From the mid-‘70s to mid-‘80s I was an adjunct at Temple University, usually teaching introduction to newswriting.
Adjuncts were outsiders, freelancers who were paid by the number of courses they taught without benefits such as health insurance or paid vacation. They were like Uber drivers with briefcases.
I taught one course each semester. While I considered myself an Owl, and still do, I wasn’t part of the bloodstream of the campus.
One day in the late ‘70s, I was surprised to receive a memo to staff from the head of the journalism department, that all grades had to be earned. Those weren’t the exact words, but the intent was to put an end to “social promotions” and grading “on the curve” for minority students.
Puzzled, I asked her what it meant.
She told me it had been school policy to make allowances for race, to cut some slack for Black students, and that policy was being curtailed.
The reason, I heard, was the university was getting negative feedback from employers who said too many Temple grads were unable to properly fill out employment applications. They had been “passed” from one grade to the next, by one instructor after another, who thought they were doing the students a favor.
I had not been aware of the policy and I probably wouldn’t have observed it, anyway. Because it was dishonest, to the system and to the students.
Since my course was an introduction to newswriting, most of my students were freshman, and almost all of them were local — kids from Philly and the suburbs.
What I discovered immediately was that suburban students were better educated. Not in every case, but in most.
What I also learned was that the few Black students I had, from (what we then called) inner city schools did worst of all.
Very early in the term, several times I was forced to take a Black student — who often was a high school honor student — aside and tell him he should drop my class and transfer to a remedial English class. The student had no knowledge of punctuation, no idea of what quote marks were, and was unable to write a grammatical sentence.
It was heart-breaking to watch the kid’s face melt. He thought he was smart and I just blew up his world.
“You are smart,” I would say. “You are ambitious, but you have been short-changed by Philadelphia’s miserable school system. It’s not your fault. You were not taught the basics you should have learned and I can’t do it in this class. If you stay here, you will fail. Take remedial English and come back next term. If you want to transfer, I will see the department lets you.”
It happened a few times, the students were hurt, but none seemed mad at me.
I was mad at the system.
That’s the prologue for this, which some might take for racism. I will take that chance.
In this year’s Academy Awards, 9 of the top 20 acting nominees are people of color. That means 45% of the nominees are Black, while Blacks are no more than 13% of the population.
So — #OscarsTooBlack?
Two of the five nominated directors are Asian — that’s 40%. But Asians are only 5% of the U.S. population. #OscarsTooYellow?
But did you say the same five years ago when #OscarsSoWhite decried the unusual lack of any Black nominees?
We were off to the racist races.
Is Hollywood racist?
Hollywood is the most liberal bastion of America — at least superficially — outside the Harvard faculty lounge.
But racist anyway?
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, admittedly, is overwhelmingly white and male because, duh, that’s who’s been making motion pictures since they were invented. They were organized into an industry by, duh, white males.
Reacting to the Twitterverse, the Academy made changes. Membership was made, um, easier for people who were not white and male, and, as long as they are qualified, that’s fine.
The Academy has created new “inclusion standards” as part of the eligibility for Best Picture, looking for more “diversity” and “equity,” to better reflect the movie-going public.
Producers worth their salt will be casting — somehow — Blacks in movies set in 18th Century Polish shtetls, and Hispanics in the Punic Wars to get those diversity credits.
Ah, diversity and inclusion.
You know what? We already have that, but going the other way.
How many American Founding Fathers were nonwhite? Let’s say none.
But what happened when New York Puerto Rican Lin-Manuel Miranda cast Blacks and Hispanics in those roles — in racist America?
Riots in the streets? No, he was hailed as a genius. Go figure.
Was there an uprising when “Hello Dolly!” was remade with a Black cast (even keeping the characters Jewish names)? There was not. When “The Wizard of Oz” was remade as “The Wiz,” with Diana Ross and Michael Jackson, everyone cheered. There are other examples. Was that — gasp! — cultural appropriation? That term is woke garbage.
Here’s the problem with awards: Most of those nominated do not win, and they are in the majority, at least 4-1, sometimes more. In fields not controlled by infantile intellects with raging egos, the losers politely applaud the winners and bite their tongues if they feel slighted.
Journalists who don’t win the Pulitzer may bitch to their buddies at the bar or hair salon, but they don’t rage on Twitter or have their agents launch whispering campaigns about how the judges were bought.
Physicists who aren’t awarded the Nobel may punch the wall, but shut up.
Just before last Sunday’s Grammys someone who can’t spell named The Weeknd loudly griped about being overlooked.
He was overlooked. Was it racial? Was it jealousy? Who knows? So he’ll get a “make good” next year.
Back to the Oscars.
With 40% of the nominated actors Black, can we even ask if so many were nominated to compensate for prior years when “too few” Blacks were nominated? As a “make good”?
If “too few” being nominated is racism, is “too many” being nominated reverse racism?
If we accept that the 40% were deserving this year, why can’t we also accept there was a year where no Black gave a performance that most of their liberal peers thought was worthy?
I am just asking questions.
It could be racism, but must it be racism?
I know race was one reason I voted for Barack Obama. Not the only reason, but one.
Was that racist? Racial?
I know most American Blacks don’t think highly of Justice Clarence Thomas.
Many Black leaders excoriate him because of his very conservative views, and some because of his alleged conduct with Anita Hill.
Thomas is opposed to racial preferences of any kind. He says the government must be color blind.
His opponents say the government is not capable of being color blind, or it should not be, to make up for past discrimination.
Thomas believes that if you allow racial preferences, Blacks hired for a job always will live under a blanket of suspicion that they didn’t earn the job on merit. (Like the suspicion that “white privilege” seeks to cast.)
Is that suspicion fair? Is it human? Is it racist?
Returning again to the Oscars: Does the disproportionate number of Blacks nominated mean anything other than their quality? What if only 5% are nominated next year? Would that mean racism is back?
Does the Academy need a quota system setting the minimum number of nominees by race, gender, religion, age? Will identity outweigh talent?
I am generally satisfied with the Oscar winners, even though they don’t affect me in any way, and I rarely see all the nominated films.
I don’t know that this year’s nominees prove that we have reached a color blind society — or a society that is afraid to be color blind.