The University chapter of the NAACP and the Daily editorial board have criticized BAMN’s rowdy tactics at the group’s rally last Thursday. Both parties disapproved of the busing in of black students from Detroit, some of whom resorted to spitting and yelling. Before we rush to condemn BAMN’s actions, we have to ask if the students came of their own will or as pawns of BAMN’s leaders and if they were informed about the topics of the rally – affirmative action and the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative.

Jess Cox

According to the University chapter of the NAACP, the answer is no, but had the answer been yes, could we criticize BAMN’s rambunctious behavior? Why shouldn’t Detroit’s black students, whose futures may depend on affirmative action and the MCRI, voice their opinions? Do they not have good reasons to get angry and shout, even with profanity? By telling these students to go back to Detroit and play nice and speak in quiet tones, are we maintaining an oppressive order? What is the best approach to civil rights – the militant efforts by the Black Power movement or the nonviolent policy of Martin Luther King? I don’t support violent protest, but don’t we already live in a violent society, in which millions die at the hands of crime, poverty, drugs and war?

These are hard questions, but I can say one thing for certain: To eliminate affirmative action in favor of race-neutral standards, as many letter writers to the Daily have suggested, is to ignore the legacy of slavery in this country. There are many groups affected by affirmative action and the MCRI, but slavery makes the treatment of black Americans especially salient.

Slaves literally built this country – the richest and most powerful beacon of freedom in the world – upon their backs. When slaves were emancipated, which didn’t come about from quiet protest, Southern whites found ways to subjugate them. Ex-slaves were arrested for petty offenses and leased back to their previous owners in the convict-lease system. Later, this system was replaced by chain gangs. In the first instance, private individuals profited from the forced labor; in the second, the government did. The relics of this thinly veiled slavery can be seen in the existing chain gangs in some states and the proliferation of prison industrial complexes, in which inmates often bank less than a dollar an hour, working increasingly for private corporations like Starbucks. The populations in these prisons are disproportionately black. According to the Sentencing Project, “One of every three black males born today can expect to be imprisoned at some point in his lifetime.” Upon release – in a haunting parallel to Jim Crow – many of these blacks are disenfranchised by state laws.

The segregation of our schools and cities, historically and presently, has been another way to marginalize black Americans. As education advocate Jonathan Kozol points out in his new book, districts with high concentrations of blacks receive far less funding than those in the suburbs. If those schools can’t meet certain testing standards, in accordance with Bush’s hypocritical No Child Left Behind Act, they forfeit additional funding. The more students need help, the less they get – a maxim opponents of affirmative action seem to agree with. These critics assume there is equal opportunity among groups, a level playing field, but this simply does not exist.

One might compare standardized tests and race-neutral college admissions policies to the black codes in the South. The correlation is not perfect, but they both include rules, intentional or not, that keep or kept blacks out of the ruling class. The black codes included arbitrary tests to prevent ex-slaves from voting, gaining land and receiving fair compensation for work. Standardized tests deepen the drain on funding to schools with large minority concentrations like those in Detroit. Race-neutral admissions policies and tests allow prominent schools to deny admission to qualified minority students who never received proper educational resources and test preparation. Such schools, like our beloved University, are for many students stepping stones into the ruling class. By keeping large numbers of black Americans and other minorities from getting in, current University students ensure their place on top. Is it a surprise then that University students have told those black students from Detroit to be quiet?

Many of these silencers, including some opponents of affirmative action, supposedly want racial equality but through different means than those used by BAMN. I don’t know which approach is best, but if we want equal and integrated education, we must support affirmative action. If our intentions are sincere, we must then be willing to accept the implications of an equal and integrated society.


Cravens can be reached at jjcrave@umich.edu.

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