Age of Awareness
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Age of Awareness

Affirmative Action for the White, Wealthy and Privileged! The Bogus Myth of So-Called Meritocracy!

The following piece is a recent co-authored interview/article that took place between me and Mr. Terry Howard

The college admissions scandal, in which 50 people including celebrities have been indicted for scheming to get the children of wealthy parents into top schools. It involves parents who, prosecutors allege, bribed and cheated their kids’ way into prestigious universities.

A mother’s remorse: My daughter received multiple mailings from Stanford, Harvard, Yale and other prestigious schools based on her high SAT scores as a 10th grader. Her dream was to apply to Stanford. She decided to focus on academics and her musical instrument, and practiced hours each day in order to achieve a skill level high enough to be accepted via auditions into the most competitive youth orchestra in the entire southeast United States. She focused on volunteer work with a group providing music enrichment to under-privileged children and started attending a state school as a dual-enrollment student when she was a senior in high school. Her academics were stellar, and her final SAT scores were exceptional (good enough to earn her the same scholarship that valedictorians get in our state). She was contacted for interviews at Stanford, Harvard, and Princeton, as well as several other prestigious schools but she was devastated to receive rejections from those schools that had given her some hope. As a parent, I am angry! We spent so much time and energy on her applications and extra activities. We are just a middle-class family, but it was an amazing idea to dream that our daughter could get accepted to one of these schools. Seeing the news yesterday made me sick to my stomach. All the hard work that my daughter did was never going to be enough to overcome the privilege that those kids are born with. I tried as hard as I could as a parent to try to level the playing field for her but it turns out it is much more unequal than I ever could have imagined. — A white mom, March 13, 2019

Writers Dr. Elwood Watson and Mr. Terry Howard weighed in on the scandal with their answers to some relevant questions:

If you could meet face-to-face with the mother described above what would you say to her?

TERRY: Truth is that I did meet with the mom above and admit to difficulty in finding the best words to console her. Although she probably needed a listening ear more than anything else, I was so moved by this story that I decided to contact Dr. Elwood Watson, whose work in the area of race has been extraordinary. He agreed to co-author this article with me.

What, if anything, surprised you about this breaking news?

ELWOOD: Nothing! I am not surprised by this news at all! The cold, hard, undisputed truth is that wealthy, well connected people, especially wealthy white people, have gamed and manipulated the system since the dawn of the republic. So hell no! I am not at all surprised!

What are some of the obvious and not-so-obvious implications of this scandal?

TERRY: For me what immediately comes to mind is that many more deserving and better qualified applicants, like the daughter described above, who were not privileged were denied admission. I think it also tarnishes the brands of those schools as having lowered their standards to allow in unqualified students; ironically that’s what’s been said about qualified students of color when they began getting into these schools.

What does this scandal say about long held beliefs about affirmation action as we’ve understood it since its inception, including in college admissions?

ELWOOD: It says that wealthy white people are the group that benefits the most from affirmative action and preferential treatment. Plain and simple, that’s what it says.

TERRY: In fact, Elwood authored two excellent articles related to this in the publication Diverse Issues in Higher Education. Here are links to his articles.

What does this say about meritocracy?

ELWOOD: This scandal demonstrates that all of this talk about hard work, merit and other manufactured arguments heralded and promoted primarily by the conservative right wing is total bullshit! This scandal further contributes to the growing distrust that’s sweeping this nation and the perceived widening of the gap between the rich and poor, the haves and have nots.

What’s the psychological damage to privileged kids who discover (or suspect) that their well-heeled parents pulled some strings, and perhaps cheated, to get them an unfair advantage?

TERRY: To me the truth about privilege, whether it’s earned or unearned, is something that recipients of it are aware of, deny it and will not relinquish or share it. Peggy McIntosh, Senior Associate, Wellesley Centers for Women, has published some compelling articles of privilege.

As of this writing, the long-time voices of opponents of affirmative action have been largely silent. Why do you think that’s the case?

ELWOOD: Are you surprised?! Don’t hold your breath until they do. You see, the hypocritical, manipulative, deceptive and abhorrent behavior of a number of upper income and wealthy people has been exposed for the entire world to see. Their continued silence or delayed comments will come across as disingenuous because they realize that the lies they have been touting about affirmative action being a unfair policy that benefits supposedly “unqualified” people of color has now been dismantled and torn to shreds.

In closing, what other issues do you see emerging from this scandal?

TERRY: Unfortunately, firms that employ some of these tainted graduates will not necessarily be getting the best and brightest employees which has definite business implications. And unfortunately, many of their managers and peers may look at them with suspicion if they don’t pan out as being qualified and competent. As for talented students like the daughter of the mom quoted above, she still has a bright future even though her dream of getting to a prestigious college was snatched away. But cream has a way of rising to the top!

Elwood Watson, Ph.D. is a Professor of history, African American Studies and Gender Studies. He is also an author and public speaker. His forthcoming book, Keepin’ It Real: Essays on Race in Contemporary America will be published by the University of Chicago Press later this year. He is also the author of Outsiders Within: Black Women in the Legal Academy After Brown V. Board (Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2008).

Terry Howard is an award-winning writer and story teller. He is also a contributing writer with the Chattanooga New Chronicle, The American Diversity Report, The Atlanta Business Journal, The Shenandoah Valley Hit, Catalyst, The Echo World and recipient of the 2019 Dr. Martin Luther King Leadership Award.



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Elwood Watson, Ph.D.

Historian, Syndicated Columnist, Public Speaker, Social-Cultural Critic. Professor of Black Studies and Gender Studies, at East Tennessee State University.