Audio Report: NPR's Tell Me More
Law professor and author Randall Kennedy is interviewed by Michelle Martin of NPR's "Tell Me More". His new book is titled "Sellout" in which he explores the use of the term which is basically used as a group control mechanism to keep individuals in line with the masses or they risk banishment via this label.
The conversation in the interview turns down the dead end road that I have long warned about - the flaw in mistaking what is POPULAR among a group as what is EFFECTIVE for the group.
The name "Clarence Thomas" (and Ward Connerly) came up as candidates for the label "sellout" based on their opposition to the Affirmative Action program. Michelle Martin made note of the fact that AA is a highly popular among Black people and that indeed both of these men are said to have benefited from the program.
I have taken apart the assumption of the net benefit of Affirmative Action by shifting the argument over to PROPORTIONALITY. Where as the supporters of Affirmative Action point to the gains in college admissions as a result of Affirmative Action programs in certain highly competitive schools it is the proportional context that tells the real story regarding the EFFECTIVENESS of this strategy.
The total college attendance by Black students is still lagging the American average with AA programs in place it is clear that AA is not as comprehensive of a solution as is needed to insure that the maximum amount of our children receive an advanced education that they will need for the 21st century. A more proper accounting of the benefit to Black people would be to enumerate the number of Black 9th graders and then measure the number who get accepted into college and then the number who graduate from college over time. With this perspective in mind it is clear that we should not be content with the benefits of AA as it represents a small drop in the bucket from the bigger challenge that such a broader view presents to us.
More traction can be made by reforming public high schools, strengthening the academic underpinnings of these students and turning them into "college material". This would have the effect of shifting all Black students up one "standard deviation" with respect to their competition.
In the real world AA is applied at schools with competitive admissions policies. This includes Ivy League schools or elite public schools such as the University of Michigan or Berkeley. This represents tens of thousands of Black students per year at the most. The larger opportunity, however, resides at the "wide middle" of Black America. The students applying to these elite schools will eventually go to some college, somewhere as their academic credential will work for them. It is the "Wide Middle" of Black America who are on the cusp of a career operated with a high school diploma in hand or a career that is greatly enhanced via the acquisition of a college degree and the options that are brought forth with.
If the same civil rights community that protests in front of the elite University of Michigan would devote its time upon the "wide middle" of Black America far more benefit would be assumed by the Black community. This is very much in their spirit of "help those who have the least" (where as AA is almost elitist in nature due to who it is focused upon relative to the greater need).
The obvious come back will be: "Well we can do both. The focus upon Affirmative Action and the focus on the 'wide middle' are not mutually exclusive". I concluded via my life experience that when given two equal options - one in which attention is focused upon battling a point of fissure with white folks or one in which there is a strict organic focus on issues within Black America - the Civil Rights oriented Black leadership will do the "racism chasing" every time. It is simply not the case that their attention will be spread equally in a non mutually exclusive manner. We must instead apply COMPREHENSIVENESS as a measure in making our decision on which one to choose.
Thus when we apply the filter of maximum effectiveness in the comparison of two strategies - one must conclude that the POPULAR strategy is not the most EFFECTIVE, COMPREHENSIVE or ENDURING strategy.
The operatives who squander the college careers of the Black students who could have been college graduates operate with impunity. They will point to the few students that they got into elite schools via AA protests as their crowning glory. Who will force them into having the proper perspective on what they have squandered? I have even hear the argument that our "best and brightest leaders come from Ivy League Schools, we can't sever this network". I would take 500,000 Black people who are destined to be middle managers with their degrees from middle of the road state schools than I would take a batch of 20,000 Ivy League trained Blacks who automatically seek their pathway into the upper echelons of Wall Street firms and government. There simply is no comparison regarding the net benefit to Black America.