do not wipe away the scars of centuries by saying: 'now, you are
free to go where you want, do as you desire, and choose the leaders
you please.' You do not take a man who for years has been hobbled
by chains, liberate him, bring him to the starting line of a race,
saying, 'you are free to compete with all the others,' and still
justly believe you have been completely fair . . . This is the next
and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights. We seek
not just freedom but opportunity - not just legal equity but human
ability - not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality
as a fact and as a result."
President Lyndon B. Johnson, addressing the graduating class of
Howard University, July 4, 1965.
next summer, affirmative action in higher education may finally
come undone. President Johnson's promise of a national commitment
to equality of "results" - that is, numerically provable
Black representation at all levels of society in something resembling
their proportions of the population - rang like victory's bell.
The President of the U.S. had embraced not only the moral underpinnings
of the movement, but the absolute necessity of the achievement of
Black people's material goals.
anyone Black who remembers that day if they felt "shamed"
or "insulted" by Johnson's words. To be sure, many African
Americans doubted the Texan's sincerity, and few believed that he
spoke for the bulk of white America. But to hear Power acknowledge
the Truth of the debt owed to all African Americans for the very
first time in U.S. history, was glorious. Johnson's words might
come to nothing, but at least we knew that our hands had wrenched
them from his lips. He had abandoned all claims to the moral authority
of white privilege, and accepted the government's responsibility
to redress historical crimes by adjusting the playing field to our
was at that time little doubt about the meaning of affirmative action,
although the suddenness of Johnson's capitulation revealed that
few actual plans of implementation existed, even on paper. The promise
was unambiguous: the rules would be changed to effectuate
the desired societal results. There was also no confusion as to
who was to benefit from affirmative action: Black people. Period.
Who else had been "hobbled in chains...?" The morally
flabby and legally vague term "diversity" had not yet
made its appearance.
will not recount the details of the disintegration of the national
commitment announced by LBJ 37 years ago. It is enough to say that
the same forces that opposed every advance of Black people, before
and after the 1954 school desegregation decision have all but completed
their long march backwards. They are one U.S. Supreme Court swing
vote away from administering the coup de grace to even the
flaccid concept of "diversity" in student enrollment at
the University of Michigan's law school. Two white female high school
"B" students will make the case that their "right"
to "equal protection under the law" trumps centuries of
historical wrongs - that they have educational "rights"
based largely on test scores.
Michigan law school admitted Blacks and Hispanics whose academic
records were similar to or lesser than the two white women's because
the alternative would have been an almost lily-white student body.
The pool of applicants' test scores said so. As reported by the
New York Times, December 3:
its outreach and recruitment efforts, the university said, the
law school received only 35 applications from minority students
at the top range of undergraduate grades and law board scores
that account for nearly all admissions. In contrast, the school
received 900 applications from white students in that range.
with a "race-blind lottery," the [university's] brief
said, "the percentage of African-American students enrolled
would almost certainly fall below 3 percent." At the law
school today, 74 of 1,109 students are black (6.7 percent) and
49 are Hispanic (4.4 percent)....
law school considers not only grades and scores but also "soft
variables," including unusual achievements and experiences,
non-academic performance, personal background, and ability to
make a "notable contribution" to the class. The policy
seeks "meaningful numbers" of students from groups that
have been historically discriminated against, in the belief that
learning to "work more effectively and more sensitively"
in a multiracial world is important for a lawyer's education.
law school is tepidly attempting to do what President Johnson called
for in 1965, yet it should now be obvious that such piddling around
the edges of privilege serves only to increase these programs' vulnerability
to challenge by the insatiable Right, which seeks to maintain white
dominance in every avenue of life.
1965, the disparity between Black and white performance on standardized
tests was greater than today, and only small numbers of Blacks were
encouraged to take the SATs. Few people argued that anyone had a
right to admission to a prestigious school based on test
scores. Yet, in practice, SAT scores were becoming the equivalent
of legal tender, the price of admission to the upper strata of education
and resulting economic mobility. Although not mandated by law, the
all but universal practice of giving great weight to SATs has had
the effect of freezing into place privileges of race and class.
The Hard Right's legal guns are on the verge of enshrining SAT-based
privilege into law, for all practical purposes. There appears to
be no way to stop them other than to take the SATs out of the college
admissions equation or, at the very least, render them a minor factor.
Whites can keep their high test scores; they just shouldn't count
illusion of democracy in education
higher education enrollment more than doubled between 1955 and 1965,
from 1.5 million to 3.8 million students. By 2000, 10 million full-time
students were enrolled in colleges and universities, a population
that is now overwhelmingly defined by SAT scores. The explosion
in numbers gave the illusion of greater democracy and general mobility,
but in fact the composition of college classrooms is essentially
determined by the rigid dictatorship of SATs.
Johnson spoke to Howard University's students in 1965, he was acquiescing
to Black political demands. However, white universities were simultaneously
institutionalizing the rule of standardized testing. Four decades
later, the chickens have come home to roost. The autumn Journal
of Blacks in Higher Education reports that the gap between Black
and white SAT scores has increased over the past 14 years, and "there
is no compelling evidence that any improvement is in the offing."
The numbers spell disaster:
1988 the average combined score for whites of 1036 was 189 points
higher than the average score for blacks. In 2002 the gap between
the average white score and the average black score had grown
to 203 points. In the past year alone the black-white scoring
gap on the SAT increased by two points.
whatever reasons - and Black youth do not have the luxury of waiting
for the reasons to be discovered - economic status appears not
to be a major factor in the Black-white SAT gap.
"Whites from families with incomes below $10,000 had a mean
SAT test score that was 46 points higher than blacks whose families
had incomes of between $80,000 and $100,000," according to
the JBHE study. The logic of the numbers is inexorable: Blacks must
categorically reject SAT-type tests as criteria for college admissions,
or accept that they will disappear from the elite regions of academia,
and the less prestigious schools, as well.
a race-neutral competition for the approximately 50,000 places
for first-year students at the nation's 25 highest-ranked universities,
high-scoring blacks will be buried by a huge mountain of high-scoring
non-black students. Today, under prevailing affirmative action
admissions policies, there are about 3,000 black first-year students
matriculating at these 25 high-ranking universities, about 6 percent
of all first-year students at these institutions. But if these
schools operated under a strict race-neutral admissions policy
where SAT scores were the most important qualifying yardstick,
these universities could fill their freshman classes almost exclusively
with students who score at the very top of the SAT scoring scale.
...black students make up at best between 1 and 2 percent of these
education will survive the trap it set for itself, but Black student
bodies are destined to whither away unless the relative weight
of standardized testing is drastically reduced or eliminated.
There is no other choice.
programs, grafted onto a larger machinery of SAT-reinforced white
privilege, were never destined to achieve anything like Johnson's
"equality as a fact and as a result." Designed as pitiful
substitutes for racial justice, they are about to be flattened entirely.
The immediate antagonists are Hard Right lawyers, but the institutional
culprit is standardized testing.
plaintiffs at the University of Michigan law school are seeking
to give test scores something approximating the force of law. If
the Supreme Court rules in favor of the white women, persons who
have achieved higher test scores will be entitled to commensurate,
enhanced "rights" under the law as long as these tests
carry weight. Black students will have no rights other than
those bestowed on them by the Princeton Educational Testing Service.
The assault against the Black presence in higher education is fundamental,
and can only be effectively countered by a battle to expunge the
SAT's from national life. It's us or them.
people's rights to historical redress are about to be replaced by
a new right to test-based privileges. Unless the tyranny of standardized
tests is abolished, root and branch, there is no hope for generalized
Black upward mobility through education.
no one tell us what we can't do, that standardized testing to too
entrenched to overcome. Lyndon Johnson was compelled to announce
with his own voice that affirmative action marked "the
next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights."
Those who think the battle has been won, that Blacks need to move
on to some other arena, need to look at the numbers - and finish
autumn Journal of Blacks in Higher Education http://www.jbhe.com/latest/37_b&w_sat.html