Affirmative action has been in the news lately. But the coverage isn’t concerned with “leveling the playing field” for Blacks, like it was during the last decades of the 20th century. The headlines in 2018 are focused on its harmful effects toward Asians.
There’s been a generational shift in attitude toward specific affirmative action policies; this re-evaluation has also occurred among Blacks. A 2003 Gallup poll revealed 72 percent of Blacks favored race as a factor for college admissions, but a 2016 Gallup poll showed that 50 percent of Blacks said race should play no part in the college admissions process. By no means is this 50/50 split a nationwide consensus of Black opinion. It’s just the result of the poll sample, 3,270 adults, consisting of 912 Blacks. But could this small number opposed to race being a factor in college admissions be the first lonely crusaders of the 21st century?
Check it out.
In 1945 Black writer Chester Himes hit the literary scene with his debut novel, “If He Hollers Let Him Go.” The novel received good reviews. His sophomore novel was published two years later. It was called, “Lonely Crusade. Here,” and the protagonist was a Black union organizer, with the premise of how a Black man was used as a pawn by established business interest and radical left-leaning organizations.
This novel wasn’t critically acclaimed. It was critically condemned.
The mainstream press, on the right and left, acted like the book was never published. One book reviewer declared, “Himes Carries a White Flag.” And the majority of Blacks not only condemned the book, they hated it.
But this was 1947, and this generation of Blacks was a part of what American history refers to as “the greatest generation.” (The generation that came out of the great depression and fought WWII.) This was eight years before the launch of the modern civil rights movement, and decades before President Lyndon B. Johnson gave his famous speech at Howard University that all proponents of affirmative action have canonized.
In 1965 LBJ told a new generation of Howard students that equal opportunity was not enough; the next and more profound stage was equality as a result. LBJ’s notion of equality of results was the philosophical framework behind affirmative action policies, because LBJ said, you don’t take a person hobbled by chains for years, bring him up to the starting line of a race and say you’re free to compete with all the others. (The analogy meant the Black race needed to be brought up to speed.)
In 1970 an interviewer caught up with Chester Himes, who was now living in France. (After “Lonely Crusade” Himes was excommunicated from the American literary scene. He rebounded overseas with a popular detective series that started with “A Rage in Harlem.”) The interviewer asked about his second novel and why the previous generation of Blacks hated the book and thought he surrendered.
Himes stated, “Because I had the Black protagonist say that Blacks in America needed more than just a superficial state of equality, Blacks needed special consideration because Blacks were so far behind. This is what most Blacks of that generation had against it, because by pleading for special privileges for Blacks I was calling them inferior.”
The interviewer observed that demanding for special privileges was the route the younger generation of Blacks were now taking. Himes said, it’s obvious that Blacks in America must have, for an interim period of time, special consideration.
Now, this 50 percent of Blacks in the 2016 poll that rejected race as a factor in college admissions, are they claiming that this is the 21st century and the interim time period of special consideration is up?
If they are, then they’re on a lonely crusade.
(J. Pharaoh Doss is a contributor to the New Pittsburgh Courier.)
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