Are Black Students At Duke Pissed For The Right Reason?

I majored in sociology and I'm still gonna make more money than you pretty soon, white man.

I came across this article at Clutch Mag yesterday entitled, “Black Students at Duke Upset Over New Study Claiming They Take The Easy Way Out” that linked to a Durham, NC, Herald-Sun article about a study that pissed of Black folks from near and far. In a nutshell, two Duke professors and a grad student wrote a paper stating that Black students at Duke changed majors from more traditionally difficult majors like economics, engineering, and natural sciences to less rigorous majors (like humanities) at a higher rate than did white students. The paper was an attempt to explain why the GPAs of Black students tended to trend towards the GPAs of white students as ninjas made their way through college and is being used as a bone for opponents of affirmative action policies.

Oy vey.

The unpublished report, “What Happens After Enrollment? An Analysis of the Time Path of Racial Differences in GPA and Major Choice,” looked at the Duke freshman classes that matriculated in 2001 and 2002, in their first, second and fourth years of college.

It found that among students who initially expressed an interest in majoring in economics, engineering and the natural sciences, 54 percent of black men and 51 percent of black women ended up switching to the humanities or another social science.

By comparison, 33 percent of white women and just 8 percent of white men made the switch to majors that are considered less rigorous, require less study and have easier grading standards.

According to the paper, 68 percent of Duke’s black students but less than 55 percent of white students ended up majoring in the humanities or social sciences other than economics.

The authors of the paper suggested that the switch to easier majors was predominantly responsible for why the grade point averages of black undergraduates ultimately became similar to the GPAs of white students as they progressed through school.

The paper is included in a brief submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court by opponents of affirmative action. The court is considering whether to hear a lawsuit challenging race-conscious undergraduate admission at the University of Texas.


The fact that any professor intensely intrigued and/or troubled by the fact that Black student GPAs were similar to white student GPAs is problematic enough. But to take it to the next level to prove that basically Black students (and legacy kids, interestingly enough) were stepping on their cocaine to make it through is just a gotd*mn shame.
However, I’m choosing to take my feelings out of this and going to attempt to look at this somewhat objectively. And my reason is because of this line, the constant rally cry of any and all things that involve race by us, the Black people:
[Nina] Asante (president of Duke’s Black Student Alliance) wrote that the authors failed “to account for the societal, complex and institutional factors that must be considered in any attempt to delineate trends in racial differences in grade point averages and major choices, in a scholarly manner.”
I am admittedly jaded but I read that to say, “unless you have a section in your study about how slavery and the persistent effects of institutional racism f*cked us the f*ck up then your whole paper, study, and lifespace is fugazi, b*tch.”
Which, while true, does tend to obscure what are, well, facts. Look, I went to an HBCU with a stellar science program in physics and biology and a great dual degree engineering program with Georgia Tech. But let’s be real, the majority of majors at Morehouse were business. And I’m not sh*tting on business majors, but it is what it is. That was like our catchall if you couldn’t hack it in the STEM majors. And a lot of people did make that switch. I myself chose economics with a math concentration because I specifically didn’t want to feel like I was shortchanging myself. But you better believe, we had a non-math economics option and the majority of econ majors took that road.
What does that have to do with the price of dental dams at Spelman? Nothing. But if Duke is the academically rigorous school that its purported to be, and Morehouse isn’t (no shots, and if you take shots at the ‘House I’m 404 you’re whole life son) and we have a preponderance of ninjas who make the switch, then what are we complaining about at Duke? Are we mad that the story is out there or that we can’t hack it?
Look, I know the public education system that the majority of us will have to use isn’t top notch. But that’s probably largely in the inner city where it seems like most of us aren’t exactly coming from anymore. And I’d bet money that most of the Black students at Duke aren’t exactly coming from southeast DC, the south Bronx, the west side of Atlanta, or Compton. Most are probably suburban children and/or private school kids. So their education is probably better than what a lot of us received at various stages (except for you bougie ninjas). Yet and still, many of us can’t hack it.
Now, if you ask me, that’s the study that needs to be looked into. When you control for socio-economic status, are these same Black students not able to cut the mustard? If not, are we going to blame racism and slavery for that? And that’s a real question. Seeing as Duke is a private school and considered an elite institution, I’m guessing their application process is itself more rigorous and they are accepting students who would likely meet a higher education standard. This is my assumption. Anybody can feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.
So what the hell is really going on then? I’m not insisting that that Black students aren’t as smart. Far from it. But perhaps some of these students learned a lesson that I learned at Morehouse really early on: game the system. The goal is to graduate. So maybe some of these ninjas are taking the path to least resistance and banking on the school attached to the degree to be able to take them far. Hell, isn’t that what many white people do anyway? Just because those white students aren’t changing majors doesn’t mean they’re excelling either. So if I’m beasting out with my English degree with a 3.9 and you’ve got a 2.7 in biology, and we all know that grad schools and the like care about your GPA, then perhaps I will feel like I’m winning.
I don’t know. And I don’t like the implication behind that either. Maybe we can blame hip-hop and this hustler mentality of dong what you need to do to get where you think you’re trying to go. Or maybe a lot of those kids don’t want to be STEM majors anyway (whole other discussion about that) and are thinking business and wall street or what most of us do…law school. Which if I’m not mistaken, wouldn’t require a STEM degree.
My point here is that while there are probably other factors involved, playing the slavery card (how I’m reading it) isn’t probably accurate. Maybe playing the “I get money, I-I get money” card is. Which means that some of those protests might be a bit ill advised. I can understand why Black people are up in arms. On its face, it sounds messed and politically motivated, but that doesn’t mean that what they’re stating didn’t happen. We just don’t like the implications behind it, even if maybe, just maybe, they’re accurate.
The paper’s authors — professors Peter Arcidiacono and Kenneth Spenner, and graduate student Esteban Aucejo — write that their work calls into question other studies that play down the academic difficulties initially experienced by those who benefit from race-conscious admissions by saying that such students eventually catch up with their nonminority peers in GPA.
Just wanted to add that I do think the authors here have some racial issues of their own to deal with (and I’m aware that Duke has a somewhat sordid history of racial issues in general).Clearly they’re not proponents of affirmative action, except their inability to see the forest for the trees (as academics) is a bit scary because at the end of the day, we DO end up with a lot more minorities with degrees which is better for society. Like your point was to intentionally disprove any benefit from race-conscious admissions without acknowledging that it might be harder to get into these schools than actually graduate? Sitchoazzdown.
But forget their reasons, and back to the actual findings. What say you? Thoughts?
Should we be mad about these findings? Should we be protesting studies like this? Or should we acknowledge that there’s truth there and then determine what the solution is, should one be necessary? Are these folks just not on our level?
Inquiring minds would like to know.
Sorry for the length. Heheheheh.

If I Were A Poor Black Kid, What Would You Say To Me?

I have a confession to make: Although it rang in at a little under 1000 words, yesterday’s “No Pre-Nupt? No Problem” was a “fall-back” post that I scrambled to write in 90 minutes after I scrapped my original, “genius” plan. That plan? A satirical response to Gene Marks’ “If I Were A Poor Black Kid.”

I had the title picked out (“If I Were A Middle Aged White Guy“), a plan (full satire with no winks at the audience), and even went back and forth with the number of penis envy jokes I was going to include (Two. Any more would be tacky). I basically had everything written out in my head before I even typed a word.

But, just as I was about to log on and start writing, something told me to google “If I Were A Middle Aged White Guy.” I did and, well, that “something” saved me the shame of doing the exact same thing that 7578327843 people already did last week. Drats!

Admittedly, it had been a week — a light year in internet time — since that article first hit the internet, so news that my “fresh, witty, and unique” idea was as stale as a day old dog fart wasn’t necessarily shocking. Actually, at this point, any “fresh, witty, and unique” take on this topic would be equally stale.

That venture to Google showed me something else, though, something a bit more disturbing. Our collective rush take Marks’ article down as quickly, wittily, insightfully, condescendingly, factually, and snarkily as possible made for one underlying truth: We really do believe that poor black kids are doomed. 

Perhaps I’m reading to much into this. Maybe, out of the dozens of takes I’ve read on this subject, I overlooked the one that didn’t share this sentiment. But, it seems like the general response can be summed up by just saying “Sh*t is royally f*cked, there’s nothing they can do about it, and it’s insulting to even suggest that anything can be done about it.

Now, this may actually be true. Maybe luck, serendipity, and divine intervention are the only realistic ways for Dukie to get to Duke. But, lets say I’m that poor black kid. Do you tell me that my destiny is completely out of my control? That regardless of how hard I work, a lucky break or a generous benefactor is the only chance I have to succeed? Do you tell me not to bother walking to the library because I’ll probably trip and fall on an AIDS infected needle on the way there? Do you tell me to forget about downloading Skype on the old laptop my aunt let me borrow because the electricity is gonna be off all next month anyway? That I need to start playing basketball 12 hours a day because my best bet at getting out of the hood is being really, really good at it?

What the hell would you say to me?

—The Champ

All Sold Out: A couple thoughts about the “Fab Five,” Grant Hill, and the Uncle Tom stigma

Kyrie Irving put me in an extremely unusual and unsettling place earlier this fall. You see, Irving is the best 18 year old point guard I’ve ever seen¹. And, since I’m a mercenary when it comes to basketball fandom — I’m a fan of whichever team my favorite players happen to be on — it stands to reason that I’d become a fan of whichever school Irving happened to sign with.

But, Irving signed with f*cking Duke, and that changed everything.

You see, ever since they managed — in consecutive years, mind you — to beat my two favorite college teams ever (the 1991 UNLV Runnin’ Rebels and the 1992 Michigan Wolverines) in the NCAA tournament, my heart has reserved a special cabinet of hate for the Duke Blue Devils. Sh*t, even as a 12 year old I could sense that there was something inherently hateable about this unbearably preppy, unusually smarmy, and unapologetically arrogant collection of the spawn of astronauts, lawyers, politicians, and rapists².

To me, they stood for everything wrong about the way the world worked. There was no fairness in the fact that this agglomeration of rich assholes — people whose privilege meant they already won at life — should be allowed to be great at playing basketball too. To twist the knife in the gut even more, pundits, commentators, and columnists love to laud Duke for “playing the right way” and “respecting the game,” which is akin to a high school principal giving a trust fund senior a citizenship award, even though the senior was just caught f*cking a freshman on the hood of his Maserati Quattroporte in the school parking lot.

With that being said, it should come as no surprise that a part of me could relate to the statements Jalen Rose and Jimmy King made about Duke and black Duke players in ESPN’s recent documentary “Fab Five.”

From Rose:

“For me Duke was personal. I hated Duke and I hated everything Duke stood for. Schools like Duke didn’t recruit players like me. I felt like they only recruited black players that were Uncle Toms.”

I too have always felt that Duke seems to prefer to recruit kids from more affluent backgrounds. And, although I wouldn’t go as far as call a black player who signed with Duke an “Uncle Tom,” I never got the feeling that black dukies were “down for the cause” (whatever the hell that means)

Of course, this — and “this” is a “general feeling about Duke shared by many African-Americans” — is all baseless bullshit. And, considering the fact that I too came from a middle class background with two married parents at home and went to a private middle school and a suburban high school, my bullshit was especially thick. Because I disliked the fact that they beat up on two of my favorite teams, I spun each possible positive characteristic into a negative.

They weren’t confident, they were arrogant. They weren’t team-oriented, they were masking the fact that they had no real talent. They weren’t talented, they were lucky. They weren’t hard-working winners, they we’re poseurs lifted to prominence by byzantine means. I allowed my disdain for their success and the attention given to them turn me into, well, a hater. And while Rose and King obviously were speaking about their past feelings, I don’t think either of them really stressed how wrong they were to feel that way, and that was very disappointing.

Oh, and about “Uncle Tom.

There are certain accusations that, true or untrue, forever stick with you. Men wrongly accused of rape are still thought of and treated as rapists by those who only need an allegation for confirmation of guilt. “Uncle Tom” carries a similar permanent stigma, and I can’t even imagine how frustrating it must be for a black person who has done nothing but do things the way they’re supposed to be done to always have their racial identity questioned.

This frustration was clearly evident in Grant Hill’s tomeic response to Rose and King’s comments about black Duke players. You could almost sense that this missive had been festering inside of Hill for decades.

It was a sad and somewhat pathetic turn of events, therefore, to see friends narrating this interesting documentary about their moment in time and calling me a bitch and worse, calling all black players at Duke “Uncle Toms” and, to some degree, disparaging my parents for their education, work ethic and commitment to each other and to me. I should have guessed there was something regrettable in the documentary when I received a Twitter apology from Jalen before its premiere. I am aware Jalen has gone to some length to explain his remarks about my family in numerous interviews, so I believe he has some admiration for them.

In his garbled but sweeping comment that Duke recruits only “black players that were ‘Uncle Toms,’ ” Jalen seems to change the usual meaning of those very vitriolic words into his own meaning, i.e., blacks from two-parent, middle-class families. He leaves us all guessing exactly what he believes today.

I am beyond fortunate to have two parents who are still working well into their 60s. They received great educations and use them every day. My parents taught me a personal ethic I try to live by and pass on to my children.

I come from a strong legacy of black Americans. My namesake, Henry Hill, my father’s father, was a day laborer in Baltimore. He could not read or write until he was taught to do so by my grandmother. His first present to my dad was a set of encyclopedias, which I now have. He wanted his only child, my father, to have a good education, so he made numerous sacrifices to see that he got an education, including attending Yale.

Hill ended his response with the type of pointed digs that only comes from people who’ve been deeply hurt.

I caution my fabulous five friends (Ha!) to avoid stereotyping me and others they do not know in much the same way so many people stereotyped them back then for their appearance and swagger. I wish for you the restoration of the bond that made you friends, brothers and icons.

I am proud of my family. I am proud of my Duke championships and all my Duke teammates. And, I am proud I never lost a game against the Fab Five.

Yikes. If ever a #shotfired hash-tag was appropriate, it’s now.

Hill has received a bit of criticism for the length, tone, and, since this was basically a response to quotes about feelings Rose and King had 20 years ago, timing of this statement. But, there’s no script or statute of limitations on expressing the type of pain that comes from having to undergo a racial identity interrogation, and I can’t fault Hill for basically saying “Ya’ll analog niggas can kiss my f*cking Dukie ass” in the most verbose way possible.

Whew. There’s a lot to digest here. Race, racial identity, how racial identity affects how we see the world, and whether there’s a “right” way to be black seem to be questions we’ll never fully answer, baggage we’ll always carry.

On a more positive note, this past season allowed me to release one of my burdens. Sticking true to my basketball fandom principles — and not wanting to miss out on watching a guy who had the potential to be one of my favorite college players ever — I did the unthinkable: I finally rooted for Duke.³

¹Yes. Better than Derrick Rose, John Wall, Chris Paul, Allen Iverson, Stephon Marbury, Mike Bibby, Jason Kidd, Ricky Rubio, Jay Williams, Baron Davis, and any other highly-touted 18 year old point guard you or I can name. This doesn’t mean that he’ll be as great of an NBA player as some of the guys I just mentioned — even though I’m pretty certain he will — but, he’s better at this stage than all of them were.
²Joking about the rapists part.
³Of course, Irving got injured 8 games into the season, and hasn’t played since. I haven’t been this disappointed since the last episode of Seinfeld

—The Champ