FIRST PERSON-Probably the greatest advantage the United States has had over most other countries up until now has been its pragmatic and ever evolving definition of what it means to be an American.
The constant, dynamic redefinition by the latest wave of immigrants to our country has been strong as it has incorporated the positive diversity of rich and diverse cultures. This has reinvigorated what might otherwise have become a complacent American society in decline like some that have preceded us. Diversity is a prerequisite for any country that wants to remain viable over time.
Negative diversity, on the other hand, is something else we have experienced and there is no greater example than how African Americans have and continue to be treated in this country over the last 400 years. Like other components of our culture, African Americans have made uniquely positive contributions in many areas, despite the never-ending negative social and economic treatment and stigmas that they have suffered.
The social institution and primary mechanism for keeping African Americans in the bottom of virtually every list of positive components of human well being is a purposefully failed yet segregated public education system. These deficits can be measured in terms such as life expectancy, health, economic success, and integration into American society.
Under slavery, it was a crime to teach a slave to read. And after slavery ended, segregated minority schools, given the resources available to them, were unable to educate their students to their highest potential, a goal that was taken for granted in every integrated predominantly White school.
In 1896, Plessy vs. Ferguson established the fantasy notion of "separate but equal" education for African American, Latino, and other minorities in segregated schools. It took 58 years, until 1954 and Brown vs. Board of Education, for the Supreme Court to finally address what had always been the glaring reality that, "Separate but equal...is [was and always will be] inherently unequal." A belated end of story? Not by a long shot. We are now 64 years after the Brown case and our schools are more segregated than they were before that decision.
So, you would think this might be of interest to an organization like the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. No, they're too busy going after Harvard for alleged lack of diversity in their admissions policy, which at best has minimal result when determining how many African Americans get to be among the 1600 students Harvard accepts as incoming freshmen each year. Is this more important to the NAACP than the millions of Blacks and Latinos trapped in substandard still de facto segregated public schools, where little attempt is made to educate them to their potential in a timely manner?
At the beginning of the week I went to UCLA to hear African American attorney Michaela N. Turnage Young, senior counsel for the NAACP Defense and Education Fund and lead attorney in the diversity admissions case against Harvard. When I asked her why the NAACP Defense and Education Fund chooses to pursue Harvard as opposed to going after the blatant segregation in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York City, and other inner-city public school systems, I got silence from Attorney Turnage Young.
Could it be that they didn't want to offend their corporate foundation donors by going after LAUSD et al? Or might it have been the greatest repudiation of racist stereotypes by showing that when push comes to shove, when anybody of whatever ethnicity gets a six-figure salary, they turn momma's picture to the wall?
If you still think as I do that these folks have their priorities screwed up, you might just get in touch with them to let them know how you feel:
NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.
40 Rector Street, 5th floor New York, NY 10006
And if you are really motivated, you might go to their "Request for assistance form" and ask the NAACP to address our purposefully failed inner city segregated public schools that continue to contribute to making African Americans 14 times more likely to become incarcerated. This is because the majority of them exit schools without the education and skills necessary to be gainfully employed and productive taxpaying members of our society.
(Leonard Isenberg is a Los Angeles, observer and a contributor to CityWatch. He was a second- generation teacher at LAUSD and blogs at perdaily.com. Leonard can be reached at Lenny@perdaily.com.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.