Thursday, August 30, 2007

Acting White: Affirmative Action Harms Minority Law Students

When I first saw that the Civil Right Commission was going to weigh-in on this quantitative study of affirmative action impact, I thought, “Its about time somebody showed some interest”. I, for one, have spent tens of hours sloshing through UCLA Professor Sander’s study and counter-rebuttals, as well as the disproof’s his Stanford Law Review article has inspired. However, my enthusiasm quickly waned as I realized that partisan politics have long-since taken over the position of any given commission. Anything the current Republican-swayed group says needs to be considered with a jaundiced eye, as would also be the case under a Democratic president.

Regardless as to which side you take, whether that affirmative action admission results in a ‘mismatch effect’ or not, both sides repeatedly agree that blacks are increasingly suffering inside, and outside, of higher education, as the result of current affirmative action. What is amazing is that all sides seem more intent on arguing the emotionally charged cause of the failure, rather than acknowledging their agreement that the failure itself calls for something ‘new’, which the whole country can rally behind.

Whether the current affirmative action is ineffective because the majority no longer supports it, or that it is an implementation that has exhausted its efficacy, is of no real consequence. As a solution, it is history and we need to replace it with something better. Racism will always be with us, but as I look about, I submit that economic-based classism rules our lives. We need affirming programs that support poor citizens gaining the skills to be competitive in their contributions. Our progress must be about making new opportunity, rather than arbitrarily redistributing it. These new programs would undoubtedly scoop up those same poor blacks the current programs are forsaking, regardless of which argument leads the un-winnable ‘why’ debate.

So then, who will lose out if we replace current affirmative action with ‘new and improved’ programs? Concisely, the losers will be rich kids, black and white. Each will get less of a boost for simply being rich and/or being black. Legacy programs maintain the status quo, where rich white kids fair the best, and where rich black kids too often ‘skate’ on initiatives that they really should not qualify for, based on their available resources.

What poor kids need, both black and white, are tailored skill-building programs that launch them properly into competitive mindsets and arenas where they get to ‘sink or swim’ along with everyone else. We must move past our racist fears that blacks cannot perform on par with whites, when given the opportunity. But mostly, we must reject the bait of the rich who are happy for the lower economic classes to argue and fight on lose-lose racial battlegrounds crafted to maintain the status quo.

James C. Collier


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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Cancer Rates Pegged to Vitamin D Levels

First, the bad news…

ACS publication Cancer Facts & Figures for African Americans 2007-2008.

• Prostate cancer is 2.4 times more deadly for black men than for white men.
• Breast cancer is 1.4 times more deadly for black women than for white women.
• Colon cancer and breast cancer rates are declining more slowly for blacks than for whites.
• By the time black Americans find out they have cancer, their cancer is at a later stage than for newly diagnosed white Americans. There are fewer treatment options for later-stage cancer.
• For all major cancers, black Americans are less likely than whites to survive five years after diagnosis -- even when their cancers are diagnosed at the same stage.

Now, the good news…

“Study Shines More Light on Benefit of Vitamin D in Fighting Cancer"

Researchers at the Moores Cancer Center at the University of California, San Diego, conducting a first-of-its-kind meta-analysis study, estimate that 250,000 cases of colorectal cancer and 350,000 cases of breast cancer could be prevented worldwide by increasing vitamin D, especially in locations north of the equator. This represents a whopping 50% reduction. Researchers added that 150,000 of the preventions would occur in the US.

This is the first study to recommend optimal levels of vitamin D blood serum, which goes by the name, 1,25-hydroxyvitaminD3. The optimal levels correspond to 2,000 International Units (IU) per day of vitamin D3.

“The researchers underscore their call for prompt public health action to increase intake of vitamin D3 as an inexpensive tool for prevention of diseases that claim nearly one million lives each year world-wide.”

Well folks, there you have it (again), take vitamin D and live!

James C. Collier


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Monday, August 20, 2007

N.F.L.’s Vick Accepts Plea Deal in Dog-Fight Case

N.F.L.’s Vick Accepts Plea Deal in Dog-Fight Case - NYT

I know little of Atlanta football super-star Michael Vick, other than his recent troubles and plea bargain for professional dog fighting. So all I will say is that any owner who gives someone a $130 million dollar contract with $37 million guaranteed, should have a few guys planted in said super-star's ‘posse’ to warn of possible behavior that might sink the ship. If the Atlanta ownership had any savvy at all they should have considered this outcome and saved all of this mess, at the cost of a few additional Benjamin’s. On the other-hand, if the owner is insured against Vick’s self-implosion, then ‘what the hell’.

James C. Collier


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Acting White: Africa in America

My daughter’s best friend from her earliest school days is the child of Muslim immigrants from Libya and Yemen. For those who are geographically-challenged, Libya is in North Africa, while Yemen is a stones-throw away just east of Ethiopia. The family is part of a larger family, mostly of women, brought here by a patriarch who opened a grocery store and made good on the American dream.

The children and grandchildren of this old man, who has since retired to Yemen, have done well for themselves, beginning with education and ending in marriage to Muslim men vetted from the top – and herein is the rub. The top down view prizes men from Africa, of any color, who are Muslim, and rejects Black American men as the most unacceptable of suitors. It seems that Black American men are viewed, as a rule, as lazy and unmotivated by our North African brothers.

When I first heard of this thinking and behavior of my good friend, I was offended. But on the other hand, I have studied and written about stereotypes and why they survive and prosper as useful shortcuts to helpful and painful truths, depending on where you sit. I concluded that the battle of the black man is not the same everywhere, although most would have it so.

African immigrants in America, lead by their males, win the coveted spot of most highly educated demographic in the US, with nearly 50% earning college degrees. This accomplishment is beyond that of Asians; is two-times greater than whites; and four times greater than American-born Blacks. Black American men hold the opposite title of achieving the least of any US demographic, except for Native Americans.

Now, as I place myself in the old patriarch’s shoes, I see that my fight is not his fight, unless he chooses it so, and he is an old man from a very different place. The origins of the problems of America’s Blacks are not of their own doing, but I can hear the old man of Northern Africa whispering a light tone so we might strain to hear him say, ‘the problem may not be of your doing, but the solution lies only in you’.

James C. Collier


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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Acting White: NPR News & Notes

The wonderful people at National Public Radio (NPR) saw fit to invite me onto one of their dailies, News & Notes, for a blogger round table discussion on black topics in the news. The host, Farai Chideya, a fellow Harvard alum, does a great job of ‘herding cats’ around issues of interest. Here is a link to the program, if edutainment is what you seek – and it was indeed quite ‘spicy’ as the producer Devin Robins describes it.

My goal was to not make a big fool of myself or my blog, and I am happy to say I almost achieved it. Really, I was OK except for a brief moment when my hearing-aid seemed to quit working, and I don’t even own one. We were having sound disruptions in the Cal Berkeley studio, but I cannot say this is the cause of my lapse. The question lobbed to me was about class conflict between black women and men, relative to marriage, and I think the danger of it threw a circuit-breaker in my head(phones). The answer that failed to come out was that professional black women who marry blue-collar black men should be prepared to live with the clinking of mimosa glasses and beer bottles. For some this trade-off is fine, for others it will be too much.

The other bloggers on the program included La Shawn Barber, a very sharp, no nonsense woman who does not mince words or conclusions when it comes to what ails black folks. Some of my detractors have lumped me in with her and I now consider this a compliment. The third blogger was LN Rock, of African-American Political Pundit, a re-poster of black blogs who has a penchant for pouring gasoline on himself and lighting a match, as he did today.

LN distinguished himself in two ways, first by declaring that post-Katrina New Orleans would eventually be 100% black-free, as the result of conspiring whites. Farai’s amazement could not be contained. He followed this with the accusation that black women who marry non-blacks are traitors and that I must be married to a white woman because I support black women marrying whoever they want, including white men. At the risk that he will no longer pilfer my blog, I will say he has a set of knuckles growing out of his forehead.

Nevertheless, I thought the show was a great chance for a live ‘dust-up’ of the issues of the day. The N&N team seem like a hustling bunch, with good instincts for what matters to people. I look forward to more opportunities like this, knowing that there is always the risk of the late hit out-of-bounds, by bloggers who shall not be named.

ADDENDUM: Regarding Interracial Marriage...

"A survey in the United States found that, in every age category, available black women outnumbered available black employed men by two to one; they outnumbered black employed men, with earnings above the poverty line, by at least three to one (Crowder and Tolnay 2000)."

James C. Collier


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Monday, August 13, 2007

Acting White: What Kind of Black Are You?

Once I was beyond my knee-jerk offense to this question, I was able see the progress that it also represents. Seeing different blacks, especially in America, is a challenge for people, including the native-born among us. Blacks are traditionally viewed and presented as a monolith, one-size fits all category - a distillation which simply cannot accurately represent the diversity of the group.

Recognizing different blackness is critical, in my view, as it allows us to trace sub-groups of people, cultures, behaviors, histories, while making important distinctions reflected in different rates of progress and advancement. This unevenness of result occurs even while we live under one ‘societal’ system. The success of recent African immigrants in attaining college degrees (28%), the highest of any group including white males, is just one example of differing behaviors and results, which beg scrutiny for the benefit of trailing blacks.

As an aside, I recall that my 80 year-old mother, while visiting England and Italy, was very annoyed that Africans whose paths she crossed, failed to acknowledge her in any form compared to blacks in the states. She reluctantly accepted my explanation that black-skinned people are not all the same. However, she was amused that white Americans, to whom she was normally invisible, sought her out as a ‘friendly face’ in a sea of distant Europeans.

To take it a step further, we think of Africans as one people, but to native Africans the idea of this is absurd. Science tells us what these people already know, that in no other place on the planet is genetic diversity, that which lies beneath the skin, greater than in Africa. Skin color is an adaptive genetic trait dictated by latitude – or amount of sunlight – and inasmuch, it is malleable and useless as a genetic identifier.

So do not just ask me what kind of black I am, take it a step further to get to know me. Caribbean blacks for instance, a minority among minorities, joke about how many jobs they hold simultaneously in their quest to get ahead. But if you bump into a black undergrad in Harvard Yard, there’s a 50/50 chance they or their parents are from the islands or Africa. Joke perhaps, and laughing all the way to the bank too.

James C. Collier


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Sunday, August 12, 2007

Acting White: Is Obama Black Enough?

Everywhere you read, you see the same question, “Is Obama Black Enough?” I thought if I ignored the implied suggestion, that it would go away, but like a bad penny, it just keeps coming back. It seems to be some coded inquiry whose answer will determine if black voters will be able to flip the switch for him in 2008. Unfortunately, the answer also threatens to sink the necessary white support he needs.

In the old days all a Black person required to pass the test of blackness was 1) look black, 2) marry black, 3) aspire to individual and group advancement. But somewhere along the line, the wires were crossed. You can look Black, which Obama does. You can marry Black, which he has. But being a highly-educated, self-responsible, over-achieving leader frankly scares the hell out of a lot of Black folks.

The pathologies of inferiority and under achievement have become so ingrained in Black minds that members are immediately suspect in the event that they break, or aspire to break the pattern, even as a Democrat. The tools of compliance begin with how we look and speak, and end with where we are going, or would profess to lead others. This is Barack’s true political nemesis.

Obama wants black people to feel empowered, not by the guilt their words induce in the behaviors of whites, but rather by the development and exercise of skills and abilities that contribute to our entire betterment. Black vs. white achievement is not a zero-sum game, regardless to what racism has tried to teach us.

The question of Obama’s blackness allows too many people to hide the real questions about themselves which they are afraid to ask, or have answered. Once those questions are addressed, the only thing we will care about, in the voting booth, is if the candidate, man or woman, black or white, can lead us where we truly need to go.

James C. Collier


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Friday, August 10, 2007

Acting White: What is Cheating? Part II

Like the late, great Ray Charles and his Georgia, I continue to have cheating on my mind.

It dawns on me that no single propulsion factor is more responsible for the advancement of human societies than is cheating. The search for unfair advantage is far more enticing than fair play, having humans dominating all manner of competing species, from microbes to blue whales, and leaving only each other to contend with in the end. But as ardent animal-rights activist often say, the ability to dominate other species should not be an unquestioned right, should it?

Control of cheating is more reasonably an attempt to manage the risk of humankind’s overly aggressive nature as it pursues advancement. If the scientists at the Manhattan Project, who fashioned the atomic bomb the US dropped on Japan in WWII, were unfettered cheaters in their quest, New Mexico would likely be an uninhabitable glowing hole in the ground. Cutting corners is risky business.

If cheating was not in our DNA, humankind’s evolution could conceivably have been set back tens of thousands of years. On the other hand, if cheating goes unchallenged, the level of mayhem we would likely bring upon ourselves could just as easily define it as the tool of our early demised, rather than our longevity.

So I suppose the take-away is that we should look at cheating as a necessary behavior to our advancement, but one that has increasing drawbacks, relative to the degree that it is left unchecked. Because explaining this conclusion to my kids would be damn near impossible, I am back to square one – telling them not to do it, or there will be trouble. They will undoubtedly ignore me, but with a hoped for restraint that propels them to better, longer, more productive lives. Perhaps.

James C. Collier


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Thursday, August 09, 2007

Acting White: What is Cheating?

With the home-run record falling in recent days, there has been lots of talk about cheating. A day does not go by without some instance or accusation that edges right up to the point of fitting someone for an orange jumpsuit or a cushy up-state pen. Funny thing - lying about cheating figures to be worse than cheating itself, ala Martha Stewart. But what is cheating, really?

I define cheating as the ‘inevitable pursuit of unfair advantage’. If fair advantage can be characterized as the result of some combination of natural ability and diligent pursuit, then unfair advantage leverages un-natural ability and less-than-diligent pursuit. Pretty simple.

Everyone cheats - some better and more often than others, but it is a human trait. The argument with Barry Bonds is not whether he is a cheater, but whether he is a ‘good’ cheater. He says he is, most agree that he is not. A good cheater is someone whose cheating is not so obvious, while a bad cheater gains a lot of muscle near the twilight of his career and starts bashing homers like a crazy-man, when he should be signing autographs at fifty-bucks a pop at Las Vegas cards shows.

Michael Jackson is a bad cheater, along with all his other problems. He turned his skin white, thinking, I suppose, that no one would notice this cheating? Sorry Jacko, we noticed. But perhaps if everyone had access to changing their skin color, then we would not think of it as cheating or ‘race’ treason, but just discretionary ‘enhancement’.

When we step back, it seems that accusations of cheating peak as technologies of unfair advantage disperse into the realm of the franchise, away from the clandestine and exclusive shadows of the rich. Curiously, no one is suggesting the US get an asterisk next to its distinction as the greatest country of the modern world. After all, the founding fathers cheated (didn’t they?) when they bought stolen people to help build the joint.

Germany and Japan could protest US greatness, but then again I think they cheated to – if you ask the Jews, the Chinese, or Koreans. Baseball pitchers are notorious cheaters, with spitters, sand paper, vasoline, etc. Green Bay Packer Jerry Kramer, in his book Instant Reply, described hall-of-famers Dick Butkus and Alex Karras as world-class football cheaters.

Hey, Babe Ruth could have been a cheater for all we know, and he does not seem like the kind of man who would have passed-up an unfair advantage. I think Aaron was fair and square, but he may have just come along in between cheating technologies, and was forced play it straight.

In any event, cheating is what we do, just like lying, or pleasuring ourselves. So we should all take a deep breath and stand down. Only time and their health will tell us if Bonds or Jackson are good cheaters or fools who made devilish deals only to suffer down the road. In the meantime, play ball!

James C. Collier


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Sunday, August 05, 2007

Journalist Chauncey Bailey : 1949 - 2007

A few days ago, Chauncey Bailey, a long-time SF Bay area print news professional and editor of the Oakland Post, was gunned down in broad daylight on an Oakland street. The police have since arrested the alleged gunman, who worked at a north Oakland Black Muslim bakery, an organization whose criminal activities had attracted the journalistic attention of Bailey.

Many others have, and will continue to write about the career of Bailey. As with anyone in the public spotlight, there will be various views on his professional work. He was not above ‘breaking a few eggs’ to get the stories that he thought needed public viewing – not an uncommon trait of good investigative journalism.

A few months back, I had the pleasure of meeting Bailey under an unusual arrangement, but one that spoke to his professionalism. A reporter from the very left-of-center East Bay Express, Will Harper, showed up at our company offices to interview our CEO. Calling himself ‘the bottom-feeder’, his reputation told us to expect the worse, whether he got his interview or not.

But fortunate for us, Bailey also sat in on the interview, as did I. He was there to encourage a fair and honest representation of the dialogue. He accomplished that, as much as possible, with people who equate journalism with bottom feeding. In the end there was nothing to investigate, but it was Chauncey who was key to upholding a higher standard of journalism.

May he rest in peace.

James C. Collier


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