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Thursday, March 03, 2005

New York Daily News - Ideas & Opinions - Stanley Crouch: New debate over black identity

New York Daily News - Ideas & Opinions - Stanley Crouch: New debate over black identity: "New debate over
black identity
New debate over
black identity

Confusion over Africa and its relationship to black people in this country may be coming to a head very soon.

We now find that more Africans than ever are immigrating to the U.S. and that their presence may dramatically change the discussion on affirmative action.

Over the years, affirmative action has become a free-for-all grab bag that anyone who is not white - or not male! - can use as a precedent for special treatment by the government or the job market, especially where public funds are distributed. That is not, however, how affirmative action was conceived, rightly or wrongly.

Almost a decade ago, I attended a conference called by then-Vice President Al Gore, in which many people spoke on issues of color and ethnicity. One of the most important was Richard Goodwin, who had been involved with affirmative action when it was conceived.

Goodwin said affirmative action had been applied in a number of cases that were not part of the original mission, which was to address the fact that only one group in America had spent more than 200 years enslaved and that its descendants deserved some consideration because of that. It was not intended for people from India, from Africa, from Latin America, from Asia, the Caribbean and so on.

To many, this is a jarring argument because, during the intellectually fuzzy 1960s, black nationalism took such a strong position that there was an aggressive argument for black people to deny their American experience and reach out for Third World identification. Black Americans were supposedly displaced Africans whose identity had been hidden from them.

The impact of this thinking is directly behind the problems that black Americans, especially those in what is called the underclass, face with growing emigration from Africa. Now the threat is coming from their African cousins - not from their brothers and sisters. Actual Africans, hot with immigrant ambition, could now become another "model minority" and displace black American low achievers.

As actual "African-Americans," they could take advantage of affirmative action, which would make even more obvious the limitations suffered by those in the black underclass who are not motivated.

Affirmative action will continue to be discussed, but the debate over American identity is just beginning.

It will be revealing to see just how soon black Americans begin to realize that their American experience is unique and has little to do with the limited subject of color alone.

When black Americans actually throw away sentimentality about Africa and begin to assert their historical identity as Americans and elevate their aspirations along the lines of drive we find common among immigrants, we will see our country improve remarkably.

Originally published on February 24, 2005

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