The college admission scandal is just one blossom from a deeper set of roots

(Following up on the recent post here at BGIM Media, a piece by one of our contributors on the pervasive inequities throughout the educational system that hold people back, often because of race)

So I’m sure y’all have heard by now about this college admissions bribery/scandal/mess with this white dude, William Singer, the two white actresses, and the other 50 parents, administrators, and coaches in the thick of it. To summarize, Singer, for about 10 years, had been falsifying documents, doctoring photographs, rounding up test scores and hiring his own proctors to control tests—all to get students into prestigious programs in exchange for money from the parents (who knew what he was doing). And I’m sure some of you are surprised by this.

Well, if you are, that means you’ve been privileged by the education system.

The education system in America privileges you if you are white, wealthy, and have connections (and yet so many of those people still have to cheat to get in—using a whole extra layer of privilege and connection allowed by wealth). Anyone else attempting the right way to get in by working hard? Good luck.

Black and Brown people have been fighting the education system that ultimately privileges wealth and whiteness (Think all the way back to Ruby Bridges). And what’s happened to these families? One Black mother, Kelley Williams-Bolar in Ohio, falsified her address to send her children to another, better school than the one in her district. When she was found out, she was told to pay over $30,000 in back tuition and when she couldn’t, they made an example of her by throwing her into jail for 10 days and giving her three years probation, along with community service. All for attempting to enrich her child’s educational experience because the system disadvantaged her kids by ignoring the schools where she lived.

There is blatant inequality because of race and wealth in education. It sadly does not matter if these Black and Brown students work hard. Privilege can get you far when you’re white and wealthy. Ashely Alese Edward writes in their article “This Mom Went To Prison For Enrolling Her Son In A School Outside Her District”about another Black mother, Tanya McDowell, who “falsified” her address about where she was staying (her and her son were homeless at the time).

Edwards writes: “All public education in the U.S. is not created equal, which oftentimes forces parents from low-income backgrounds to use the addresses of friends and family members to get their child into a better school district. It should come as no surprise that those most impacted by this disparity in funding are people of color: A recent study found that white school districts have gotten $23 billion more in state and local funding than predominately nonwhite districts”

This sums it up perfectly. Underfunded school districts force parents to intercede in their child’s education. They have no choice. Williams-Bolar and McDowell’s move of falsifying their address isn’t hurting anyone; what these other parents did is, they had a choice. Their choice is keeping brighter and more capable students out. It’s fixing the system in their favor. These Black women should have never been charged; their children should have been given an equal chance at education.

There is so much I could go on about within this topic: how the hardworking student of color lost a spot to a privileged but less deserving white student, how the student of color might be lost in student loan debt because of all of the loans they had to take out, how the student of color isn’t heard at their university with regards to their experience,  how the student of color is passed over for job opportunities in the future…

However, what we need to start with is educational opportunities suited for all students. We need to reward hardworking students, instead of letting them down. The whole educational system needs an overhaul with all parents, instructors, administrators, coaches, and the community working towards the betterment of the students’ education. Every student. The education system is far from equal when it comes to race and wealth. This need to change.

Referenced articles:


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Making the grade or paying for it: Meritocracy is a lie; so are quotas

So, let’s talk a bit about the college admission testing scam, bribery, fraud story that involves dozens of parents with enough money to try to buy their kids’ way into college but somehow not enough to educate and raise them well enough to make it into college on their own.

This is the part where, probably, those of you who don’t like me much will mutter, “She makes everything about race” and even those of you who agree with me a lot here might say, “Are we really surprised that people with money buy their kids’ way into college?” So, there may be a bunch of eye-rolling as people read this, because it may not seem like a racial issue.

But it really is. A good chunk of it anyway.

I mean, on one hand it’s both absurd and funny. We have a list of people who may or may not go to jail but nonetheless are facing serious federal charges, among them the actors Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman (though somehow Huffman’s husband, actor William H. Macy dodged being charged with anything). And jokes about “Aunt Becky” from “Fuller House” going bad or Macy possibly somehow avoiding arrest for what some of his iconic characters get nailed for are all well and good out there on those social media streets, and I’ve made some of them myself, but this is serious business.

And I need to say it again: Race matters here.

A New York Times article talked about some of why it matters, including as one interviewed source said: “This scandal exposed the fact that there is a misplaced emphasis on so-called affirmative action inequities, rather than privilege.”

I mean, you’ve heard people before gripe about “quotas” and people only getting into college because they’re not white, right? Maybe even had some of those thoughts yourself. You may recall a few years back Abigail Fisher, a white woman who sued claiming she didn’t get into the school of her choice because some person of color got her spot instead (instead of because her grades weren’t good enough), which ultimately failed but points to how pervasive this belief is, given that she actually decided to ram her case through the courts even though she didn’t deserve the admission. And think about it: How could she possibly know a person of color got her spot anyway?

Black parents in particular often have to tell their kids that they will have to work twice as hard to get as much as a white person does—and the reality is that we often get half as much for working twice as hard.

So much of the country buys into the lies that students of color, especially Black ones, are getting into schools without any qualifications and effort. People have accused me of getting my degrees only because I’m Black while also suggesting that I got a free ride for them for being Black. Let me tell you, the more than $100,000 I owe in student loans says otherwise. And after working my ass off for both my bachelor’s and master’s degrees, I spent years in low-paying positions (which people still assumed I didn’t deserve because I was Black) before getting the one I have now that actually pays me something approaching what I’m worth, and people still want to say I’m not qualified despite my continued successes.

I’m not alone. Black women, for example, are among the most educated people around and yet they have massive debt as a result and continue to be underpaid and under-represented in high-level positions.

To be honest, it’s really galling to me that the Lori Loughlins and Felicity Huffmans and William H. Macys of the world (and their non-celebrity ilk) have been getting away with this kind of thing for years and people shrug and say “That’s the way it’s always been” and then have the nerve to question the right of someone like me to be in a school or to prosper from my degree.

Here are some other random thoughts about why this scandal matters in terms of race for a lot of non-white people but most especially Black ones:

  • We are constantly told that we’re held back by laziness or lack of ability and told to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and yet the mediocre white people get to ascend the ranks constantly (remember slacker George W. Bush with his “gentleman’s C” grades in the Ivy League who got to be president…or the even less academically minded orange guy currently in the White House). That means mediocre (or worse) white people with fewer qualifications get to regularly and typically exert power and authority over smarter, more competent non-white ones.
  • Nobody questions that some partying, slacking white person in a college or university got there on merits, but we get questions about whether we’re part of a quota only because of the color of our skin, while we’re often making the grade and working our asses off to earn money.
  • People in this current scandal were faking sports participation/talent by their kids with doctored records and photos because their grades weren’t good enough, while non-white kids who get athletic scholarships and have good grades get accused of being idiots who only got into college because they can dribble or kick or pass a ball.
  • Black people who use other peoples’ addresses (like Tonya McDowell or Kelley Williams-Bolar) to ensure their kids can go to decent high schools under safe conditions have been given felony convictions and jail time—just for trying to make sure their kids get basic education. And I will be very surprised if the white people in this current scandal get much, if any, time at all in the end (possibly not even convictions). And even if they do, there are all those white people out there who did “less illegal” ways of getting their kids into college who probably think jailing those Black parents for faking an address is just fine, and that ain’t right.
  • Meanwhile, while people complain about “affirmative action” that doesn’t really hold white people back from opportunities at all and those same people claim to be all about real educations for people who “deserve it,” yet they also tend to be silent on the lack of funding for schools in largely non-white areas, leading to a $23-billion funding gap between mostly white schools compared to most non-white ones. They ain’t about educational equality; they’re about trying to ensure that Black, Latinx and Indigenous people are as under-educated and given as few opportunities as possible and that the social status quo of white’s first remains intact.

In the wake of this admissions scandal hitting the news, white America and Black America in particular are having two different discussions about it. And while it isn’t all about race, the problem is that in too many of the white discussions there isn’t any time devoted to the racial implications at all. And that’s why the affirmative action myth and all the related myths will continue to dominate for so many of them when they see a Black or brown person in a university setting and question their right to be there or look at their degree on a resume and disregard its validity.


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We all got left behind

I imagine that if I were an alien who just landed on planet Earth and was stationed in the United States that I would find the people here very strange. For most of us our lives are spent at a frantic pace rushing to and fro, never stopping to smell the roses and live in the moment. We carry gadgets to simplify our lives because most of us are too busy to actually live our lives because the pursuit of being the best and achieving is our greatest priority. Yet for everything most of us are failing and no where is this greatest is when it comes to educating not only ourselves but our young.

Last night my son called me to talk and to catch up but to also let me know that he wants to transfer schools. Right now he goes to a rather nice private college in Wisconsin. While this school was not originally on our radar, they approached him and made an offer we could not refuse from a financial standpoint. Since when you are a 6’4 young half a Black man whose greatest interests lie in philosophy and political science and you like rowing boats, you are already marching to a different drummer or at least the media would have you to believe that. So a smaller quirky college with a serious philosophy department looks like a good choice especially when they offer enough money that your parents who forgot to save for your college education can actually afford the balance.

Sadly for my son this school is not quite meeting his needs, to put it bluntly while he is excited and passionate about what he is learning, he feels like an anomaly. For months he has expressed dismay that most of his classmates many who hail from far more financially privileged families than ours, are simply at school to earn that paper. As he told me last night most of his classmates are upfront that the only reason they are in school is to get a good job. (never mind the fact that if all one wants is a good job, last time I checked we haven’t quite figured out how to outsource our plumbing and electrical needs so these might be great career paths to consider) Now my son being a philosophy major finds that distressing, hell I find it distressing bit sadly I am not surprised.

The truth though is that college for most is nothing more than a pit stop to pick up a fancy piece of paper that hopefully will ensure middle class living. Never mind the fact that if these kids were actually paying attention to the world they would understand no longer is a degree the entry point to middle class life. Nope, it’s a gamble. Could pay off or you could be paying it off until you get ready to shuck your mortal coil and beam up to the next phase of the life cycle.

On the other hand is anyone really surprised? In the past decade or so, school is a place we go to meet goals, but is anyone actually learning? Oh, it’s easy to say well we need reform, after all I heard on the radio today that President Obama says that the No Child Left Behind law must be reformed. Really? How about blown up? I got no beef with teachers’ hell; I applaud them because in this current climate teachers are public enemy number one for no good reason other than the fact that apparently having a stable salary and good benefits is such a foreign concept that those of us without have decided no one should have these things. So teachers are the whipping boys rather than our corporate overlords.

Seriously though as a nation overall we lack educational curiosity, learning for the sake of learning no longer seems to be cool. Except among the growing numbers of parents (though still percentage wise quite small) who are choosing to educate their kids themselves. We have raised and are raising generations of kids who only see school as the ticket to a good life rather than a portal to having their minds blown with new and exciting knowledge. When the act of learning is reduced to a mere vehicle to acquire the so called good life it seems not only are the kids left behind but perhaps our whole damn society is left behind and frankly that says a lot about what we really value.

PS: Before some of ya’ll write me to complain I am not talking about you. Of course there are many families and parents that believe deeply in education and do all to foster a love of learning in their kids. But there are plenty of families that do no such thing and this is not always broken down around class level either.