“Everyone says I got a Golden Ticket,” says Lee, narrating the introduction. When he was nine, his father left the family, leaving his mother to raise both him and his sister; his intelligence and penchant for talking and reading rather than fighting or playing sports marked him as different from a young age. Though he would come to receive a free tuition at Germantown Friends, he says, ”there was still a great cost. As soon as I set foot in [Germantown Friends] I started to go in a different direction from my family.”
“The assimilation process is very, very difficult,” explains 1989 graduate Marcella Travagline. “No one tried to get to know me … I came and felt invisible, and still do, and that’s why no one even remembers I was here.” Lee admits that even with his popularity, he still felt lonely the entire time he attended the school. Despite receiving the same caliber of education and having access to the same resources as other students at the school, the “guest” mentality is still present, and becomes more obvious when you realize that the majority of people you were at school with for three or four years don’t even remember you were there.
Though, while they may not remember you individually, the whole–the splash of melanin in an otherwise white community–is enough to garner notice. The idea that, in some respects, students of color are clumped together in one large amorphous blob is one of the reasons I appreciated listening to the interviews Lee conducted for the film. I remember the feeling during my own prep-school experience, wondering whether or not anyone will remember if you, individually, were at the school. On the other, you know that as a group people certainly remember because the group stuck out. The group was often seen as homogenous: brown kids who all came from the same background and all sat at the same table in the dining hall for meals. However, as Lee shows us throughout Prep School, that isn’t ever the case.
I’m always up for a good documentary, so guest contributor Kendra James’ review of The Prep School Negro means another one I’m putting in my queue. Check out the rest of her review at the R today! (via racialicious)
Reblogging this older post with an update: It’s just been announced that The Prep School Negro will air on PBS’ America Reframed series on February 11th. The version of the documentary airing is longer than the one reviewed over a year ago and I’m looking forward to checking out Andre Robert Lee’s final version.
In related news, the documentary American Promise (which follows two students of color attending NYC’s The Dalton School from kindergarten through high school) will also air on PBS thanks to their POV series and the National Consortium of Black Programming. The air date is February 3rd, but be sure to check your local listings for both documentaries.
The treatment of POC students inside the walls of prestigious independent schools is a topic near and dear to my heart. There’s already been some great discussion brought about by American Promise, and we invite our readers to continue in that vein during the airings of both documentaries. You can catch us on twitter @Racialicious. -KJ
Courts must take a skeptical look at affirmative-action programs at public colleges and universities, the Supreme Court ruled Monday, in a decision that is likely to set off a wave of challenges to race-conscious admissions policies nationwide.
The 7-to-1 decision avoided giving a direct answer about the constitutionality of the program, used by the University of Texas at Austin, that was before the court.
The program will continue for now, but the justices ordered an appeals court to reconsider the case under a demanding standard that appears to jeopardize the program.
The compromise that the majority reached was at least a reprieve for affirmative action in higher education, and civil rights groups that had feared for the future of race-conscious admission programs were relieved. Conservatives and other opponents of the current version of affirmative action vowed to use the court’s ruling as a road map to bring future cases.
The decision did not disturb the Supreme Court’s general approach to affirmative action in admissions decisions, saying that educational diversity is an interest sufficient to overcome the general ban on racial classifications by the government. But the court added that public institutions must have good reasons for the particular methods they use to achieve that goal.
Colleges and universities, Justice Kennedy wrote for the majority, must demonstrate that “available, workable race-neutral alternatives do not suffice” before taking account of race in admissions decisions.
That requirement could endanger the Texas program when it is reconsidered by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in New Orleans. The university’s program admits most undergraduates under race-neutral criteria, accepting all Texas students who graduate near the top of their high school classes. But the university also uses a race-conscious system to choose the remaining students.
Courts reviewing government programs that make distinctions based on race subject them to a form of judicial review known as “strict scrutiny,” requiring the government to identify an important goal and a close fit between means and ends. Justice Kennedy’s opinion focused on and tightened the second part of the test.
“Strict scrutiny,” Justice Kennedy wrote, “does not permit a court to accept a school’s assertion that its admissions process uses race in a permissible way without a court giving close analysis to the evidence of how the process works in practice.”
Courts reviewing affirmative action programs must, he wrote, “verify that it is necessary for a university to use race to achieve the educational benefits of diversity.” That requires, he said, “a careful judicial inquiry into whether a university could achieve sufficient diversity without using racial classifications.”
Justice Ginsburg, who announced her dissent from the bench, said the race-neutral part of the Texas program worked only because of “de facto racial segregation in Texas’ neighborhoods and schools.”
Kochiyama’s life in social change is inspiring, both for its longevity and for her willingness to take on the most controversial causes. She is, perhaps, most famous for her association with Malcolm X, and for the photos of her holding Malcolm X in her arms as he lay dying after being gunned down in the Audubon Ballroom on February 12, 1965. But there was much, much more to Kochiyama’s activism than her sojourn with the Organization for Afro-American Unity. She fought for Puerto Rican independence, provided support for social and political prisoners, and was instrumental in the fight for reparations for Japanese American internees.
But the importance of Kochiyama’s story doesn’t end with her personal history. For while she is no doubt a remarkable person, she was not alone among Asian Americans of her generation in her commitment to social justice. Throughout her story we are reminded of others who struggled alongside her, of the the Asian American movement of the 1960s that was inspired, in part, by Japanese American internment, exclusionary and blatantly racist immigration laws, the Vietnam War, and exploitation and discrimination of Asian immigrant workers. That movement gave birth to the phrase “Asian American” as a statement of inter-ethnic solidarity, and it stood against unjust wars and with the movements for African American civil rights, workers rights, and immigrant rights, and for multiculturalism, open enrollment in colleges and universities, and diversification of university curricula. That movement gave us Asian American studies, and Asian American studies has allowed us to create a record of our history, in our own words.
Academia may not be a traditional bureaucracy but we forget that public colleges are embedded in state governments, making them more like the public sector is some ways than the private sector. That is particularly true when you account for the fact that many black PhDs end up working in Historically Black Colleges and Universities, many of which are part of state college systems. It is not totally beyond the realm of possibility then that black students should engage with some sectors of higher education similarly to how we have engaged the Post Office. That is to say, credentialism is rewarded and, thus, we should pursue it.
The nature of the rewards, however, seems to be what trips up a lot of this advice.
And that is rooted in some fundamental, unexamined privilege.
It is difficult to be embedded in higher education today, particularly if you study it, and not be acutely aware that academic labor is changing and likely not for the better. Adjunct labor conditions are pretty deplorable: low pay, long hours, little prestige, no mobility, etc. When we are in that we can forget that our crappy jobs can be someone else’s upward mobility.
I suspect part of our not understanding this is ideological. To recognize that crappy is relative is to undermine our own fragile, tenuous class consciousness. It’s an old problem. Unions had similar issues as they tried to bring black, brown and white labors together through their shared position in the class structure. The problems arise when your shared position isn’t exactly shared. Focusing so narrowly on class to the exclusion of structural racial projects can put you in this quagmire. Black poverty is not the same as white poverty. That’s not the fault of white poor people but is a function of a complicated mix of social constructs, organizational processes, politics, history and probably magic. It’s complicated. It is also inconvenient, particularly when you really want and need people to focus on deplorable class conditions. So we like to sometimes ignore it. We do so to our peril.
When we obscure those meaningful differences we end up counseling black students considering graduate school that it is a waste of time and money. We do that because our class consciousness says this whole pyramid hierarchy is a scheme and those at the bottom are losing.
The thing with losing is there’s always some construct of what constitutes “winning”. The dominant construct of winning is rooted in privilege and biases.
Winning is different for different folks. I think of Boudon‘s work which I likely oversimplify when I call it a cross-sectional, longitudinal, empirical analysis that conludes that we’re always from where we’re from. Apologies to the philosopher Rakim but sometimes it ain’t where you’re at but is indeed all about where you’re from. Part of Boudon’s argument for me is about social distance being as important to understanding mobility as status occupational/income/prestige outcomes. Basically, if I get a master’s degree that increases my labor value to $45,000* it can sound like crap to a person who went to graduate school, got a PhD and earns $50,000. However, if my parents didn’t have their GEDs and I grew up helping my mom clean banks after hours for her janitorial freelance business — one of her three jobs — I have actually traveled quite a bit of social distance. That can make the value of my graduate degree different than the value of yours.