Monthly Archives: June 2009

The Flawed Logic of Anti-affirmative Action Bake Sales

By Dr. Christopher J. Metzler

metzlerThe Affirmative Action Bake Sale is used by conservative groups on college campuses to further polarize college campuses along racial lines using affirmative action as a hammer. Writing for Fox News, Wendy McElroy said, “Through Affirmative Action Bake Sales, conservative groups on campuses across America are satirically and peacefully spotlighting the injustice of AA programs that penalize or benefit students based solely on gender and race.” Seeking to dramatize the “ills” of affirmative action, the groups charge different prices for baked goods based entirely on race. For example, White and Asian males may be charged $1 for a muffin while Black and Hispanic males might be charged 25 cents.

Recently Bucknell University students held such a bake sale that was shut down by the university. Citing the First Amendment, Bucknell students claimed that their free speech rights were violated. Of course, they conveniently forgot that as students at a private university, the First Amendment simply does not apply. But, the issue goes beyond the technical question of the First Amendment and whether it applies to a private university. Instead, the issue is that students such as those at Bucknell, who put on the bake sale, continue to propagate the myth that only White and Asian males are qualified to be admitted to university study.

First, far too many admissions committees make decisions to admit or deny students based strictly on quantitative factors such as test scores and “standardized” tests. The reality is that in our capitalist society, the more money one has, the more money one can spend on commercial test preparation services. Let us not forget that while the income disparity between Blacks and Whites has changed some, they are not even. Thus, more Whites than Blacks are able to purchase commercial test preparation services, increasing their quantitatives and admissions to colleges and universities.

Second, the Bucknell students chose to ignore completely affirmative action for White men, which is a staple of the admissions process of many colleges and universities. Of course, given that the right wing has so racialized the term affirmative action, they dare not apply it to White men. Instead, it is admission by legacy. Legacy admissions means that colleges and universities reserve places in the class for the children of alumni who have given significant sums of money. The reality is that those admits tend to be overwhelmingly White and overwhelmingly male. In these cases, the only quantitatives that matter are the dollar value of the contribution. Often these legacy admits are outside the regular admissions process and admissions committees are blissfully unaware of them. So, why don’t the Affirmative Action Bake Sales offer a discount for legacy admits?

Third, affirmative action continues to be a divisive issue on college campuses in large part because of the elitism that affects too many universities. Students on far too many college campuses have accepted the notion that Black and Brown students who have been admitted to colleges and universities are academically inferior and could not have been admitted to the exclusive halls of academe but for naked racial preferences. Students sponsoring the Affirmative Action Bake Sale are operating from a superiority complex. The logic of that complex is that they (the predominantly White students) have been admitted strictly on merit and that the Black and Brown students were not. The Affirmative Action Bake Sale is the method by which they seek to further marginalize the Black and Brown students on their campuses. The Black and Brown students are then forced to prove that they belong by denying that affirmative action had anything to do with their admission. Of course, by virtue of the way the conversation is framed, legacy admits have nothing to prove as they are the silent elite.

Fourth, the students who have these bake sales engage in racial profiling. By choosing to offer the discount to Blacks and Hispanics, they are further advancing the stereotypes of Asians as the “model minority,” whose intellectual capabilities are on par with Whites. The assumption being that students are intelligent and thus worthy of admissions based on how close they are to a “white norm” of intelligence.

Fifth, I disagree with the Affirmative Action Bake Sale because I think that such events are ahistorical, race-baiting and political pandering of the most vitriolic kind. Moreover, students who will be our future leaders should be able to engage in serious debate without relying on divisive and trite tactics that are designed to belittle rather than engage those with whom they disagree. This is a valuable skill that they need when entering the real world. Name-calling and identity politics is in large part responsible for the racial divide that still permeates America. The students in this case are choosing to repeat these tactics. However, I do not agree that the students should be silenced in the free market place of ideas.

Finally, I am also deeply disturbed by the way the Bucknell administration chose to shut down the bake sale. Here, the school had the opportunity to mount a spirited defense of affirmative action if it assumes that affirmative action has merit. It squandered that opportunity. Wayne Bromfield, Bucknell’s general counsel wrote that students did not have the required prior permission to hand out the handbills at the cafeteria entrance.  According to Bromfield, permission is required to prevent cross-scheduling and allow management to prepare for “possible reactions” to the events, “including for the safety of those involved.”

In an academic environment, we should never send the message that academic freedom is only free when we agree with the content of the message.

Dr. Christopher J. Metzler is the author of The Construction and Rearticulation of Race in a ‘post-racial’ America and an associate dean at Georgetown University’s School of Continuing Studies.

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Racial and Religious Extremism Rears Its Ugly Head

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By Dr. Elwood Watson

Last month, I wrote a column discussing the racial hostility, paranoia and potential violence that was increasing in America. A month earlier in April, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released a report that attempted to inform Americans about a potential upsurge in right wing extremist violence. While there are some who may continue to deny that such violent acts are occurring, the evidence, it seems, demonstrates otherwise. Once DHS made their memo known to the public, the immediate reaction among many conservative talk show hosts and commentators was one of ridicule, self-righteousness and defensiveness. Some on the political right went as far as to accuse the memo as being misguided, slanderous, and outlandish. It appears that such “supposed overreaction” by the Department of Homeland Security was well-founded.
By now, most Americans are aware of the horrific, outrageous murder of Black security guard Richard Johns by James Von Brunn. Brunn is an 88 year-old White supremacist who, according to a number of media outlets, was deeply involved with right wing organizations. He had spent several years in a federal prison for his violent activities and was no stranger to such fringe activity. In short, he was a dangerous person.
Immediately after the identity of octogenarian Brunn was known, various segments of the conservative right, rather than acknowledge that the seething, hostile, xenophobic, bigoted rhetoric that many of them have espoused was likely contributing to an upsurge in right wing violence, went on the offensive. Unabashed loudmouth and supposed current leader of the Republican Party, Rush Limbaugh and other right wing talk radio hosts made the foolish suggestion that James Von Brunn was a liberal and a “lone wolf.” Limbaugh’s insane accusation was supported by National Review online columnist and occasional USA Today contributor Jonah Goldberg. A number of other conservatives such as conservative pundit Monica Crowley and perennial, possibility self–hating, right wing cheerleader Michelle Malkin also attempted to deflect blame from the political right for the actions of Von Brunn and rather ascribed his irrational violence as the result of the political left. Such behavior by conservative pundits is the epitome of intellectual dishonesty at is worst.
It does not take a rocket scientist to realize that racist, anti-Semitic, and other forms of religious and cultural intolerance have become more commonplace in America. Anyone who has taken the time to peruse a number of political-oriented blogs and websites should be astute to this fact. I, myself, received a scathing, racist, hate-filled, paranoid e-mail from a conservative blogger based on a rational comment I had made last year with a reporter from ABC News.com in regards as to why Oprah Winfrey had decided not to interview to Alaska governor and then vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin during the 2008 presidential election season. While the e-mail did not threaten violence, the searing, irrational, venomous hatred directed toward me and Black people in general was alarming.
Things have become so emotionally charged that even some conservative media pundits have began to take notice. FOX News anchor Shepard Smith, host of the Fox Report, has decried the level of hatred that emanating from a number of people on the right. Earlier this week, Smith went so far as to read some of the letters and e-mails (the ones that were suitable for public airwaves) to give the public an idea of the level of intolerance, especially the anti-Obama rhetoric that is brewing in various circles. As a result of his laudable efforts, Mr. Smith has become the target of hate mail and rallying calls from a number of FOX viewers calling for his firing. The fact is that Smith has the second highest rated show on the network, thus it is highly unlikely he will be terminated anytime soon. For the time being, he is a thorn in the side of FOX’s intense Obama haters. 

To be fair, not all the vehement hatred that is happening is coming from the right of the political spectrum. There are certain segments of the left that are just as deranged in some of the so-called rhetoric they promote to their followers and listeners. They should be denounced as well. Dishonest hate speech is atrocious regardless of who is spouting it.
The murder at the Holocaust museum should not be forgotten. It is the symptom of a more ominous cancer that has slowly but surely affected an increasing segment of a public that is being manipulated by some opportunistic media personalities to believe that they are being increasingly marginalized – educationally, economically, socially, religiously and in other ways. We all must be at the forefront of suppressing and if possible, indeed, prohibiting such a troubling trend. 

Dr. Elwood Watson is a full professor of History and African American Studies at East Tennessee State University. He is the author of several award-winning academic articles, several anthologies and is the author of the book Outsiders Within: Black Women in the Legal Academy After Brown v. Board  (Rowman and Littlefield Publishers Spring 2008).

 

HBCUs a “Land of the Lost”? I Don’t Think So

MBPortraitClose2By Dr. Marybeth Gasman

Today, I came across a blog post written by a colleague who has worked in the HBCU community for many years. He titled the post Land of the Lost — after the Sid and Marty Krofft TV show and more recently, the movie.  At first glance, I thought the post was a review of the movie and was ready to move on to something more interesting.  However, as I read down the page, I noticed his post compared HBCUs to the Land of the Lost.  I had to keep reading given my research.

In the post, which I encourage you to read and respond to, my colleague, based on his experience working at HBCUs and working for affiliate organizations, is highly critical of these important institutions.  He compares HBCU presidents to the tyrannical dinosaurs in the movie, HBCU faculty to the Sleestack (lizard-like creatures), and students to Pakuni (I’ll let him explain that comparison).  At first, I was enraged given what I know about stereotypes of HBCUs and their leaders — admittedly, I’m still slightly enraged.

However, after re-reading the post several times, he makes some interesting points (albeit his criticisms could be lodged against any institution regardless of racial history).  With regard to college presidents, he calls for more transparency and more open debate.  I agree that open debate and clear processes should always be the goal on a college campus.  With regard to faculty, he points out the heavy teaching loads at HBCUs and how these loads stifle creativity.  Although HBCUs are primarily teaching institutions, it would benefit these colleges and universities if they more readily encouraged research and exempted faculty from some of their teaching duties to pursue research (funded and unfunded). With regard to students, although my colleague believes in their potential, he thinks they need to more deeply explore this potential — defying peer and parental expectations.  This could be said for all college students, by and large.

The problem my colleague has, as well as others who heavily critique HBCUs, is that he fails to realize that the problems with leadership, heavy teaching loads, and unexplored potential are issues at all institutions.  Yes, these issues manifest at HBCUs, but they also surface at historically White institutions and have for centuries.  Merely pointing to problems within the HBCU context as if they are race-based problems is dangerous.

A perpetual believer in what is good and right, my colleague ends with the following:  “HBCUs must be relentlessly creative in making education relevant and continue to be a fearless advocate for those whom society would consign to the abyss of hopelessness.”

Now this is something about which we can both agree.

Check out Land of the Lost and participate in an open debate at http://dlpeterkin.wordpress.com/2009/06/16/land-of-the-lost/

An associate professor of higher education at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Gasman is the author of Envisioning Black Colleges: A History of the United Negro College Fund (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007) and lead editor of Understanding Minority Serving Institutions  (SUNY Press, 2008).

Black Males Need the “Old School Approach”

By Jim Ewers

The behavior of some Black males has always been called into question. Adjectives like intimidating, aggressive and rude have been labels that have been affixed to us for as long as I can remember. It seems at times in today’s one-strike-and-you’re-out society that these aforementioned adjectives trump our education and our socio-economic status. It is said by some that no matter the education, the wealth or fame that we as Black men achieve, we are all placed in the same gumbo of indifference. I have often wondered why we carry this cross. Growing up in the South my parents wanted for me what all parents, Black and White, wanted for their children and that was for me to be successful.

This attainment of success was also coupled with a code of civilized behavior. In some ways, I believe, Black parents back in the day thought that appropriate behavior was just as important as being successful. I believe their thinking was that it didn’t matter how successful you were if you didn’t know how to behave. In fact, I am not sure that you can have one without the other. There was really an unspoken rule in my neighborhood that said you represented your family, your neighborhood and yourself. As a result, we wouldn’t just come out and impugn our family’s name. For example, having it said in the neighborhood that you committed some infraction was simply unthinkable. There was a time during my elementary school days that I used some inappropriate language. Word spread in the neighborhood, and I was completely ashamed. It never happened again.

Unfortunately some Black men made some missteps and exercised poor judgment. These errors in principles can be attributed to several factors, some of which are well documented. What has occurred over time is the creation of a negative perception about Black men. So, for far too many people, all Black men are to be feared. While some may disagree, this is what we wake up to each day. The pressure is on to do our best and not to cave into the stereotype of what people think we are. Despite the positive actions and the dignified behavior, there are those who still cast aspersions. Take for example the White woman in the Philadelphia area who said that two Black men kidnapped her and her daughter. The alleged victim gave police a convincing story, and off the media ran with it. I won’t spend a lot of time on this, but what got the media’s attention? Was it the kidnapping or was it that two Black men did it? I will let you answer the question.

Black parents and grandparents who are raising Black boys face some particular challenges in the new millennium. It seems to me that there should be some “old school” rules implemented. First off, Black boys must know who is in charge, and it is not them. We as parents cannot compromise on discipline. We must be parents and not friends to our male children. Furthermore, we cannot let technology babysit our kids, thinking that the latest gadget will satisfy them. Nothing takes the place of human interaction between parents and children. Black boys need nurturing from their mothers and guidance and discipline from their fathers. You can add more to this equation as I won’t quibble with you. I can remember when your parents said no, and the answer was no! There was no equivocating on the answer no. Black parents back in the day did not have to explain themselves. Go back to the old school!

The expression “it takes a village to raise a child” was practiced back in the day. I was chastised by adults in my neighborhood even before I got home for my transgressions. Obviously the times have changed. We must become more visible in our schools as volunteers. If we want to know what is happening in our schools, then we must go and find out. Put on a school badge and volunteer your time. You will feel good and your child will feel better. The library was a staple in my neighborhood. We must foster and promote reading in our homes. Lastly, but most importantly, we as Black parents must ensure that our boys have a spiritual foundation. Sundays must return to the Sundays of old when we went to church and had dinner together as a family. We can change the prognosis for our Black boys if we go back to the “old school”.

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Trading an Education for Thug Life

By Dr. Christopher J. Metzler

metzlerIn the past several weeks, we have witnessed “two Black men in a Cadillac” being accused of kidnapping a White woman. The truth was that the woman had voluntarily gone to Disney World and could not tell her husband. He would find it hard to believe that she would go to Disney. It was easier, she reasoned, that he and indeed the world would believe that Black men in a Cadillac would kidnap her. After all, according to her logic, we have a reputation for that.

We also learned that yet another plain clothes Black police officer was shot by one of his colleagues who mistook him for a criminal. We also mourned the shooting and killing of a security officer at the Holocaust Museum by a White supremacist. Leading me to ask the question: “Where can a brother go to get his reputation back?”

Ever since “Birth of a Nation” it has been popular to portray Black men as thugs and criminals.  Despite the passage of time, these image have not faded from memory. Instead, they have been used to justify racial profiling of suspects leading to the crimes of “Driving While Black,” “Walking While Black” and “Shopping While Black.”

These stereotypes apply to Black men no matter our position, education or social status. The impact of this societal marker is a sullied reputation in the minds of society as a whole. Thus, the fact that we have achieved great success and/or education does not exempt us from having our reputation come into question.

Let’s be clear that Whites are not exclusively responsible for the racial caricature of Black men as criminals.

Also bearing responsibility are some hip hop artists and scores of young Black men who would rather show us the crack of their behinds than the power of their brains. The result is a reputation for violence and base vulgarity that is coming close to being beyond repair.

First, there are simply too many White people in America, who, with reckless abandon, act on their closely held racialized stereotypes of Black men, resulting in our murder and further marginalization. What is even more disturbing is that the White people of whom I write simply refuse to admit their fidelity to the racial stereotypes. Instead, they choose to blame the routine occurrence of the murder of Black plain clothes officers by their White colleagues as “mistaken identity.” If this is to be believed, why don’t Black plain clothes officers mistake White plain clothes officers as criminals in as high a number?

Second, Susan Smith, Charles Stewart and other racially conscious criminals understand that their stories have more currency with law enforcement if the alleged perpetrator is a Black man. To be sure, both Tawana Brawley and Crystal Gail Mangum blamed their assaults on White men and both lied. Both women relied on stereotypes. The question, however, is whether their reliance on stereotypes has sullied the reputation of White men in general. Do people see White men more so as criminals now as they did before the allegations? Are Black women likely to claim that they have been abducted by White men in order to cover up a crime? Do White women clutch their pursues when White men are in the elevator with them? Most likely not. This is because in the United States few people have internalized stereotypes of White men as prone to random violence as a result of their race.  They have, however, uncritically done so with Black men.

Third, some hip hop artists, athletes and other Black celebrities are also complicit in perpetuating the stereotype of Black man as criminal and thug. One need only look at the penis-centric image of the gangsta life purveyed by the people of whom I write. They are among the most crotch-holding, gyrating images anywhere.  There is no excuse for the violent lyrics, misogyny and overreliance on the feigned masculinity they use to make their living. Their profanity-based brand of Black male masculinity is nothing more than a modern day reincarnation of the images that we fought so hard against in the Jim Crow era. The plantation has gone digital, virtual and viral. So while they crank out their latest hit, they also sell out the reputation of Black men knowingly and willingly and then decry racial profiling. Have they no shame?

Fourth, young Black boys and men have bought into the Black man as thug reputation in alarming numbers. Many of our young Black boys are choosing to fail in school because they confuse masculinity with thug life. For them it is not about how hard you study, but how hard you are. Half-dressed and half-educated, they enter a world that has already decided their fate based on a reputation that is part racist, part undeserved and fully difficult to overcome.  The reputation of Black men as strong, responsible, intelligent, contributing members of a sometimes hostile American society is close to extinction.

So, where does a Brother go to get his reputation back?

Dr. Christopher J. Metzler is the author of The Construction and Rearticulation of Race in a ‘post-racial’ America and an associate dean at Georgetown University’s School of Continuing Studies.

Understanding the “Tools of Whiteness” (Notes from AERA, Part 2)

By Emery Petchauer

petchauerA common figure in teacher education is that roughly 90 percent of public school teachers in the United States identify as White. As the percentage of ethnic minority students continues to rise, teacher training and professional development often include diversity training or a focus on multicultural education. Alternative routes into teaching such as Teach for America, which place teachers most often into “urban” (read: ethnic minority) classrooms, also devote a significant amount of training time to these areas. Though this focus on diversity in professional education is a good starting point, I often think that it is a major error in reasoning to think that the mere existence of it will affect teachers in any meaningful way.

These currents in teacher education, in my estimation, are what make the work of Dr. Bree Picower of New York Universityso important. Her work illustrates how some white preservice teachers actively maintain dominant racial hierarchies in the midst of multicultural training by using what she calls “Tools of Whiteness.” This means that when white preservice teachers encounter ideas, theories, or perspectives that might cause them to re-examine notions of privilege, power, or oppression, there are systematic ways that they can actively resist doing so. 

The phrase “Tools of Whiteness” is particularly revealing when we consider the social mechanisms that buttress dominate (and dominating) ideologies such as white supremacy. Tools such as hammers and screwdrivers are small items with even smaller counterparts (nails, screws), but they are the fundamental units that make sophisticated and towering structures resist forces that might alter them. Similarly, it is unexamined assumptions and taken-for-granted notions that maintain complex ideologies.

In the realm of teacher education, Dr. Picower illustrates through empirical research how Tools of Whiteness generate from three main areas: teachers’ emotional experiences, existing dominant racial ideologies, and performances of identity. In other words, when teachers are challenged to think beyond their current white-normative ideologies, they draw from these three areas to avoid, refute, or subvert issues that would have them do otherwise. Findings such as these illustrate the important point that it is less passive resistance and more active protection that sustain dominant ideologies in teacher education.

It is important to note that it is not the intent of this research to demonize teachers who hold such views nor suggest that all phenotypically white teachers hold them. Essentially, the concern is for both the students and teachers. Paulo Freire reminds us that oppression dehumanizes both the oppressed andthe oppressor. In this way, having a better understanding of Tools of Whiteness helps teacher educators better strategize how to create learning experiences and curricula that will enable their preservice teachers to see the inadequacies and inaccuracies of their views and the need to develop more inclusive ones.

Related Links:

New York Collective of Radial Educators

Social Justice Teacher Plan Book

Dr. Emery Petchauer is an assistant professor of education at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania; his current research includes teacher preparation for ethnic minority students particularly at HBCUs and how involvement in hip-hop implicates students’ educational approaches, experiences, and lives.

 

Intellect and Discipline: The Keys to a Successful Academic Career

By Dr. Marybeth Gasman

I have a good friend who is the most brilliant individual I know.  He has a mind that most of us would kill for — at least most academics would.  He is well-read, possessing a deep, almost stunning, knowledge of diverse subjects.  He thinks in innovative and refreshing ways.  He also has the “proper” educational background to succeed as a professor.  In fact, given what is often valued in society, he could go just about anywhere with his three Ivy League degrees.  What is the problem you might ask?  He lacks discipline!  He is fascinated by everything, yet easily bored.

I typically feel confident in my intellect.  However, I did have a professor in graduate school once tell me, “Marybeth, you may not be the smartest person, but you work harder than anyone I know.”  Of course, he was probably right no matter how much the comment stung.  He had a point now that I think about it.  One can be wonderfully, almost beautifully intelligent, but it doesn’t amount to much unless you are disciplined. 

Often students and faculty members will ask me — “How on earth can you be so productive?”  The secret is discipline.  As an academic, you must find time to write and I have learned over the course of my career that you need to compartmentalize your days.  There is always something to do — ideas to explore — and your work will spill over into every aspect of your life if you let it. 

Work expands (read that in a book once and firmly believe it).  So, what do I do?  I write every day but Saturday.  During the week, I usually begin at 9 a.m. and write (and do research) until roughly 2 p.m.  I schedule all meetings and teaching after 2 p.m. unless absolutely necessary. On Sundays, I write in the evenings after my daughter goes to sleep.  I’m not saying everyone needs to do this — but you need a routine, you need discipline.

Why this writing schedule and why this discipline?  As I explained to another  good friend the other day, most academics have a mission that they work toward fulfilling — they live life for a bigger reason than themselves.  I am one of these folks.  I don’t live merely for material possessions, but instead I thrive on the exploration of ideas and the solving of problems.  I consider research a mystery and writing the pathway to solving a mystery.  I am not a dreamer but a doer!  Without this kind of passion and discipline, intellect will get you and more importantly, society nowhere. 

I tell my doctoral students, as well as those masters and undergraduate students interested in a faculty career, that crafting a workable routine that is rooted in discipline will help them succeed.  Having a sense of discipline also means knowing when to say “no” — this is especially important for women and people of color who tend to be asked more than others to do service-related work in the academy.  Having discipline also means learning how much time to spend on teaching and advising.  These areas are probably my favorite part of my job, but I realized long ago that being productive in terms of publications gives you a stronger voice in the academy — a voice that leads to more freedom in the classroom and a greater ability to take care of and advocate for your students.

Lastly, discipline means knowing what you are good at and focusing on that area.  Too often academics try to be good at everything — becoming a ‘jack of all trades, master of none’.  We forget that as professors we have a lifetime ahead of us to explore new ideas.  Focusing on a few ideas at a time — becoming an expert in one or two areas — works to our advantage.  Plus, no one likes a “know it all”!

So back to my friend mentioned at the beginning of this post.  I am working diligently to help him increase his level of discipline.  I’m modeling good behavior.  Hoping that the issue is nurture not nature at play because “A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste.”

An associate professor of higher education at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Gasman is the author of Envisioning Black Colleges: A History of the United Negro College Fund (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007) and lead editor of Understanding Minority Serving Institutions  (SUNY Press, 2008).