The campus chapter of the NAACP has condemned the pro-affirmative action group BAMN in response to the group’s use of black middle- and high-school students in a Thursday rally.
BAMN, a prominent advocate of the University’s affirmative action policies, has often come under fire from critics – including other supporters of affirmative action – for what they call its radical politics and confrontational approach.
Alex Moffett, vice president of the NAACP, said BAMN tokenized and presented black students in a bad light when it bused in hundreds of black middle- and high-school students from Detroit for the Thursday rally on the Diag.
During the rally against the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, a proposal that could ban the use of affirmative action by the University and the state if it is approved by voters next year, the Detroit students were given microphones and could be heard yelling profanities and slurs at anti-affirmative action protesters at the back of the crowd. Moffett said the students came across as uneducated about affirmative action and faulted BAMN for putting them under the spotlight without preparation.
“Some of them didn’t even know why they were there – they were just there as tokens, so people would see a large number of black students,” Moffett said. “(BAMN was) just perpetuating untruths about young black students. As a community, we find that totally unacceptable.”
Moffett said the NAACP’s executive board will decide what actions to take against BAMN at its meeting tonight, and that she will announce its plans during tomorrow’s Michigan Student Assembly meeting.
“Our main concern is that students of color are represented in a way that shows their intelligence,” Moffett said. “(BAMN) really only succeeded in making the struggle a lot harder for black students.”
Ben Royal, an organizer for BAMN, called the NAACP’s position “ridiculous” and counterproductive.
“Slandering the black youth of the new civil rights movement is not something that the U of M NAACP should be doing,” Royal said. “We need unity in the defense of affirmative action against MCRI.”
Although BAMN has been the most visible campus group supporting the University’s affirmative action policies through their years of court battles, other student organizations that support the policies have frequently tried to distance themselves from the controversial group. Among the chief complaints critics have leveled against the group are that its tactics and tone are overly confrontational and that its leaders are non-University students. Some have also criticized BAMN for its ties with the Revolutionary Workers League, a Trotskyist organization.
In 2001, a coalition of student groups formed Students Supporting Affirmative Action as an alternative to BAMN. SSAA became mostly inactive after the 2003 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that upheld the University’s right to use race as a consideration in admissions. The group, which includes members of the NAACP, reassembled last year in response to the threat of MCRI.
Lisa Bakale-Wise, a member of SSAA, applauded the NAACP’s decision to condemn BAMN.
“We don’t agree with BAMN’s tactics or style of organizing, so we prefer not to work with them,” Bakale-Wise said “We see the NAACP as a valuable ally, and we agree with their decision.”
Moffett said that because BAMN supports affirmative action and has “at least seemingly good intentions” – and also due to a desire to show solidarity against MCRI – the NAACP has shied away from speaking out against BAMN in the past. But the use of the students in Thursday’s rally left the NAACP with no choice but to condemn the group, she said.
Moffett added that, because BAMN’s leaders are white, they “feel they have a need to make themselves seem more legitimate” by recruiting black students.
“They have a habit of tokenizing black students, young and old,” she said.
BAMN organizers say they consider the use of middle- and high-school students vital to the organization’s success. Royal said BAMN paid for 20 charter buses to bring about 1,000 students to campus from Detroit schools, including the high schools Lewis Cass Technical, Cody, Oak Park and Mumford as well as the K-8 school Malcolm X Academy.
“Every successful social movement has always relied on the initiative and leadership of youth,” Royal said. “We need more middle- and high-school students leading the way now.”