Wednesday, July 10, 2013
IN LIGHT OF FISHER: WHY THE BLACK IMMIGRANTS SHOULD BE DISTINGUISED FROM ASCENDANT BLACKS FOR ADMISSIONS PUROPOSES
Last week I discussed the changing racial and ethnic ancestry of blacks on affirmative action. In that piece, I noted how quickly Black Multiracials and Black Immigrants (anyone with a foreign-born black parent) will soon constitute the overwhelming majority of black students at many (most?) selective higher education programs, if they don’t already. Earlier this week, I discussed how the changes in the way the Department of Education requires educational institutions to collect and report racial and ethnic data that went into effect in the fall of 2010 requires a new discussion about how to treat Black Multiracials in the admissions process. In this one, I want to argue that differences between Black Immigrants and Ascendant Blacks (those with two native-born parents who were considered black as defined by the one-drop rule) means that these two groups should not be treated alike for purposes of affirmative action.
In 1960, there were only 125,000 foreign-born blacks, who made up 0.7 percent of the black population in the U.S. In 2010, however, there were almost 3,600,000 of them and they made up 8.8 percent of the black population. Foreign-born blacks also have about 1 million U. S.-born children.
Black Immigrants share the commonality of being descendants of Africa with Ascendant Blacks. Nevertheless, there are a number of very important economic, social and cultural differences between the two groups. To begin with, the family income of foreign-born blacks is about 25 percent higher than that of native blacks. In addition, foreign-born blacks are far more likely to have college degrees than native blacks. Indeed, Africans are almost two and half times more likely to have college degrees than native blacks. The largest differences between Black Immigrants and Ascendant Blacks, however, may be in their socio-cultural experiences.
In Justice O’Connor’s opinion in Grutter, she explained why it was possible for colleges and universities to consider race and ethnicity in the admissions process. She stated:
“[j]ust as growing up in a particular region or having particular professional experiences is
likely to affect an individual’s views, so too is one’s own, unique experience of being a racial minority in a society, like our own, in which race unfortunately still matters. . . . By virtue of our Nation's struggle with racial inequality, such students are both likely to have experiences of particular importance to the Law School's mission, and less likely to be admitted in meaningful numbers on criteria that ignore those experiences.”
Clearly, the history of discrimination that justifies the use of racial classifications that O’Connor referred to was that which took place in the United States. This seems obvious. After all, no one seriously contends that selective higher education programs could justify affirmative action in the United States to target the effects of oppression in other parts of the world, including, for example, the exploitation of Koreans in Japan, the negative effects of untouchability on Dalits in India, or British imperialism in Africa or the New World. Thus, it is the experiences of individuals from underrepresented minority backgrounds derived from our nation’s struggle with racial inequality that explain why race and ethnicity can be considered. These experiences also explain why these groups are likely underrepresented in the first place.
There is no question that foreign-born blacks have their negative experiences with racism in the United States. Nevertheless, having grown up and matured in their countries of origin, Black Immigrants who come to the U.S. as adults do not have extensive years of experiencing the impact of the historical discrimination encountered by blacks in the United States. In immigrating, Adult Black Immigrants encounter conflicting sociological forces. They come to a land with a long history of voluntary immigration. Yet, they also come to a place where their race places them at the bottom of a racial hierarchy.
As voluntary immigrants, Adult Black Immigrants tend to have a more optimistic and positive outlook on their conditions in American society than Ascendant Blacks. For many Adult Black Immigrants, the racism and discrimination they encounter is part of cost to obtain the benefits they accrue from choosing to come to the U.S. Since most foreign-born blacks come from countries with substantial black majorities, race does not play an important role in their psychological and emotional development. Coming from countries with substantial black majorities also means that Adult Black Immigrants will be use to seeing blacks wield significant economic, political and educational authority. This may provide them with the empowering expectation that success in society is not tied to race, an idea that Ascendant Blacks with their experience growing up in the United States would find difficult to embrace. Since Adult Black Immigrants mature in their home country, many of them do not bring with them to the United States the strong desire to engage in the fight against the racial injustice here. This is something that was plain to me during my travels through South Africa, where I was the foreign-born black immigrant. While I was subjected to the same race discrimination that black South Africans encountered, I had a huge emotional and psychological distance from the experience of racial oppression there.
The term “Black Immigrants,” includes foreign-born blacks who immigrated as adults, as well as those who immigrated as minors and the children of foreign-born blacks. These latter two groups come of age in the United States and, thus, are exposed to more of the historic experience of being an underrepresented minority with a history of discrimination than their parents. Nevertheless, their foreign-born parent(s) and their foreign heritage are likely to have a very important impact on their experiences of race in the United States. Simply put, it is wrong to equate the experience of history of discrimination in the United States that Ascendant Blacks have undergone with that which Black Immigrants experience. To do so, devalues the experiences of Ascendant Blacks.