaborate this claim, this article examines political resistance to civil rights legislation and remedies immediately following the Civil War and during Reconstruction, after World War II and through the Cold War era, and in contemporary political and legal discourse in order to demonstrate the persistence of racial exhaustion rhetoric. This Article then considers how social movement actors, civil rights lawyers and theorists, and scholars interested in the interaction of law and rhetoric could respond to the persistent portrayal of racial egalitarianism as redundant and unfair by dissecting the premise of these claims, placing them in an historical context, and, if necessary, by strategically modifying their arguments to focus on class and other structural barriers that correlate or intersect with racial inequality. Despite the presumptive constitutionality of class-based remedies, political opposition to social welfare policies and the depiction of these programs as handouts to undeserving individuals – including persons of color – might limit the efficacy of economic approaches to racial inequality. Moreover, the intersection of race and poverty suggests that class-based remedies alone might not adequately address racially identifiable material inequity.

It’s a long article and deals with a lot of history and contemporary politics, too — we’re going to be hearing more about this. You can download the article for free here.

Lessons Learned from a White Valedictorian at Morehouse College

By Dr. Marybeth Gasman

 

On May 12, 2008, as I was walking down the street in Atlanta, Georgia, I happened to glance at the newspaper stand.  I was shocked to see the headline “White Valedictorian Makes Morehouse History” on the front page of the Atlanta Journal Constitution.  I have to admit that my initial reaction was “geesh, can’t African Americans have anything of their own?”  However, after thinking about the news and talking with quite a few Morehouse graduates, I changed my mind — at least in part.  Joshua Packwood, from the interview I watched on CNN, seems like a good man with strong intellectual skills.  Morehouse College, the only black college dedicated to the education of African American males in the nation, can be proud of his accomplishments.

 

Thinking about a White Valedictorian at a Black college gives us an opportunity to contemplate what can be learned from this situation. 

 

First, an excellent educational institution can attract the best students regardless of their race and the institution’s racial make-up.  I have long doubted this idea as I have experienced White racism toward Black organizations and institutions again and again. Joshua Packwood’s choice of Morehouse gives a glimmer of hope to the nation that race relations are changing.

 

Second, as Harvard Sociologist Charles Willie said years ago, White students attending Black colleges can help alleviate racial misunderstanding.  Students like Joshua Packwood gain exposure to the diversity within Black culture and in effect, serve as ambassadors to the White community, helping to dispel racist myths.

 

Third, Black colleges nurture and support students regardless of their race.  We would be hard pressed to say this about many historically White colleges and universities and their treatment of Black students.  I know quite a few White students who have attended Black colleges and the majority of them say that they were treated with respect and supported in their pursuit of academic degrees.  

 

Fourth, Whites who complain about African Americans who succeed within historically White institutions, thinking that an African American win is their loss, should take a page from Morehouse College‘s notebook.  Instead of seeing Joshua Packwood’s success as a setback for Blacks, the college’s students and leadership embraced Packwood, publicly acknowledging him as a Morehouse man and expressing their pride.

 

Fifth, although Morehouse College has a long history and strong reputation, there are still many who are not aware of the contributions that Black colleges have made and continue to make in the nation.  Having a “first,” in this case a White valedictorian, brings positive attention to Morehouse and Black colleges as a whole.

 

Despite these lessons learned, I continue to wonder why the past African American valedictorians of Morehouse College haven’t received the same kind of national media attention as Joshua Packwood.  Given the small numbers of African American men graduating from college, each and every one of Morehouse College’s best students ought to be celebrated.

 

Dr. Marybeth Gasman is an associate professor of higher education at the University of Pennsylvania.

AAUW’s Recent Report, Where the Girls Are: The Facts about Gender Equity in Education Sparking a National Debate

By Dr. James Moore, III

In recent popular publications, such as Newsweek and New Republic, the gender equity discourse has changed focused. In these magazines, the authors suggest that girls are no longer educationally disadvantaged, due to their academic successes throughout the educational pipeline. These publications further suggest that boys are now the disadvantaged group, due to their declining academic performance. After reading these publications, one may leave thinking that decades of efforts to improve school outcomes for girls have come at the expense of boys.

Recently, the American Association of University Women (AAUW) unveiled a landmark report entitled, Where the Girls Are: The Facts about Gender Equity in Education Sparking a National Debate. It uses national data (i.e., NAEP scores, SAT scores, ACT scores, and high school grade point averages) to highlight girls’ educational outcomes in the last 35 years. In this report, its authors (Christianne Corbette, Catherine Hill and Andresse St. Rose) focus on the relationships between girls’ and boys’ academic progress. The authors use national data to examine educational trends for these two groups in elementary, secondary, and postsecondary settings.

After reading Where the Girls Are, it is clear that AAUW produced this report to shatter the notion that boys are disadvantaged educationally, because of girls. The report reveals that girls in general have made significant educational gains, as well as boys. There was not any significant differences between the two groups’ education progress, when you examined within group data. However, the report did reveal clear differences based on race/ethnicity and family income. For example, African American and Hispanic students – both girls and boys – scored significantly lower than their White and Asian American counterparts.

Based on these findings, both race and class have once again emerged as salient variables. Like many other studies, I was disappointed that the report did not develop this part of the document. To me, the authors missed an opportunity to expand the discourse beyond issues of girls. How might we expand this discourse to capture the authentic voices of people of color (boys and girls) and low-income populations? How can organizations, such as AAUW, help facilitate this dialogue among educators, researchers, and policy makers? If the report focused only on women and the different ethnic groups in America, what story would the same data tell? And, how would the narrators (or authors) tell the story?

In my opinion, racism and classism are alive and well in American society. I see them play out a lot in the lives of so many. This is clear, based on my research (see my website: http://www/education.osu.edu/jmoore).  I look forward to engaging you in civil dialogue on the aforementioned questions.

 Dr. James Moore, III is director of the Todd Anthony Bell National Resource Center on the African American Male at The Ohio State University.

 

 

 

Honorary Degrees: Jim Crow and the Future

By Alfred Brophy

The blogosphere is lighting up with discussion of Washington University’s decision to award an honorary degree to Phyllis Schlafly. Sometimes those decisions are controversial; at other times, they are something that everyone agrees on. That reminds me of one of my university’s excellent decisions on an honorary degree, which it awarded back in 2006 to art collector and benefactor Paul R. Jones. The University of Delaware houses much of his collection of African American Art.

But first a step back in time to the 1930s Alabama. It was one of Jones’ childhood aspirations to play football for the Crimson Tide. Alas, that was not to be. Instead, he played for Alabama State. In the 1940s, when Jones was a student at Howard University, he applied to the University of Alabama’s law school and was denied admission because of his race. That didn’t stop him, however; he went on to a successful career as a businessman in Atlanta, then to work in the Nixon administration, and even a run for Congress in 1982 (as a Republican). At one point in the 1970s, Dr. Jones was in the federal government’s education department and approved a large grant to the University of Alabama for adult education. He never mentioned his history with the university at that point–he just did something that was forward-looking and positive. Though that did not mean that he had forgotten his history with the university; in fact, he saved the law school’s letter to him.

In 2004 the University of Alabama and Dr. Jones began a partnership that involved a show of some of his art collection in Tuscaloosa; that was followed by a generous gift by friends of the university for a scholarship for needy students in his name. And this culminated in his giving a commencement address in August 2006, along with an honorary degree. Even there, Dr. Jones did not talk about the past; he chose instead to talk about the graduates, their families, and the future. It was a moment of a gesture to make amends for the past and to build something better for the future.

The image above is Romare Bearden’s School Time Bell.

Harper’s Ferry Monument to Hayward Shepard

By Alfred Brophy

I’ve been talking about our memory of the era of slavery some here of late. Perhaps you’ll be interested in this.

Back in the 1930s the United Daughters of the Confederacy put up a statue dedicated to Hayward Shepard, an African American man who was killed at Harper’s Ferry. He was the first person killed in John Brown’s raid.

The monument reads

On the night of October 16, 1859, Heyward Shepard, an industrious and respected colored freeman was mortally wounded by John Brown’s raiders in pursuance of his duties as an employee of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company. He became the first victim of the attempted insurrection.

This boulder is erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Sons of Confederate Veterans as a memorial to Heyward Shepherd, exemplifying the character and faithfulness of thousands of negroes who, under many temptations through subsequent years of war, so conducted themselves that no stain was left upon a record which is the peculiar heritage of the American people, and an everlasting tribute to the best on both races.

Now, why did the UDC put this up? The idea was that if they could show that slaves and free blacks wouldn’t join Brown’s rebellion that slavery wasn’t so bad. If free blacks wouldn’t join, it would show that they were on the side of the slaveholders rather than the violent abolitionists.

This, of course, was controversial. The NAACP protested against it, because it suggested that the slaves accepted their lot and benefited, perhaps even liked, slavery. Of course, while some saw him as devil, an abolitionist nut who fomented Civil War, others saw him as a hero. W.E.B. DuBois proposed a counter-monument to the Heyward Shepard monument in 1932, which would read:

Here / John Brown / Aimed at human slavery / A Blow / That woke a guilty nation. / With him fought / Seven slaves and sons of slaves. / And 4,000,000 freemen / Singing / “John Brown’s body lies a mouldering in the grace / But his Soul goes marching on!” / In gratitude this Tablet is erected / The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People / May 21, 1932.

Still, the town put up the monument. It remained on display until the 1980s when, during renovations, it was removed. You know what? It’s back up again, though this time with a plaque that helps put it into context. I think that’s probably the best possible result: let visitors to Harper’s Ferry know that these sentiments existed and that they were part of an attempt to re-write the history of slavery. Unfortunately, that attempt was pretty successful. And that deserves a post all its own.

If you’re interested in learning more about this, you might enjoy a book by Teresa S. Moyer and Paul A. Shackel called The Making of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park: A Devil, Two Rivers, and a Dream. I wrote a review of it recently for H-Net, which is available here.

The photograph of “John Brown’s Fort” by Marsha Wassel is from the National Park Service’s website on Harper’s Ferry.

Increasing the numbers of scholars is the key

By Lamont Flowers

Diverse: Issues in Higher Education’s interview with Dr. Houston Baker, “Literary Scholar Indicts Some Black Thinkers for Shallow Works,” was very informative in that it enables all of us to think more critically about our work and what is the real impact of our scholarship. The interview also encourages researchers and scholars who focus on the African American experience to consider some of the pressing challenges facing scholarship about African American history and life as well as the role of academic freedom.

More importantly, I believe that the interview uncovers probably a more critical issue that may potentially impact the production of scholarship on African Americans - the underrepresentation of scholars writing about and conducting research on issues related to understanding and improving the quality of life for African Americans. In essence, the interview points clearly to the importance of encouraging scholars, who are able and willing, to mentor the next generation of scholars and problem solvers. Producing and mentoring new scholars will ensure that there will be a variety of people, with different cultural lenses and scholarly approaches, to examine the African American experience in education, housing, politics, economics, criminal justice, music, media, philosophy, etc.

 

I contend that an increase in the number of scholars who study issues related to African American issues and race relations may also improve the number and utility of approaches for enhancing the well-being of the Black community in America. Moreover, this next generation of scholars may also lead to the type of diversity in thinking that may provide the best defense against the myriad of theoretical, evidence-based, scholarly, and practical topics, issues, and concerns that decrease opportunities and defers the dreams of many African Americans.

Dr. Lamont A. Flowers is the Distinguished Professor of Educational Leadership and Executive Director of Charles H. Houston Center for the Study of the Black Experience in Education at Clemson University.

 

 

 

 
 

 

 

 

Merkel on the Nascence of Free Soil Constitutionalism

By Alfred Brophy

We continue to hear lots of talk about antislavery and proslavery law–it’s in part a response to the growing discussion of reparations. William Merkel of Washburn University’s law school has a new article out on “Jefferson’s Failed Anti-Slavery Proviso of 1784 and the Nascence of Free Soil Constitutionalism.” Free Download

Merkel’s abstract reads:

Despite his severe racism and inextricable personal commitments to slavery, Thomas Jefferson made profoundly significant contributions to the rise of anti-slavery constitutionalism. This Article examines the narrowly defeated anti-slavery plank in the Territorial Governance Act drafted by Jefferson and ratified by Congress in 1784. The provision would have prohibited slavery in all new states carved out of the western territories ceded to the national government established under the Articles of Confederation. The Act set out the principle that new states would be admitted to the Union on equal terms with existing members, and provided the blueprint for the Republican Guarantee Clause and prohibitions against titles of nobility in the United States Constitution of 1788. The defeated anti-slavery plank inspired the anti-slavery proviso successfully passed into law with the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. Unlike that Ordinance’s famous anti-slavery clause, Jefferson’s defeated provision would have applied south as well as north of the Ohio River.

You can download the full article here for free.
Alfred Brophy