Friday, May 9, 2014
The Departments of Education and Justice have released this new guidance on access to school for immigrant children:
Today, Secretary Arne Duncan and Attorney General Eric Holder announced updated guidance to assist public elementary and secondary schools to ensure enrollment processes are consistent with the law and fulfill their obligation to provide all children – no matter their background – equal access to an education.
In 2011, the Departments of Justice and Education issued guidance to help schools understand their responsibilities under the Supreme Court’s decision in Plyler v. Doe and federal civil rights laws to provide all children with equal access to an education regardless of their or their parents’ immigration status. Today, the departments are issuing important updates to that guidance, including examples of permissible enrollment practices, as well as examples of the types of information that may not be used as a basis for denying a student entrance to school.
The updated guidance documents— including a guidance letter to states and school districts and a fact sheet and Q and A document—emphasize the need for flexibility in accepting documents from parents to prove a child’s age and to show that a child resides within a school’s attendance area. They also provide specific examples of the types of documents that many schools have accepted. And the guidance documents remind schools that they may not require certain documents – such as a parent’s state-issued driver’s license – where such a requirement would prevent a student from enrolling because of his or her parent’s immigration status.
In the three years since the guidance was initially issued in 2011, the departments have worked collaboratively with states and school districts across the country to meet their obligations under Plyler and federal civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color and national origin.
The important changes announced today will provide districts with the additional tools and practical guidance needed to make sure the schoolhouse door is open to all students and that undocumented children and children from immigrant families no longer face barriers to enrollment in school and starting down the path to a better future.
The Departments of Education and Justice
Monday, March 3, 2014
Office for Civil Rights Reaches Voluntary Resolution of Kentucky School District’s Discipline Disparities
The Office for Civil Rights, Department of Education, had been investigating Christian County Public Schools' discipline system. It found basic due process flaws on the front end and significant racial disparities on the back end. "[B]lack students were consistently more likely than white students to be assigned in-school suspension and out-of-school suspension when their first disciplinary referral was for violations that were subjective in nature, such as Deliberate Classroom Disruption, Disorderly Conduct, Failure to Follow Directives, and Profanity/Vulgarity. For example, in school year 2010-2011, black students were nearly 3.5 times more likely than white students to receive out-of-school suspension for Profanity/Vulgarity."
Under the final resolution agreement reached last week, the District agreed to:
- Ensure to the maximum extent possible that misbehavior is addressed in a manner that does not require removal from school;
- Collaborate with experts on research-based strategies designed to prevent discrimination in the implementation of school discipline;
- Provide students who engage in disruptive behaviors with support services designed to decrease behavioral difficulties;
- Review and revise the disciplinary policies, and implement disciplinary practices that will effectively promote the fair and equitable administration of discipline;
- Provide training for staff and administrators on the disciplinary policies, and implement programs for students and parents and guardians that will explain the district’s disciplinary policies and behavioral expectations;
- Effectively address school climate issues;
- Improve the disciplinary data collection system in order to evaluate discipline policies and practices.
The full press release and resolution agreement is here. I believe this is the first discipline resolution reached since the Department's new discipline guidelines. Those guidelines seem to be reflected in this resolution, particularly the agreement to use less harsh and discriminatory alternatives to the current discipline policy.
Wednesday, February 26, 2014
The district court has issued a new opinion in Lewis v. Ascension Parish Sch. Bd., 2014 WL 556677 (M.D. La. 2014), a case involving allegations that the district discriminated in the rezoning of its schools. Like Spurlock v. Fox, 716 F.3d 383 (6th Cir.2013) and Doe v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 665 F.3d 524 (3d Cir.2011), the court in Lewis had to navigate the complex post-Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle world, in which racial intent, racial classifications, and racial considerations all of different doctrinal relevance and potentially conflicted precedents.
The district court in Lewis had previously issued a summary decision granting the school district's motion for summary judgement, which was summarily overturned by the Fifth Circuit and remanded. The Fifth Circuit had intimated that the Third Circuit's holding in Lower Merion--that Justice Kennedy's opinion in Parents Involved was controlling and that assignment plans are subject to rational basis so long as they do not rely on individual racial classifications--was incorrect. The Fifth Circuit, however, indicated it need not reach those doctrinal question because certain factual issues needed to be addressed first.
In its new decision on remand, the district court offers what may be the most cogent post-Parents Involved analysis to date. Plaintiff's basic claim is that the district's new assignment plan segregates African Americans and provides them with unequal educational opportunities. The district court analyzes his claim based on three distinct doctrines. First, it asks whether a racial classification was employed in the assignment plan. If so, Parents Involved's strict scrutiny applies. Here, the court indicates there is no evidence of a racial classification. Awareness or consideration of race, alone, are insufficient to trigger strict scrutiny. Thus, the rational basis approach of Lower Merion would apply. On the one hand, this holding is another validation of districts' ability to voluntarily desegregate. On the other hand, the plaintiffs in Lewis were alleging segregation and, thus, this court makes clear that those claims still must meet the higher burden of Village of Arlington Heights v. Metro.
Second, the court analyzes the disparate impact of the plan and the extent to which it potentially gives rise to a claim of intentional discrimination per Arlington Heights. It finds that the assignment plan does.
Third, the court analyzes the school district's consideration of racial demographics, etc., in drawing the assignment zones. The court finds that these considerations, along with the impacts, create a triable issue of fact as to whether intent existed. The Court elaborated:
Here, the School Board also does not contest that the majority of the non-white students in the District are in the East Ascension High School feeder zone and that the majority of the white students in the District are in the Dutchtown High School and St. Amant High School feeder zones. With regard to the factors considered by the School Board when it adopted Option 2f, the School Board does not contest that its members considered race and socioeconomic status when they developed, evaluated, and adopted Option 2f. Unlike the students in Lower Merion, non-white and white students in the District have each been affected by Option 2f (i.e. assigned to different schools). Indeed, the School Board does not contest this fact. Further, the School Board does not contest that Option 2f assigns all students to schools based on their geographic location.
Unlike the court in Lower Merion, this Court is unable to consider all of the evidence presented until after a full trial on the merits. See Lower Merion, 665 F.3d at 542. However, given the evidence presented here, context of this matter, and factors considered by the School Board when it adopted Option 2f, the Court concludes that Varando and Child B are, in fact, similarly situated to white students in the Dutchtown High School and St. Amant High School feeder zones. Accordingly, the School Board's request that the Court dismiss Lewis' remaining Equal Protection claim on this basis is DENIED.
In short, the district court agreed with Lower Merion (and rejected plaintiffs argument for applying strict scrutiny), but found there are sufficient facts on which discriminatory purpose could be inferred (which would trigger strict scrutiny) and set the case for trial.
Thursday, February 6, 2014
The Second Circuit Court of Appeals in Gulino v. Board of Educ. of New York City School Dist. of City of New York, 2014 WL 402286 (2014), affirmed the district court's holding that the school board “'can be subject to Title VII liability for its use of'” the Liberal Arts and Sciences Test (“LAST”) and that the LAST violates Title VII's disparate impact provisions because it was not properly validated." The district court had also "denied in part the Board's motion to decertify the previously certified class in light of the Supreme Court's intervening decision in Wal–Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, 131 S.Ct. 2541 (2011); and (3) held that the defense to claims of disparate treatment under Title VII recognized in Ricci v. DeStefano, 557 U.S. 557 (2009), does not apply to claims of disparate impact." The Court of Appeals also affirmed those holdings. In short, the lawsuit by African American and Latino teachers, challenging the disparate impact that state testing requirements have on them, will move forward, and they can move forward as a class. This holding is particularly satisfying for plaintiffs' attorneys, in general, given the barriers presented by Wal-mart and Ricci to class action discrimination claims. This plaintiffs' class survived both.
Wednesday, February 5, 2014
Wendy Parker’s new article, Recognizing Discrimination: Lessons from White Plaintiffs, 65 Fla. L. Rev. 1871 (December 2013), offers a unique perspective on the Court's holding in Parents Involved and other recent race cases. In particular, she frames the cases in such a way that they could be of benefit to civil rights advocates rather than just hindrances. Parker argues that the majority in Parents Involved changed the meaning of discrimination from substantive discrimination, which originated with the Warren Court, to process discrimination. Process discrimination occurs “from the process of different treatment, without proof of any attending substantive harm.” She also emphasizes that Fisher v. Texas was premised on process rather than substantive discrimination.
She theorizes that process discrimination, as an aggressive colorblind principle, can ultimately help plaintiffs of all races in discrimination suits because it allows plaintiffs to more easily show that their race was part of the decision that caused them harm. Prof. Parker illustrates this with a hypothetical:
Consider a manager, working for a state, who fired a Latino worker with one single utterance negative to his Latino heritage. Any attending lawsuit would traditionally ask whether the worker was fired because of ethnicity. That single utterance would do little in demonstrating why the worker was fired. Instead, the issue would be whether the Latino worker deserved to be fired, or whether the plaintiff's ethnicity caused the firing. Parents Involved shifted the focus away from the firing issue to a process question: Did the manager treat the Latino worker differently than a non-Latino worker during the firing process? Would the manager have made the statement to a white worker? If not, then the manager was discriminatory under the reasoning of Parents Involved. Likewise, the question in Fisher is now whether Ms. Fisher was treated differently during the admissions process-not whether she would have been admitted if she were African-American or Latino.
My forthcoming article in a Fisher symposium frames Parents Involved and Fisher as a triumph of form over function, and bears a lot of similarity to Parker's. What she calls "process" I call "form," and what she call "substance" I call "function." In other words, we read the cases the same, but put different labels on them. The current conclusion of my paper, however, takes a different route than Parker. I conclude that the focus on form benefits whites and disadvantages minorities, primarily because the harm that typically falls on minorities is not explicit. Instead, the harms minorities suffer are often the result of the way the system functions. This type of harm escape judicial scrutiny under an analysis heavily weighted toward form.
Parker's article, however, would indicate that form over function is not all bad. Minorities just have to embrace the new paradigm and marshall it to their benefit in the same way opponents of affirmative action have--an extremely important and insightful point that I overlooked in my pessimistic analysis of the cases.
An earlier version of the paper is available here on ssrn.
Tuesday, February 4, 2014
Alan Houston, an African-American middle school principal, alleged he was removed from his position in retaliation for racial complaints made by Houston and his wife. Houston alleged this action violated Equal Protection, the First Amendment, and state tort law. The District Court, in Houston v. Indep. Sch. Dist. No. 89 of Okla. Cnty., 949 F.Supp.2d 1104 (W.D. Okla. 2013), dismissed Houston’s equal protection and state claims, but held that he could amend his equal protection claim. The equal protection claim was not fully fleshed out, but my reading is that the better claim would have been a Title VI or Title VII complaint, in which he alleged retaliation for his complaints regarding discrimination. The Supreme Court in Jackson v. Birmingham explicitly recognized such a claim for complaints of gender discrimination under Title IX and lower courts have extended the holding to Title VI.
The First Amendment claim is particularly interesting. The court takes up the Garcetti and Pickering analysis and combines them into a 5-factor test, focusing heavily on whether the speech was of public concern and made in the plaintiff's official capacity. The district court also applies the Twombly/Iqbal pleading standards. In short, the case is a professor's playground for new, controversial and intersecting Supreme Court precedent. Unfortunately, the district court's opinion is relative short.
Monday, January 13, 2014
Friday, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's holding in I.L. v. Alabama that the state's school funding was not discriminatory. The Eleventh Circuit's opinion primarily focuses on issues of jurisdiction and redressibility. In the final pages of the opinion, the court reaches plaintiffs' central claim: that several provisions of and two amendments to the Alabama Constitution were motivated by discrimination. In particular, plaintiffs claimed that the caps on education spending and otherwise generally low commitment to education trace back to Alabama's desire to disinvest in education once it realized it would have no choice but to desegregate its schools and their finances. (Similar claims were also made in a challenge to higher education funding in Knight v. Alabama, 476 F.3d 1219 (11th Cir. 2007)). The court acknowledged Alabama's sordid history, but indicated it could find no clear error in the the trial court's conclusion that these limitations on education "were a reaction to the increases in property appraisals and assessments mandated by [an earlier case], and the accompanying threat of a tremendous increase in the property taxes paid by land owners."
This case is unique in its attempt to explicitly link intentional discrimination with dismal school funding. As of yet, however, no modern plaintiffs have been able to sustain such a claim on a statewide level. The further in time they are removed from the original "deed" the more skeptical courts tend to become of the claim.
The full opinion is available here. Thanks to Scott Bauries for alerting me to the opinion.
Thursday, December 12, 2013
The superintendent of Schenectady schools in New York, Laurence Spring, plans to file an administrative complaint with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) on Friday. He alleges that his district is receiving $62 million less per year than the state had agreeded to in the school finance litigation from 2007. Spring concedes that Schenectady is not alone in its budget shortfall, but that by his calculations predominantly white schools are suffering a smaller per pupil shortfall than predominantly minority schools. In other words, the current funding formula in New York disparately impacts minorities in violation of the Department of Education's Title VI regulations. Spring emphasizes "This is not a school funding case — it’s an issue of discrimination. . . . New York state implements an educational funding structure which discriminates against students of color, English language learners and students with special needs.”
The substance of the claim--racially disparate funding--is not unique, not even in New York. The Campaign for Fiscal Equity made the same claim in regard to New York City schools and alleged a Title VI violation alongside of its state constitutional claims in the late 1990s, only to withdraw it after the Supreme Court in Alexander v. Sandoval held that not private right of action exists to enforce disparate impact regulations. This current claim, however, is distinct in terms of the forum in which it is made and who is making it.
OCR gets thousands of complaints a year. Almost all are lodged against a district, with a few against the state. But individuals and organizations are uniformly (or nearly so) the complainants. In structural terms, this would mean that a party outside of the federal funding agreement, which is the basis for Title VI liability, is asking the federal government to bring a district into compliance with Title VI. While students are certainly the beneficiaries of the federal money, the point of OCR's administrative process is not to secure remedies for individual complaints (although they may often get one). The point is to ensure future compliance by the district. This fact often frustrates complainants.
The instant case, in contrast, involves one federal funding recipient--the district--alleging claims against another--the state. This does not change the underlying substantive issue--discriminatory funding--but it does change the politics and resolution of that issue. In effect, the district is what one might call a "super plaintiff" in that it has actual legal standing in the contractual relationship between the federal government and the state and the district (although standing requirements are not predicates to OCR complaints). The district also has enhanced political standing. Unlike the single student who might ask OCR to terminate an entire school district or state's federal funding (if the district or state doesn't comply) simply because that student has been harmed, this complaint involves a district making a claim against its own system. Thus, it potentially could harm its own financial interests. In that respect, it may have more legitimacy and bargaining power in the eyes of OCR. On the other hand, the district is asking OCR to intervene in an internal state relationship, not simply the relationship between the federal government and the state or district, which raise federalism concerns. Fortunately, when discrimination is at issue, those federalism concerns are trumped.
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
Over the past few months, I have noted some major agreements by OCR that have expanded equal access to AP courses and other high level curriculum for minority students. The most notable was in Lee County, Alabama. Based on recent news, OCR appears to be continuing to press that issue elsewhere. News outlets in Michigan recently reported that, at the behest of/in conjunction with OCR, Grand Rapids Public Schools its revising its classroom assignment and admissions policies in an attempt to remedy the under representation of African-American students in AP, honors and college preparatory courses. The district and OCR hope to reach a settlement agreement soon. The district indicated that the first suggested step is to hire an outside consultant to analyze its data and identify what current barriers to equality might exist. The distict has already jumped on that task. Last week, the board approved a contract with the National Equity Project to begin the research. Kudos to OCR for staying on top of this issue, which research by Jeannie Oakes and others has long shown is the hidden segregation in our schools, but which has an enormous impact on the education children receive.
I am not sure whether it is related to OCR spotlighting the issue, but the New York Times recently reported on several other major school districts that are independently taking the initative to expand access to AP curriculum for poor and minority students.
Friday, November 1, 2013
Two years after passing a sweeping anti-immigrant bill, Alabama is relenting. The bill had wide-ranging impacts on immigrant communities (and those interacting with them) that touched on almost every aspect of their lives. Some may recall that the bill included a measure that required schools to verify the immigration status of newly enrolled K-12 students. The day after the bill went into effect, news reports indicated that scores of Latino students, in particular, went missing from school. This included students who were, in fact, citizens or were legally in the country. I never caught news of these students returning. Alabama apparently achieved its presumed purpose: to encourage these families to leave the state. I imagine that few of those uprooted families have intentions of returning to Alabama, but the settlement agreement negotiated by the Southern Poverty Law Center and other civil rights group with the state protects them if they do. The state has agreed to permanently abandon this and other aspects of the bill. See here for more details.
Friday, October 25, 2013
Students from a Dallas Fort Worth School allege that a music teacher separated the African American students from the white students and then demeaned the African American students, including calling them "stupid." Charges of racism are now being leveled at the teacher. The district is investigating. In my attempt to track down the facts-- which are pretty fuzzy--on thisstory, I ran across a few other similar stories. I would have thought that blatant classroom discrimination segregation would be an isolated story, but two stories suggest it may not be.
The first story relates to another teacher in Minnesota calling African American students "fat" and "stupid" in class. The families subsequently filed a discrimination lawsuit. If these were only isolated statements, they would be unlikely to lead to liability under Title VI, but the claim is that the teacher had repeatedly used such language and the school had refused to address it, which makes their claim stronger.
The second story was not malevolent, but even more remarkable. In 2011, school officials in Lancaster, PA admitted to segregating African American students from the rest of a school's students and then dividing the African American students further by gender. The separation is purportedly brief, lasting just six minutes each day and 20 minutes twice a month. When brought to light, the officials defended the plan, indicating it was motivated by their desire to address the specific challenges that African American students face and to close the achievement gap. The school, however, seems to be overlooking its own biases as one of the likely causes of the underachievement of African American students. That these biases are in play is reinforced by their stereotypical notion that African Americans are the only students in the district with risk factors that need to be singled out and that all African Americans are seriously at risk. Were these assumptions not below the surface, the total and rigid segregation of African American students would have been illogical to the district. In short, the district appears to have been well intentioned, but good intentions do not keep bias or discrimination at bay.
Sunday, October 13, 2013
Barring a settlement in the next year, the U.S. Department of Justice will go to trial against the city of Meridian and Lauderdale County in Mississippi. DOJ argues that local authorities lock up students for minor infractions like disrespect or vulgar language. The suit also alleges that students--disproportionately African American and disabled--are routinely detained without probable cause and denied legal counsel.
DOJ was also set to try the Meridian Public School District, but was able to reach a settlement agreement with the district this past summer. The district agreed to take various steps to end discrimination in its discipline program. It is not clear why the criminal justice system is holding out, but if this goes to trial and DOJ wins, which are both big ifs, the case could have a monumental impact in the fight against the pipeline.
Thursday, October 10, 2013
Two weeks ago, I posted on the resignations of two school officials (the superintendent and athletic director) outside of Philadelphia, stemming from their brazen use of racial epithets in text messages. New accusations have just arisen from one of the whistle blowers, who says that the new acting superintendent was also involved, at least, tangentially in the texting. The whistle blower indicates that the texts by the acting superintendent were not racist, but "personally demeaning and uncalled for." When questioned, the acting superintendent denied that she had received or sent any racist or sexist text messages from the former officials who resigned.
Understandably, the community remains outraged by the acts of its former officials and is dissatisfied with how the school board has handled the situation. I guess it does not help that it has now come out that the board agreed to a $70,ooo payout in vacation and sick time to the former superintendent when he resigned. I also doubt the public will be happy when it sees the price tag for the public relations firm the board is purportedly trying to hire to help them get a control on this news story.
Thursday, October 3, 2013
Earlier this year, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed a two track diploma system into law: one for students heading to college and others who are not, but hopefully heading into work. The obvious hope is to do a better job of making high school graduates career ready. Some believe this will also help some kids who might otherwise drop-out stay in school. On the one hand, I credit Florida for taking steps to doing what other states are loath to do: deliver quality vocational programs. States resist because it suggests they are lowering standards and giving up on students. But as one of my former students, Nina Frant, compellingly argued in The Inadequate Resume of School Education Plans, 51 How. L.J. 819 (2008), many school finance decisions articulating the state's obligation to deliver an adequate education focus equally on college and career readiness. Yet, the response of almost all education systems has been solely in regard to college readiness. The practical result, she argues, is that schools do a disservice to and forget about students who are not going to college. If Florida really intends to serve these otherwise ignored students, it deserves credit for taking on this issue.
On the other hand, separate tracks have long since been a mechanism through which bias and inequality operate. Individual school administrators' perceptions of who is and is not college material can be as much, if not more, a function of the administrator's bias as the student's ability. The result is stark racial imbalance in the tracks. If Florida is serious about improving education through its dual track education, it must be equally serious about eradicating the biases that will surely affect it.
Thursday, September 26, 2013
In a story so shocking, it is hard to believe, the superintendent and athletic director of a suburb school district outside of Philadelphia were just removed/allowed to resigned from their positions after an IT employee leaked their electronic conversations containing repeated use of the n-word. Coatesville Area School District Superintendent Richard Como and Director of Athletics and Activities Jim Donato apparently had the following to say about their students and teachers:
'All should just have whatever first names they want...then last name is N*****!
'Leroy N*****, Preacher N*****, Night train n*****, clarence n*****, Latoya n*****, Thelma n***** and so on.'
'Great idea! Joe n***** bill n***** snake n***** got a nice ring to it.'
'Could have whole homerooms of n*****!'
'Hahahahaha! Will N***** report to the office, pardon the interruption but will n***** report to nurses office. N***** to lunch now!'
When the superintendent was talking about 23 teachers laid off, Donato asked: 'How many n****** out of 23? Not enough!” The superintendent replied: 'Don't know but think it's only 4-5. At most until last minute rush of firing by Goo of Phoenix and Kamara.' 'Good hangings there,' Donato responded.
Friday, September 13, 2013
Thursday, September 12, 2013
This past April, the documentary Bully was released. Last night, I finally got the chance to watch it. While the stories in the documentary were not "news" to me, it was very difficult to watch. The movie follows the lives of five different children in four different states: two, seemingly middle class, white children; a white female, who came out as gay in middle school; an African-American female, who was an honor student and basketball player; and a white middle school boy, who had been born premature and had some physical effects as result (I am not sure whether they would qualify as disabilities). The two middle class kids had committed suicide. The white female was subject to physical assault, and verbal harassment by both teaches and students. The African American female had apparently be subjected to harassment, but her story focuses on her response, which was to bring a gun to school to stop the harassment (prior to the documentary). The other white student was subject to severe verbal harassment, threats, and physical violence.
Thursday, September 5, 2013
Apparently, facebook was on fire last night with news of the racial impacts of some schools' policies on student hairstyles. Danielle Holley-Walker shared this with me this morning:
There have been several recent news stories about charter schools that are banning natural hairstyles. Most recently the Deborah Brown Community School on Tulsa, Oklahoma adopted a dress code that said that, "hairstyles such as dreadlocks, afros, mohawks, and other faddish styles are unacceptable." See here. Last year, the Horizon Science Academy in Lorain, Ohio sent a letter to parents adopting a dress code that prevented students from wearing "Afro
puffs" or "small twisted braids." See here. Why are some charter schools adopting anti-natural hair policies and what are the legal ramifications for such policies?
Monday, August 12, 2013
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.