This morning on Facebook, one of my friends shared a status about Wangari Maathai (1940-2011), who was the first African woman to receive a Nobel (Peace) Prize. I know of her primarily because, along with my father and hundreds of other Kenyans, Tanzanians and Ugandans, she came to American via the Mboya Airlift – also known as the Kennedy Airlift. I’ve mentioned the Airlift several times, including here and here.
The intent of the airlift was to take Eastern Africa’s best students, give each of them a western education, then send them back to their countries to prepare them for independence from European colonialism.
Trump appeals court nominee and first generation South Korean immigrant [sic; he’s either a first-generation American or a South Korean immigrant, but not both] Kenneth Kiyul Lee wrote extensively in opposition to college affirmative action programs as an undergraduate and an attorney.
Lee, whose nomination was formally sent to the Senate last week, wrote that Asian Americans were “caught between” affirmative action “policies that limit their admission to select colleges and opportunistic conservatives” trying to “woo the Angry Yellow Male vote,” in Angry Yellow Men, a 1996 New Republic piece written while a student at Cornell University.
The African students who were chosen for the Mboya Airlift were selected because they were the best students in the schools observed and those who did the choosing felt that, by offering a quality education to these best and brightest, their efforts and money would not be wasted. No standards were lowered, not even language standards. (I’d venture to say that all of the Airlift students spoke English – better than many Americans of the time; they were educated under British standards.)
If America’s higher education Affirmative Action operated like this – by restricting acceptance to the best and the brightest – many of the conversations and criticisms about it would never have occurred. Alas, it does not.
My American parents – my mother and “step” father – have always been against AA because they could see the unspoken implications of it: that blacks needed it because we are allegedly inferior to other groups. And the way AA has often been implemented, by creating a lower bar of academic excellence for blacks and browns to inflate the numbers of students accepted into four-year schools also inflated the number of drop-outs of those same students.
To me, this cause-and-effect tends to entrench the idea of black and brown inferiority in the minds of observers and, probably, in many of those same students. Why not skim off the top instead?
Of course, I know why; there would be fewer black and brown students accepted into four-year universities and these kind of programs are more about optics and wasting money than about effectiveness.
I bet the graduation rates would be much higher. But I won’t hold my breath waiting for the Higher Ed Establishment to accept this, however.
Juliette Akinyi Ochieng has been blogging since 2003 as baldilocks. Her older blog is here. She published her first novel, Tale of the Tigers: Love is Not a Game in 2012. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Gab.
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