Re-Engineering Affirmative Action

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Do Black lives really matter? Is that what we believe or is that just a slogan?

Affirmative Action is not just a slogan. it is real. Real kids, smart, hard working kids get into colleges to which they could not have imagined applying decades ago. Since the mid-1960s, both from legislation and from the general will of the voting public, African-American kids have been accepted much more frequently at major public and private institutions.

What is the justification? Shouldn’t a White kid who does just as well, or perhaps even just a bit better get into Harvard or Yale at the same rate as a Black kid? Well–maybe. It may be time to ease up on Affirmative Action. The condition of course is whether American society feels that it has sufficiently repaid African-Americans for the disadvantages that it created during Reconstruction, Jim Crow, Segregation and, it goes without saying, slavery. African-Americans (if you look it up, substitute “Negro” in any older legislation) were simply not allowed to apply for state colleges and were ignored by most private institutions.

Affirmative Action began in the 1960s. Democrats, with the help of moderate Republicans, (before the Koch Brothers began the “primary-ing” moderate Republicans and financially supporting Neo-Fascist candidates) were responsible. The refusal and and deliberate denial of had opportunity in every area of Black life, not just higher education, not to mention slavery before that, resulted in an enormous generational disadvantage.

That legislation happened 60 years ago. Some will ask: when does it end? It must end one day. We have already decided that America’s higher education will not have quotas, which work against as well as help individuals. So now the question becomes…when will a lawsuit brought by a White student against Black student or against the university, indicate that, this time, restitution seems to have already been made? The best answer is the hope that one day we will legitimately ask: why are we doing this–because there are already so many African-Americans are already professionals

There are other questions about opportunity in America. Take, for example, higher education in medicine. Last year we graduated about 20,200 medical students. But the residency match numbers show that at least 32,000 spots were available to fill. In other words, while it may be true that a White student was not accepted, a student or individual from a foreign country willing to take that residency, did get an opportunity. These foreign students are great, and many are better than U.S. applicants. But what about qualified American students who want to go into medicine?

It is time that we stopped catering to specific Black students and started filling up the basket. We need more qualified Black engineers and mathematicians, chemists, teachers, pharmacists. We need to decide what we need and take some of those Black students who don’t get into the number one law school in Michigan and see to it that they, and more, get into one of the other four law schools in Michigan. We need more nurses and medical tech specialists. Let’s do what we do in public health. Give them a Masters degree in return for several years of public service in an area of the country where we need specialists.

The biggest problem is not the number of exceptionally qualified med students we have. The problem in the African-American community is establishing excellent K-12 education, improving the graduation rates and increasing the number of graduates who actually do go on to higher education. Then we need to close the gap with revenue-producing jobs that enable two-year or four-year graduates to earn a decent living. Affirmative Action, in other words, should be an all-encompassing effort to increase the minimal living standards of young men and women so that they can dedicate themselves to learning for their early years.

We can direct the efforts of the school system in every area that has deficiencies, children who cannot learn for some reason, towards assistance of whatever kind is necessary to keep that student moving on in the system, and not grades without learning, but whenever possible, real growth. Those students who simply cannot learn must be given early on the kinds of courses that will give them an opportunity to learn skills that will earn them a living. A short generation ago, a skilled carpenter, bricklayer or plumber could make a good living and send kids off to college without bankruptcy or huge overhanging debt.

This must be the new Affirmative Action. Smart kids will become chemistry professors or pharmacists or dentists or lawyers if they don’t get into med school. But more African American kids who are medium bright must go to college. African-American kids who simply cannot keep up must be directed into a profession and have an apprenticeship for as long as it takes. This is restitution. A good living for African-American kids, by fixing your plumbing, if it be necessary. As long as it takes…we owe every Black child a real opportunity. Yes, we need more plumbers and fewer failed college football players. There is no large demand for college football players with no college education.

One of our key demands over the next decade is that our young Black athletes, and there are plenty of them, should first qualify to enter college, meet the standards for going through college and obtaining a degree and then maintaining a grade point average in a specific field, even if it only be physical education. White athletes should have the same standards. College football coaches should be paid not on the percentage of games they win but the percentage of team members who graduate in their specialty. The coach of the main state university college football team is often the highest paid public employee in the state. I want to see more physically fit Black Americans in suits and ties on buses and driving cars to work, not in pads and helmets and shorts and tennis shoes.

Let’s stop for just a minute to remind ourselves why we are having this discussion. We should not need to remind White citizens of this country that Blacks were excluded not merely from state colleges, but from drinking fountains, seating in bus depots and on buses and deprived of the use of restrooms that Whites would use. Or that across the Southern states of this country from 1896 through 1917, a Black man was lynched on an average of every four days? Do we need to rub our noses in the despicable conduct of simply average White Americans up to the middle of the last century? Many of our parents were cowards and others were bigoted racists of greater or lesser degree. And probably one other group simply never saw a Black person and so never realized how terrible and desperate their lives were made to be. And they didn’t want to know. We must know. And change.

As we go on, especially now, with six pro-Conservative justices on the Supreme Court, and with a nation that is divided between good citizens and Neo-Fascists, primed with misinformation, deluged with Right-Wing-radio racist propaganda, Affirmative Action lawsuits will be more common and more contentious. But perhaps as the younger generation begins to vote in a more Liberal, more progressive, more interactive style of politics and social activity, Affirmative Action will merely become a thing of the past.

In the meantime, let us think of Affirmative Action as a whole series of actions that society can take to increase the education, income, lifestyle, and general well being and prosperity of African-Americans–not simply a tug-of-war about which student gets a slightly better education in the law or in medicine. Let’s expand our horizons to include those among us who need our attention the most. It won’t be Janie or Marquis with a 3.75 average. It will be DeAndrea with a 2.5 and working hard to keep up. She needs us and, boy, do we need her. The careers and professions and jobs that we leave unfilled are growing daily. That is where we need to focus.

Why is the “first” Black man to graduate from a university or a law school so significant? It’s pretty simple. It is because it is still happening. The first Black man to get a degree in his family. The first Black girl to go to college from her family. But, more and more, it isn’t a “first” and when that becomes more common, we won’t need Affirmative Action.

That is not how it is today. The average African-American family has a net worth of only ten percent of that of the average White American family. And the average household in general is earning far less than is necessary to break even with the cost of living in almost every state. if you have assets in your household to fall back on that are merely ten percent of the average White family, then you need some affirmative action. For now, we need to re-engineer and re-establish and expand a strong social support system that will merit the name Affirmative Action.