Marcus Garvey, Bill Cosby and Affirmative Action

A couple things have me thinking about the AA debate below. I don't want to contest the theory of Ivy League fraternity. But implicit in that seems to be this idea that if you get into the club, in the final analysis--once you become, say, a lawyer--it doesn't matter that you got in through AA. In other words, in terms of actual job performance, are we saying that AA Harvard law grads are no worse than someone who was just a star? If we aren't saying that, than are you setting someone up for failure in the market. If you are saying that, then it seems like the whole "standards" for admission are pretty trivial and should be thrown out anyway. Either the very idea of Ivy League is flawed, or AA admissions to Iv Leagues are--at the end of the day--inferior products, no?

Second--and here comes that old BookerT\Garvey\Malcolm shit in me--I think we need to talk about how power is wielded in this country. For the longest blacks have been focused on political power, and AA just seems to be an extension of that idea--go to a prestigious school so you can use government to influence policy. But what black folks really lack in this country is wealth. Read some Dalton Conley. Do we need an empty credentialism to make this happen? Or do we need some straight up hustlers? Dig this piece in the WSJ about how most CEOs don't attend elite colleges. We've got to find a way to fix our foundational problems (black families, our public schools etc.) and make use of what we have (HBCUs, state schools).

One of the things which gives me great, great pride is that I'm competing (with varying amounts of success) in a field (long-form journalism) where the Ivies ruled. But I come from something totally different. Like those cats, I have my support network, my own fraternity, but it came from the people who I was raised around and grew to love. The root is, of course, the family--my mother, father, brothers and sisters. It extends out into my father's business where I was forced to works as a child, and learned the value of work ethic (though, I still am the lazy journalist working today. I swear man). I did my Rights of Passage ceremony at Nationhouse\Watoto Shule up on Park Avenue and Georgia in the heart of Chocolate City. I played the djembe with Sankofa dance theater (then) down in North Avenue, where outside, the Crack wars were running wild.

In an era when so many black boys had no models of manhood, I had them all around. Everywhere I went, there were black folks around who would say "Ta-Nehisi one day you're going to do something beautiful."
And this was during a period when  I was pulling a D minus GPA, assaulting teachers, fighting in the cafeteria, and ultimately getting kicked out of school. My SATs (1090) sucked, but were great for where I was coming from--Baltimore City Public Schools, where people were scoring really, really low. I wasn't even thinking about the Ivies, and they (rightfully) weren't thinking about me.

But I went to Mecca, and walked in the shadow of Thourgood Marshall, David Dinkins, Zora Neal Hurston, Ossie Davis, Carter G. Woodson. I had professors--mostly black, some white--who would debate me about politics after class, and then pull me aside and say "Ta-Nehisi, you're so much smarter than what you're doing in class. What is the matter?" I'll never forget my Black Diaspora professor, rolling up on me on the yard, embarrassing me front my whole crew, cause I'd cut class on the first nice day of Spring. I dropped out of Howard eventually to write. But when I left, all I could think about was all the black people who'd basically backed me from the day I was born. I was desperately, desperately afraid of disappointing them.

Any success I've had is really born out of a fear of letting them down, out of a confidence that my back was got. And now in 33rd year, I truly feel that great Chuck D line--I never live alone, I never walk alone. I say all that to say, there has to be a point in which we start nurturing our own organic apparatus, instead of begging people to let us into their club.  My community, my network, originates in the streets of West Baltimore, runs through the nationalists in D.C., continues with strivers at Howard, moves through Harlem USA. My squad may  not rival that whole Exter/Harvard/Skull and Bones thing. But it's my squad. Frankly, I am sick and tired of middle class Negroes shivering in fear every time the Supreme Court reviews an Affirmative Action case, every time election season comes around and Republicans stand ready to accumulate more power. Aren't we tired of being afraid of the guys? When do we start making them afraid of us? When do we begin to make racism more their problem, than ours?

This isn't an argument for separatism--it's the exact opposite. I live today in a very integrated world. I've got more diverse friendship than I ever could have imagined. But to achieve that type of integration, there needed to be some level of mutual respect. I don't have this completely worked out, but I think coming to the rest of the world secure in who I was, unashamed of my community, of my home team, needing to prove nothing, really helped me relate, on a basic human level, to the wider world.

I am sorry I rambled a bit guys. You know I do that from time to time...

UPDATE: Bottomofthe9th refers us to this very interesting study on Affirmative Action and law school. It doesn't really shock me. But its always interesting to me that folks are outraged by efforts to right a historical wrong, but seemingly undisturbed by legacies, in particular. I'd be very interested in how black folks did when compared to, say, people who got hooked up because their Pops knew someone on the board.

I meant what I said above. I don't have much oxygen to fight for a black lawyer who has to go to lower tier firm because of "racism." Likewise, given our society, I have even less oxygen to fight for some white lawyer who has to start out a tier below, because a top level firm is trying--if clumsily--to do the right thing.