What Have We Got To Lose

African Americans and the Trump era

A released recently poll showed that 49% of Americans believe reverse racism, discrimination against white people, was a bigger problem than discrimination against people of color. Clearly, Jeff Sessions and Donald Trump are part of that 49%. Trump has directed the Civil Rights division of the Justice Department to investigate and sue universities over their affirmative action admission policies. Because to that 49%, white people are being pushed aside and their spots given to undeserving minorities.

I’m always fascinated by people who believe that blacks are getting accepted in universities at the expense of white people. Abigail Fisher’s case immediately comes to mind. Conservative activists wanted to make Fisher the symbol for “reverse racism”. In her suit, Fisher claimed she worked hard, received good grades, and participated in numerous extracurricular activities. And the only reason she didn’t get her spot in the freshman class at the University of Texas at Austin is because black students were given preferential treatment.

At first glance, Fisher seemed like a good case for the conservatives to push their reverse racism narrative. But when you dig a little deeper, that narrative and Fisher’s case fall apart. The year Fisher sent in her application, competition to get into the Texas university system was tough. The University has a Top 10 program that grants automatic admission to any teen who graduated in the top 10 percent of their high school class and 92% of in-state spots went to those students.

While Fisher claimed she wanted to be accepted based on her merits, she didn’t graduate in the top 10 percent of her class. So she had to compete for the 8% of spots that remained. These students were evaluated based on a number of factors: grades/test scores; two essays; leadership; activities and “special circumstances” which included the socioeconomic status of the student; if the student came from a single parent home, if the student came from a home where English wasn’t spoken, and race.

But even among those students, Fisher was not in the top percent. Her grade point average (3.59) and SAT scores were 1180 out of 1600. Good scores, certainly, but not great. Not great enough to assume one of the few spots remaining were hers.

And while it’s true that the university admitted some students with lower test scores and grades than Fisher, five of those students were black or Latino but forty-two were white. Fisher’s case doesn’t mention the 42 white students. Nor did it mention the 168 black and Latino students with grades better than Fisher’s who were also rejected that year. Fisher went on to lose her case at the Supreme Court but the notion that undeserving blacks are getting into college at the expense of whites remains.

During difficult economic times, there is always a tendency to blame someone else. There is an instinct to look around and assume that someone else has it better than you and they don’t deserve it. It’s happening now in the white communities where stagnant wages and the opioid epidemic have done real damage. But it’s not black people that are keeping them down.

Brown v Board of education ruled school segregation was unconstitutional in 1954. Today, our schools are more segregated than ever. Schools reflect the racial and economic status of their neighborhoods. So blacks and Latinos in poor neighborhoods go to schools with less funding than majority white schools. These schools have poorly paid teachers, less funding for teacher training, higher rate of teacher turnover, fewer counselors and more cops. Schools have fewer and older textbooks, fewer resources, and few if any after school programs. Even when federal funds are available, they don’t always make it to schools in predominately black neighborhoods.

Students in a predominately black neighborhood in my town can’t even take their books home. Teachers make copies of the pages so students can do the homework but this doesn’t allow the students to go back and review or read ahead and prepare for the next lesson.

In many poor black neighborhoods, students start off behind and few ever make up the gap which is why the dropout rate is still high in these communities. The ones, who do make it to college, are woefully unprepared. Black folks are fighting our own issues. In a just world, the poor and middle class black and white would fight for better wages together and more educational opportunities.

But this is the real world with one of the most incompetent administrations in history. So Sessions and Trump are trying to convince their base that they are the real victims. Even with slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, redlining, gentrification, discrimination in banking, and disparities in sentencing, we black people should be able to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and if we haven’t it’s our fault. If white people haven’t pulled themselves up, it’s also our fault.

We won’t know the damage that Sessions’ Justice Department will do with this latest attempt to fix a problem that doesn’t exist. But during the campaign, Trump asked African Americans ‘What have you go to lose?’ by supporting him. Now we know. EVERYTHING!

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