NewBlackMan: ‘Affirmative Action,’ ‘Black’ GPAs and the Discourse(s) of Black Intellectual Inferiority

‘Affirmative Action,’ ‘Black’ GPAs and the Discourse(s) of Black Intellectual Inferiority

by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan

The racial culture wars (i.e. the demonization of black students) are once again raging on college campuses. A recent study authored by Peter Arcidiacono, Ken Spenner, and Esteban M. Aucejo concludes that African American students are less qualified and academically prepared to succeed at Duke University. “What Happens After Enrollment? An Analysis of the Time Path of Racial Differences in GPA and Major Choice” cites evidence of African Americans switching from science (STEM) majors to easier liberal arts majors as evidence for a lack of preparation.

According to a group of Duke Alumni, “The study opens with a bold statement that affirmative action admissions in higher education allow for the college admission of minority students who have ‘weak’ preparation for college-level work. This implies that students of color are not as intelligent or prepared as their white counterparts.” The study is thus not simply an assault on affirmative action and the struggle for diversity on college campuses, but an effort to reassert notions of white superiority. “What many people of color discovered upon entering those previously closed corridors was not white superiority but, for the most part, white mediocrity. Now, to preserve such a system, what is often brought up is the mediocrity of blacks and other groups of color who enter,” writes Lewis Gordon. “What is not brought up, however, is the group of blacks and brown people who were excluded on the basis of their excellence. The prevailing view in predominantly white institutions about such candidates is fear of whether such candidates are ‘controllable.’” Leaving readers with the conclusion that blacks are not controllable (and thus not desirable), the study has dangerous implications.

In relying on and working from a series of stereotypes and accepted narratives, the study fails to answer a number of questions that points to both its deficiencies and its danger:

How does the study define blackness; does it differentiate between first generation African immigrants or students whose family have been in the United States? Does it account for class differences? In talking about SAT courses, and preparation, how does it account for educational inequalities, such as differential resources, access to SAT preparation courses, and the availability of advanced placement courses and countless other examples that point to the ways in which racism produce an uneven playing field?

How does the study account for extracurricular activities, demands of work, student involvement, and engagement with the community? Are there differences between different disciplines? How does it account for the ways that the demands of life, and the potential involvement of students as organizers, community leaders, athletes, artists, and active citizens differs between the sciences and the liberal arts, and the potential impact on grades? How does it explain high rate of entry for black students in STEM majors and how does it account for high exit rates?

In failing to actually talk with students and learn from their experiences, in an effort to understand how the institutions and higher education is potentially failing, the authors instead explain once again put the onus back on black students. Offering a narrative that focuses on “qualifications,” “work ethic,” educational unpreparedness, the authors not only deploy a dominant white racial frame that consistently images whites as superior and deserving, and blacks as inferior and therefore undeserving, but erases the meaningful ways that racism and white privilege operate in contemporary society

The study works from a premise that sciences are harder, demand more study time, and are more demanding; the evidence provided for each of these claims is lower grades amongst students despite greater academic preparation. The authors argue at great lengths – “and perhaps related to the differences in grading practices, students are working harder in natural science and economics classes and perceive these classes to be more challenging than classes in the humanities and social sciences”—that African American students are fleeing from harder classes and majors because they cannot handle them. Without any evidence, such claims should give pause on a number of levels. The assumptions here are extensive as the authors provide little evidence that these classes are harder or more demanding; the authors merely recycle the assumptions that Schwarz Reflection Principle and Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle are far more challenging to students than understanding the use of metaphors by Shakespeare and Ellison, analyzing Ferdinand de Saussure’s idea of signifier and signified within The Matrix, or applying the theories of Karl Marx, Max Weber and Walter Rodney to globalization.

Continue reading @ NewBlackMan: ‘Affirmative Action,’ ‘Black’ GPAs and the Discourse(s) of Black Intellectual Inferiority.

Lewis Gordon: The Problem With Affirmative Action | Truthout

The Problem With Affirmative Action

Monday 15 August 2011

by: Lewis R. Gordon, Truthout | Op-Ed

(Photo: _Davo_)

Henry Louis Gates Jr., the famed African-American literary scholar and director of the Du Bois Institute at Harvard University, recently reflected the following in an interview on National Public Radio: If it weren’t for affirmative action, he would not have been admitted to Yale University, regardless of how high his credentials were and he would not have had the opportunities to demonstrate his talent over the past four decades.(1)

Gates’ admission reflects a fundamental problem with affirmative action. It works. I had the opportunity to reflect on that out loud in a discussion at the Race and Higher Education conference in Grahamstown last month when I asked: “Are there no mediocre white people in South Africa? Is every white person hired, every white person offered admission to institutions of learning, an excellent candidate?”

My rhetorical question was premised upon what Gates and many other highly achieved blacks know and that is the myth of white supremacy is the subtext of the “qualifications” narrative that accompanies debates on affirmative action.

When I was tenured at Brown University, the process required evaluations of my work from five referees. Expected performance was a published monograph, several articles, satisfactory teaching, service and signs of international recognition. My dossier had the following: three monographs (one of which won a book award for outstanding work on human rights in North America), an edited book, a co-edited book, 40 articles (several of which had gone in reprint in international volumes), two teaching awards and service that included heading a committee that recruited 23 scholars of color to the university. The process for my promotion and tenure was dragged out because of continued requests for more referees. The number grew to 17.

There was a comparable white candidate in the philosophy department. He also supposedly worked in existentialism, one of my areas of expertise. His dossier? A contract for his dissertation and a few articles. His case was successful. His contracted dissertation was published several years later. He has since then not published a second book. He is now a full professor at that institution. Over the years, I have only met one person in his field who knew of and spoke well of his work. That person was a classmate of his in graduate school.

Was affirmative action necessary for my promotion and tenure? Yes. But as should be evident in this example and no doubt Gates’ and many others, there is another truth. Was investment in white supremacy necessary for less than stellar whites to be promoted? Yes.

Affirmative action, which brought people of color to the table to learn first-hand about the level of performance of their white predecessors and contemporaries, stimulated a reflection on standards in many institutions. As more people of color began to meet inflated standards, what were being concealed were the low standards available to the whites who preceded them (and no doubt many who continue to join them as presumed agents of excellence).

To continue reading click here: The Problem With Affirmative Action | Truthout.