The most frightening thing about this victimology cult is that it leads directly to the other obstacle to constructive discussion of Affirmative Action in our present moment, which is the separatist strain in modern African-American thought.
Nothing illustrates this better than "Afrocentrist History", for example, primarily founded upon a fragile assemblage of misreadings of classical texts to construct a scenario under which Ancient Egypt was a "black" civilization (was Anwar Sadat a "brother"???), raped by the Ancient Greeks who therefore owed all notable in their culture to them. Professional classicists easily point out the errors in these claims, only to have their proponents dismiss them as "racists" for having even asked the question. Indeed, to insist upon facts ÷ or apparently, to master the complex classical languages which the original documents were written in ÷ is "inauthentic". Yet these people are respectfully addressed as "Professor" by gullible students, and an eminent black undergraduate profiled in a recent issue of Ebony cited a book of this kind of history as the most important one she had read that year. Meanwhile, black student associations invite unthinking, anti-Semitic zealots of the Nation of Islam to university campuses, black students coming away saying that the speaker "had some good things to say", unfazed by the ignorant xenophobia and sexism.
Like the victimology cult, this separatist current also puts a stranglehold on true engagement with the Affirmative Action issue. It is negative, rather than positive, evidence which reveals this. In meetings and conversations on Affirmative Action at Berkeley, what is consistently missing is any sustained discussion of how we might bring black students' scores up to par. One may not agree with positions like mine, but such problems are at least worth discussing if only to be refuted, especially since most of the problems have been brought up by others, many African-American, long before. Nevertheless, one can sit through entire two-hour meetings of concerned faculty and administrators about how to achieve diversity on campus with none of these issues ever so much as mentioned, in favor of endless talk about "outreach", as if most Affirmative Action had been going to people difficult to "reach". At the end of the day, one perceives a consensus that the sheer presence of minority faces at Berkeley outweighs all other considerations by a wide margin, and that as long as there is some cut-off point in scores and GPA below which even minorities are not admitted, all talk of merit or excellence is, at worst, racist, or at best ÷ and it is this which I find most alarming ÷ utterly unimportant.
I believe that it is the separatist current which makes these pressing issues seem so utterly marginal to black Affirmative Action fans. For one, the determined unreflectiveness smacks of "Afrocentric Historians"' dismissal of reasoned argument. After a while one gets the feeling that the notion of looking into the issue any further than "diversity at all costs" is considered to issue from another world, even among people who constitute some of the world's most eminent thinkers. Discussion is instead carefully limited to a small set of endlessly reiterated declarations ÷ "Athletes and alumni's kids have been slipping in the back door for years", "I remember when you barely saw a brown face on campus and I'm afraid we're on our way back to that", "Ward Connerly just wanted to ride Pete Wilson's coattails to power", etc.. I refuse to believe, for the sake of the dignity of these advocates, that they sincerely believe that the issue has been addressed in any honest, truly constructive fashion. However, the blissful comfort with such patently incomplete, evasive, line-in-the-sand argumentation can only stem from a sense of unaccountability to the rules of enlightened exchange.
Separatism perverts this debate in a more fundamental way, however. The terms set for the discussion are so transparently simplistic that one is forced to conclude of intelligent people that some unstated conviction is for some reason being held back from open address.
I have reluctantly come to suspect that the conviction in question is this one: a quiet but fundamental sense among many African-Americans of influence that the black student who aces the SAT and tolerates nothing less than top grades is stepping outside of what it is to be a proper African-American.
This is a depressing charge to make, but the blank expression on these advocates' faces when issues of class or merit are ever brought up even politely, as if someone had brought up wallpapering technique or the latest dinosaur finds in Mongolia, admits no other explanation. In short, we are seeing the adult manifestation of black children's distrust of the "nerd"; namely, a sentiment that even middle class black America, at the pain of losing its essential blackness, should only be expected to produce so many of them. Nothing makes this clearer than the fact that I have heard not a single word of congratulations for the 255 African-American students who were offered admission to UC Berkeley this spring.
As it happens, a week after I first wrote this, one of the black students involved in recruiting black prospectives explicitly confirmed my suspicion. When I asked her why no one seemed to be terribly excited about the black students who did make it in, the student responded that there was a general fear that black students who performed at such a high level would be unconcerned with nurturing an African-American presence at Berkeley. In other words, Affirmative Action was instituted to allow African-Americans to surmount the legacy of disenfranchisement and perform at the same level as whites, but victimology and separatism have since become so pervasive that the black student who bears out the intentions of the policy and attains this performance level is now suspected of being a sell-out.
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The essence of the issue at the moment is this. Increasing proportions of thinking people, as well as the general public, have come to feel the way I do about how Affirmative Action was operating at UC Berkeley and beyond. The reason the policy was so easily toppled at the UC schools in 1995 was because Affirmative Action advocates had become so serene about the wisdom of the policy that the only argument they saw fit to level against its abolition was "diversity" ÷ i.e. headcounts above all ÷ an argument which neglects too many pressing aspects of the issue to be compelling to anyone but the converted.
For a genuine discussion to take place, I fervently hope that at least some faculty and administrators might open themselves up to the possibility that lowering quantitative standards was justifiable thirty years ago, but had come to no longer be the wisest way of achieving diversity on elite campuses. Many people are unlikely to ever see it that way. However, if there is the slightest chance that the ban on Affirmative Action at University of California schools be reversed as such people would like, then the only possible way this will happen is for Affirmative Action advocates to begin openly explaining why, in their opinion, middle class minority students ought be admitted according to different standards than white students. Their task will be to hold forth on this issue as explicitly, ceaselessly, and passionately as they wield the impotent "diversity" argument today ÷ and if they find themselves uncomfortable doing so, to open themselves up to what that might mean.
Whatever the outcome, however, must the 255 African-American admits this spring be regarded as marginal freaks? I hereby salute these students as signs of progress in the project Americans of all races have been engaged in since 1964. These young African-Americans are models for the future.