Identity, Politics

GOP Group at BU Starting White Scholarship

Amidst travel and much much family time (whew) I did squeeze in some interesting TV moments, including catching CNN highlights in the airport this afternoon, particularly this beauty of a story.
The GOP group at BU is starting a white scholarship, which Republican Party on a state and national level have stated that they do not endorse.
Brian Dodge, executive director of the Massachusetts Republican Party, said the state party did not endorse the scholarship. “Their actions are misguided and offensive,” he said.
This blog piece highlights one particular point that I think is the most cogent part of its argument, which is the need to address education, not only at the college level, the but the huge disparities in education that people receive starting at an early age, and how those disparities impact low-income people and people of color.

Apparently Boston University College Republicans is the second group to start a “white scholarship.” (Yet this very language erases the history of access to colleges and how for generations a college education was only for white people.) College Republicans at Roger Williams University in Bristol, R.I., began a similar scholarship two years ago. After facing charges of racism from some students on campus, the group ultimately dropped the scholarship.
The students say they are aiming to do this to start a conversation about a larger issue, which is one that they see as an issue of merit.
Not unlike the affirmative action ballot in Michigan this past election, fifty years post-civil rights movement era the conversation around race in this country has become all but muted. To discuss race and racism as an issue that is alive and well is quickly muffled in today’s media, and at times on Jewschool itself. We hear arguments of “reverse discrimination,” erasing hundreds of years of history and current day realities of how racism still is very much alive and well in this country, and systemically impacts people everyday.
For example, I took a cab service home tonight. The cab driver was telling me a story about how he was pulled over the other day by cops in the West Village because he didn’t come to a complete stop. When the cop asked him if he knew why he was being stopped, he admitted he hadn’t come to a complete stop. Well, guess what happened? Now for me, at most, I would have been issued a ticket for a traffic violation. This man was issued four summons, four–including a criminal court summons for wreckless driving. Why? Good question–well, racial profiling is why. He is of Pakistani descent.
I bring this example up as just one from one conversation I had on my way home from the airport. These stories happen everyday.
What we don’t hear in these debates is questioning and an analysis of how white people have benefited from “affirmative action” policies for generations–from the very founding of this country. Ira Katznelson’s book, “When Affirmative Action Was White: An Untold History of Racial Inequality in Twentieth-Century America,” documents this history particularly policies developed in the New Deal era “of the 1930s and 1940s that were created in a deeply discriminatory manner. This was no accident. With the United States still in an era of legal segregation, the powerful southern wing of the Democratic Party provided the framework for Social Security, the GI Bill, and landmark labor laws that helped create the foundations of the modern middle class.”
How often in debates about merit and education do we hear groups publicly denounce, for example, how students receive additional points for legacy in the admissions process, so that if you have family that have attended the university, you are more likely to get in? And more specifically then how this practice benefits people with wealth and white people who have historically had more access to higher education.
We aren’t hearing any outcries about that, are we?
The lack of discussion of points like legacy in admissions highlight what has become the Right’s most successful PR campaign strategy–making everyone believe that we are all just individuals, and perpetuating the “bootstrap myth” mentality that if you try hard, you as an individual alone can succeed.
What we are talking about though, and what Lani Guinier outlines so well, is the myth of meritocracy.

The conventional understanding of meritocracy is that it is a system for awarding or allocating scarce resources to those who most deserve them. The idea behind meritocracy is that people should achieve status or realize the promise of upward mobility based on their individual talent or individual effort. It is conceived as a repudiation of systems like aristocracy where individuals inherit their social status.
I am arguing that many of the criteria we associate with individual talent and effort do not measure the individual in isolation but rather parallel the phenomena associated with aristocracy; what we’re calling individual talent is actually a function of that individual’s social position or opportunities gained by virtue of family and ancestry. So, although the system we call “meritocracy” is presumed to be more democratic and egalitarian than aristocracy, it is in fact reproducing that which it was intended to dislodge.

Betsy Leondar-Wright’s work on class in particular highlights how we as white people individualize our understanding of our success.

Like most people without inherited wealth, I tend to see my success as the result of my own hard work and abilities. My retirement accounts and the down-payment on my house were saved dollar-by-dollar out of my paychecks. I worked my way up from minimum wage jobs to become a salaried professional. Couldn’t someone of any race have done the same?
To see all the effects of race requires looking back a few generations. I left college with no student loans. Why was my father able to pay for my college education? As a World War II-era veteran, he went to graduate school on the GI Bill and got a subsidized mortgage from the Veterans Administration, benefits from which most veterans of color were excluded. As a homeowner, he got the mortgage interest deduction, a tax break unavailable to the majority of people of color who were renters.
Looking back another generation, my grandparents had Social Security benefits when they reached age 65 in the 1960s, relieving my father from the responsibility of supporting his parents. Since agricultural and domestic workers were excluded from the original Social Security law passed in 1935, most people of color in my grandparents’ generation put little or nothing into the Social Security system, and so got little or nothing at retirement. People of color my father’s age were more likely to be supporting their parents and so less able to pay for their children’s college.
If I’d been born a person of color in 1956, the odds are very likely that I’d be less well off today. In 2001, the typical white family had $120,000 in net worth (assets minus debts), seven times as much as the $17,000 net worth of the typical family of color, according to new Federal Reserve data. Most white people are homeowners with retirement accounts thanks to government policies that boosted our parents’, grandparents’ and ancestors’ assets. The financial benefits of affirmative action programs are dwarfed by the benefits of, say, the Homestead Acts of 1862, which gave millions of acres to white settlers, and which excluded people of color.
When President Bush weighed in with the Supreme Court against the University of Michigan’s affirmative action policy, he was acting within this long tradition of the federal government promoting the advancement of white Americans.

This is an important history to think about, particularly within today’s liberal political reform world where policy wonks and journalists are harkening the call for a renewed social contract–for the reinvigoration of the New Deal era. We must be mindful then of this history, and what it means to idealize the New Deal Era in light of the racial discrimination deeply embedded in its workings, and how this call then of a robust social contract must come with a strong analysis and inclusion of race and gender within an economic justice framework.
I couldn’t agree with Betsy more when she writes,

“What would it take to eliminate the racial wealth gap? Race-based affirmative action in college admissions, hiring, and promotion is just one of many elements needed to assist all low-income Americans to build basic assets. After WWII, the GI Bill built a white middle class. Now we need a new GI bill that gives opportunity to everyone.
As beneficiaries of white advantages in a democracy supposedly based on the principle that “all [humans] are created equal,” we white people have a responsibility to speak up for widening the circle of government support to include all Americans.”

crossposted to jspot

5 thoughts on “GOP Group at BU Starting White Scholarship

  1. This article is misleading: it is clear from the actual newsstory that the Republican club set up a $350 scholarship for the exact purpose of irony, to demonstrate that any action based on race is wrong. Whether or not you agree with affirmative action, it’s a subject worthy of debate – not obfiscation.

  2. I think there needs to be a reshifiting in scholarships that look not at race but economic status and personal hardship. At most of the colleges you go to, even if you see a fairly diverse ethnic population, very rarely is there a diversity in family wealth behind that. Basically, less and less working and lower middle class families are able to go to college. And with the drastic cuts in student financial aid that were made a few months ago that unless changed by the new Congress would go into affect I think like next year, its only gonna get even worse.
    I mean, most of the minority students at my school come from the same upper middle class neighborhoods as the white students. The population us rural or urban students is way smaller than it used to be.

  3. Great post! On the subject of taxi drivers and fines, PLEASE check out Biju Mathew’s excellent book “Taxi! Cabs and Capitalism in New York City” for an insightful and moving analysis of the organizing efforts of NYC’s 5,000 taxi drivers. He documents their strategies for building cross-ethnic solidarity and power and the intersection of their struggle with neoliberal economic restructuring at home and abroad, with a healthy dose of what it means for immigrant laborers to organize in post 9/11 NYC.
    You can pick it up on Amazon if you must, but Powells employees have a union and the company is setting a good example for how to operate union and succeed in the internet retail business. (http://www.powells.com/cgi-bin/biblio?inkey=62-156584811x-0)

  4. As a BU alum, I wanted to add that this is especially ridiculous given the fact that BU’s African-American minority is a *significant* minority. I also vaguely recall the GOP club pulling a stunt like this four or five years ago, as well as inviting controversial speakers on racial issues – this seems to be their standard publicity stunt, and the kids on campus tend to ignore them.

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