Woke Shall Overcome!

In a July 31 OpEd in the Los Angeles Times, Micah Ali, the president of the Compton Unified School District Board of Trustees, writes that “the upheaval of 2020” — the post Floyd protests and riots — has provided a unique opportunity “to begin righting historic injustices. 

One of the best examples of ”systemic racism,” in his view, is “the monstrous, opportunity-crushing Proposition 209.” Left unsaid was how its prohibition of discrimination or preferential treatment based on race or ethnicity somehow “erected barriers between people of color and the great California dream.”

Never mind. By now it is no surprise when people who claim to believe in civil rights actually support rather than oppose distributing benefits and burdens based on race. What is more interesting are some of Ali’s specific recommendations to the state’s university and college system, such as eliminating not only required standardized tests but even the consideration of test results when students choose to take them.

I was particularly struck and then intrigued by his urging colleges and universities to “emphasize overcoming hardships.” He notes that “one of the 14 factors the UC system considers in the admissions selection process is the life experiences and special circumstances that have affected a candidate’s academic accomplishments,” which can include such factors as “disabilities, low family income, the need to work while attending school, disadvantaged social or educational environments, difficult personal and family situations or circumstances.”

Intrigued, because I wonder how long it will be — if, indeed, it has not already happened — before an enterprising white applicant (who better take care not to identify his race/ethnicity as White) tries to take advantage of the “overcoming hardship” factor to gain admission.

One version might go something like this:

Through no fault of my own, I was born white. I was brought up in an affluent two-parent household in an affluent largely white suburb, where I attended excellent but largely white elementary and middle schools but then was sent to a largely white private prep school where most of the students (even most of the students of color) came from families that were much more than affluent. I, in short, am a poster child of white privilege.

That privilege has imposed a crushing burden that I have been struggling to overcome, with only limited success so far. Nevertheless, I am guardedly optimistic. With the invaluable assistance of such searing analyses of my plight as Robin Diangelo’s White Fragility and Ibram X. Kendi’s How To Be An Antiracist and the daily, or nightly, lessons being taught as I write on the streets of Portland, Seattle, and elsewhere, I don’t believe it reflects white hubris — perhaps I should say, not only white hubris — for me to say that I believe I have made progress overcoming the hardships and  blinders imposed by my overly advantaged social and educational environments. 

I would very much like to continue down that road at ________ University, whose reputation for its vigorous commitment to anti-racism promises to provide precisely the sort of environment that can help me on my continuing journey of self-criticism and to which I believe I, as a wakening refugee from white privilege, can also make a contribution.

For a small fee I would be happy to grant reproduction privilege to any applicant who would like to use this.

Say What?