Friday, May 17, 2024

‘Serial’ education plan needed for blacks

June 5, 2007 by  
Filed under News, Weekly Columns

( Virginia, Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina and other states are making serial apologies these days, expressing remorse for past participation in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. As I have said before, while these actions are a good first step, they do not go far enough. The doctrine of White supremacy did not end with slavery.

Federal- and state-sanctioned racism continued in the form of Jim Crow Laws and flawed public policies until the mid-1960s. Therefore, any credible apology must, as the Alabama measure did, extend to the “aftereffects” of slavery and acknowledge that “the vestiges of slavery are ever before African-American citizens.”

Virtually everyone agrees that education provides the best escape from poverty. Inasmuch as Whites strongly oppose reparations – at least, for African-Americans – other corrective actions must be taken into consideration.

Surprisingly, an approach used to include Native Americans in higher education might provide a model.

The University of Maine and other state universities provide Native Americans with free tuition, mandatory fees and room and board. In order to qualify for the scholarship, applicants’ names must appear on the current tribal census of the Passamaquoddy Nation, the Penobscot Nation, the Houlton Band of Maliseet or the Aroostook Brand of Micmac. If direct descendants of one of those groups live in Maine for a year, they, too, are eligible for the tuition waiver.

The University of Minnesota operates a similar program called the Ethel Curry American Indian Scholarship. According to the university’s Web Site: “Students who are at least one-fourth American Indian and who present written documentation of tribal enrollment and blood quantum and demonstrate involvement in American Indian culture and community may be considered for this scholarship,” renewable up to four years.

Surprisingly, the Right-wing zealots have not challenged programs for Native Americans the way they have bullied universities into scrapping any program that smacks of race sensitivity. Of course, Native Americans deserve special consideration because they were truly the original Americans. Once, “discovered,” however, they were systematically killed or herded onto Indian reservations.

African Americans also have a unique history. We were brought here from West African against our will. Though we were brought here to do the work of White farmers, we were called lazy. Subsequent abuse and exploitation has been thoroughly documented.

Yet, affirmative action, a conservative program designed to help African-Americans and other disadvantaged groups, is under withering attack. It’s under attack even though the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the legality of affirmative action in a case involving the University of Michigan Law School.

Another innovative approach to expanding higher education opportunities places an emphasis on class instead of race.

A recent New York Times story noted, “Concerned that the barriers to elite institutions are being increasingly drawn along class lines, and wanting to maintain some role as engines of social mobility, about two dozen schools – Amherst, Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, the University of Virginia, Williams the University of North Carolina, among them – have pushed in the past few years to diverse economically.”

The institutions are replacing loans with grants, ending early admission programs that favor the affluent and make admission decisions, based in part, on family income, parents; education and occupations.

Of course, class is easier to sell than race. It allows Americans to avoid looking in the mirror. Still, race needs to be confronted directly. As former U.S. Senator Bill Bradley (D-N.J.) observed, slavery was America’s original sin and racism remains its unresolved dilemma.

Before cops fired rounds of bullets into an unarmed Black immigrant in New York, police didn’t check the balance in his checking account. When Blacks are pulled over for essentially driving While Black, no one had examined the suspect’s investment portfolio. And when an African-Americans are followed in the department stores, the clerks don’t know how much cash a Black man or woman is carrying.

Let’s be clear: Blacks are discriminated against because they are Black. Therefore any remedy, educational or otherwise, must take that realization into account. If discrimination was race-based, then remedies should be race-sensitive and race-conscious.

None of this is an excuse for not doing more for ourselves. The Native American scholarships at the University of Minnesota were made possible by a $1 million grant from Ethel Curry (no relation). She was a secretary at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota for nearly 40 years. Her investments in the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Co. (3M), then an upstart company, made her a wealthy woman and she left some of that wealth to the university for Native Americans.

In cases where Blacks have limited resources, just leaving a portion of one’s life insurance to, say, a historically Black college, could do wonders for that institution.

By George E. Curry

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