UCLA "Black Bruins" Video Hits Raw Nerve:

Outcry Against Re-Segregation of Education 'Goes Viral'

January 27, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


Since appearing on YouTube in early November, over 1.7 million people—nearly 300,000 in the first week—have viewed "The Black Bruins" by Sy Stokes. It is a poetic and artistic, angry and moving five-minute spoken word piece about the increasing exclusion of Black men from one of this country's elite public universities. Sy Stokes is a third-year Afro-American Studies student, and he does the spoken word, with backup from 11 other Black male students. Stokes is a cousin of Arthur Ashe, a UCLA graduate ranked the world #1 professional tennis player in 1968 and again in 1975; and the only male African-American player ever to win the singles title at Wimbledon.

The statistics presented in this video are an outrage:

In fall 2012, the total enrollment, graduate and undergraduate, for African-American males at UCLA was 662; that's 3.3% of the 19,838 males enrolled. Out of that, 65% are athletes. This year's freshmen class includes 2,418 men; only 48 of them are African-American. Their expected graduation rate is 74%; which means, out of that number of freshmen, 35 Black men are expected to graduate.*

The spoken word piece then tells of one of the implications of the unspoken reality that so many of these Black students have been recruited as athletes:

When we have more national championships then we have Black male freshmen, it's evident that our only purpose here is to improve your winning percentage. So now, Black high school kids can care less about grades, just as long as the number on the back of their jersey doesn't fade. (our emphasis)

The video calls out the "fraudulent reputation" of an "institutionalized racist corporation;" and the lie that racist oppression is a thing of the past: "they don't care about the cultural limitations of being a minority in society.... stop pretending that the wounds of our past have healed." And it calls for "Increasing Graduation, Not Incarceration, Transforming Education [IGNITE] because our numbers can't be any fewer."

This video makes anyone watching it feel, for a moment, what these students face every time they enter a classroom: "So don't be surprised that we have become rebellious for what has happened to us, when every Black student in class feels like Rosa Parks on the bus." An African-American UCLA professor told USA Today: "It's just a really isolating experience when you're in a lecture hall of 200 and you're one of the few black students. You start to think, 'Is this a place for me? Can I be successful here?'" (Akane Otani, "Black UCLA students decry lack of diversity in video; USA Today, November 19, 2013) Stokes almost dropped out of UCLA during his first year because he felt isolated and alone as a black student on campus. (Stokes grew up in Richmond, California, a city just north of Berkeley with a significant ghetto. He said he was the only one of his high school friends who went to college; only because he was able to take SAT prep courses, etc. (UCLA FEM newsmagazine, November 15, 2013)

The Black Bruins perform their spoken word piece on the steps of UCLA's Campbell Hall, where AAP—the Academic Advancement Program—is located. (AAP provides academic programs and support for "historically underrepresented students" and promotes UCLA access and academic success for high school and community college students.) Campbell Hall was made infamous by a moment in its history, 45 years ago; it is the place where Alprentice "Bunchy" Carter and John Huggins, leaders of the Los Angeles chapter of the Black Panther Party, were killed on January 17, 1969, in a confrontation instigated if not planned by the federal government's COINTELPRO—something noted in the opening frame of the video. And the video suggests a connection with this earlier period when it says "we are trying to rewind time" with "...voices that speak defiantly to reignite the flames to help us find a path to our future."

Video Strikes a Raw Nerve

In going viral, the Black Bruins video has struck a raw nerve—and mainly through social media it has sparked responses of different kinds all over the country. A video by another student defends UCLA; while a student at Oregon State University posted a video revealing the even more extreme situation on his campus; saying only 1.3% of its 22,925 students are African-American; and for Black men the figure is 0.7%.

The Gavel, self-described "Progressive Student Voice of Boston College," published a "Pro/Con: Does the UCLA Black Bruins Viral Video Have Merit?" And the Yale Daily News wrote that even though Yale, as a private school, is not restricted the way California public colleges and universities are by Prop 2092, their statistics are little better: the student body is only 6% Black, and 9% percent Latino (not including international students). This despite the fact that Yale students are mainly drawn from urban areas; nearby New York City's population is 25.5% Black and 28.6% Latino.

Meanwhile, right-wing commentators and radio show hosts have attacked and ridiculed the video.

These developments have gone hand in hand with an increasing number of openly racist incidents on campuses throughout the country; most recently an incident that sparked protests at San Jose State University (In November 2013, three white students were charged with battery and a hate crime when it was discovered that they had repeatedly abused a Black freshman who shared a dorm suite with them verbally and physically, calling him names referring to slavery and putting a bicycle lock around his neck.)

And a report released in October describing "acts of bias and discrimination" against faculty at UCLA "found widespread concern among faculty members that the racial climate at UCLA had deteriorated over time." It refers to an ugly incident during a resident graduation event, where a slideshow was played that depicted a Black professor and doctor as a gorilla being sodomized by a white man; and referred to him as an 'affirmative action hire." (Daily Bruin, "Editorial: UCLA must work to cultivate faculty diversity," October 23, 2013)

Assault on the Gains of the Civil Rights and National Liberation Struggles

The Black Bruins video has shined a light on the impact of decades of assault on admissions policies which were the result of ferocious struggles waged in the 1950s and 1960s against the legacy of centuries of slavery and "Jim Crow" segregation. The rulers of the U.S., in the face of tenacious, courageous struggle, made concessions in granting formal equality to African-Americans.

But these changes hardly scratched the surface in terms of ending inequality. Granting "equal access" to universities to everyone with grade point averages, advanced placement courses, and skill sets that are only available to people with access to libraries, tutors, or good schools still locked the vast majority of Black people out of universities. And the same was true in all kinds of realms of society, from good-old-boy networks that were a requirement to become fire fighters to traditionally "whites only" positions in corporations.

Under these circumstances, some concessions were made beyond simply getting rid of "whites only" regulations. Affirmative action policies that, for example, set aside a certain number of jobs or college admission positions for Black people did scratch the surface of generations of discrimination. These policies were far from enough, but they immediately came under ferocious assault from the powers-that-be, usually in the form of claiming that addressing systemic discrimination any meaningful way constituted so-called "reverse discrimination." In this way, the principle of formal "equality" was invoked to maintain and deepen historic injustices.*

The Supreme Court threw its weight behind the assault on these gains of the civil rights and national liberation struggles of the 1960s in its infamous Regents of the University of California v. Bakkedecision in 1978. Here they blocked the doorway to efforts to affect the racial composition in college admissions by declaring affirmative action policies unconstitutional, with the argument that they discriminate against and disadvantage those who were and are still benefiting from that continued discrimination—students of the dominant nationality.

The ugly result of banning affirmative action has been the dramatic drop-off in admissions of Black, Latino, and other historically under-represented students at public colleges, which the Black Bruins' video is calling out. At UCLA, during the three years before the Bakke decision, UCLA freshman classes had an average of 260 African Americans; in the past three years this average has fallen to 185, about 70% of the former total. Consider what the ripple effect has been when some of the country's largest graduate school systems have been producing fewer doctors, lawyers, and others many of whom serve oppressed nationality communities. This is yet another expression of the "New Jim Crow" which has been the reality for Black people for the past half century.

Public college and university admissions boards abandoned any formal recognition that these lopsided enrollment figures are an expression of continued oppression and discrimination. They have allowed the "reverse discrimination" argument against affirmative action to hold sway, and redirected admissions policies to only consider race or nationality as one of many secondary factors that go into what's called a "holistic" approach to evaluating applicants; not with the goal of redressing the continued effects of centuries of slavery and segregation, but to provide a "diverse" learning environment for the rest of the student body! These admissions policies have led to modest increases in the percentages of Black and other oppressed nationality students since the drop in enrollment after the Bakke decision. But seldom have they gone beyond the percentages admitted prior to Bakke.

Supreme Court Justices Take Up Discredited, Bogus "Theory"

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court continues to move to further fortify white supremacy with rulings that are "tightening the noose" around admissions programs that take any account of students' nationality, even in the name of diversity—any attempt to counter the privilege of being white in America.

And this is taking an even more pernicious turn with the acceptance by some of these justices—expressly so by Justice Clarence Thomas and Chief Justice Roberts—of a discredited, bogus "theory" created in service of a racist agenda. Called "mismatch," this theory claims that students admitted to competitive schools with test scores and grades considerably lower than their peers end up with poor grades, lower graduation rates, lower self-esteem, and far greater difficulty passing licensing tests (such as bar exams for lawyers). The "remedy" for "mismatch" is for these students to go to less competitive schools where their level of academic preparation is closer to that of the average student.

The spearhead of this "mismatch" theory—UCLA Law School professor Richard Sander—is called out explicitly in the Black Bruins' video: "But according to Professor Sander, 3.3% is far too many Black kids." Sander's "mismatch" theory is a new angle of attack on college admissions policies developed since Bakke: accusing them of continuing to violate the Bakke decision, and allowing "unqualified" Black and other minority students into the elite law schools and other graduate and undergraduate programs—with the cover that it is harming the Black and other under-represented populations.

Sander claims to use social science and statistics to "prove" he's being objective, scientific, and scholarly; on that basis seizing the moral high ground and putting college admissions officers, and indeed anyone who defends, advocates for, or even considers the makeup of student bodies, on the moral defensive. Sander submitted amicus (friend of the court) briefs putting forward this "mismatch" theory to support Abigail Fisher, a white student who sued the University of Texas at Austin claiming reverse-discrimination in not being admitted to the University, and in support of a Michigan referendum that changed the state constitution in 2006 to outlaw any consideration of race, including in ending inequality. The Michigan amendment was modeled on Proposition 209, but its passage was ruled unconstitutional by a federal appeals court. Now the U.S. Supreme Court is months away from deciding—in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action—whether it is constitutional.

By filing these amicus briefs, Sander has handed those on the Supreme Court who openly call affirmative action in any form "racial discrimination" a useful cudgel. In the Fisher case, Clarence Thomas' lengthy concurring opinion made Sander's "mismatch" argument a part of his own. And Chief Justice Roberts brought it into the recent oral argument held in the Schuette case. "Citing the work of UCLA law professor Richard Sander,... Chief Justice Roberts suggested that maybe in banning affirmative action Michigan's voters were acting in the interest of the state's minorities and saving them from the harm of 'academic mismatch.'" (Richard Lempert, "The Supreme Court and the Perils of Advocacy Science: Examples from the Schuette Oral Argument on Affirmative Action;" Brookings, October 29, 2013) The "mismatch" argument is also made in the briefs submitted by the Michigan Attorney General, arguing in defense of Michigan's constitutional amendment banning affirmative action.

Even if it were the case that because of the profound, multi-dimensional, deeply embedded discrimination against Black students that they didn't do well in elite universities, it would still be a total outrage to keep them out of these schools (as opposed to providing necessary support for them to succeed). But that is not the case. These Justices should be fully aware that Sander's "mismatch" theory has been rejected over and over by those who have tested his conclusions.

While Sander continues to cite his original article promoting the "mismatch" hypothesis, almost as soon as it was published half a dozen independent scholars examined the same data using a variety of scientific methods and failed to find evidence proving the effects he claims. In fact, most studies have shown that Black and other minority nationality students who attend the most competitive colleges do better than those attending less competitive ones. It has been shown, with attorneys for example, that despite substantial admissions "mismatch," the percentage of Black graduates passing the bar exam was comparable to whites, and as alumni they earned as much as white alumni, were just as satisfied with their careers, and gave more back to the community in the form of leadership and legal work done pro bono (for free).

What's more, any remaining acceptance of the "mismatch" hypothesis should have ended during the deliberations on Fisher v. University of Texas, when:

11 social scientists, most of whom had no prior involvement in affirmative action debates, reviewed the key studies in the amicus brief that Sander coauthored. This group, which included... two members of the National Academy of Sciences, along with several other of the country's top social science methodologists, advised the Court that the empirical evidence cited to it as favoring mismatch should be given no credit whatsoever.

(Lempert, ibid.)

Now what does it say that the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court makes a public statement, drawing on a discredited, bogus "theory"—in support of a law which will further codify the exclusion of Black and other oppressed people from entrance to the top universities—a statement which could have come out of the mouth of the racist governor of Alabama, George Wallace in the 1960s, who stood in the doorway to prevent the first Black students from enrolling in the University of Alabama. This harkens back to the long period of slavery, when it was forbidden to educate the slaves; the ignorance of the slaves was considered necessary to the security of the slaveholders.

 The UCLA Black Bruins' video has issued a call and thrown down a challenge to students, faculty, and staff of all nationalities, on campuses nationwide, and to society as a whole. It will mean resisting the terms set by the system. All this works to enforce and deepen the "new Jim Crow." And resisting means going up against the "embrace" of those top administrators or others who are scrambling to put a patch over this and other cracks in the wall that hides the ways in which academia is contributing to an overall system which includes the "school to prison pipeline": police brutality, repression, and the mass incarceration of generations of our youth - to the intensification of the oppression of African-Americans and all those oppressed and exploited by the system. It means coming together with, and reaching out to, all those awakening to the reality that this system is a nightmare for the vast majority of society here and worldwide; those coming to realize that it does not have to be this way; and that there is a movement for revolution with the Party as its leading core, with far-sighted leadership that could finally put an end to this set-up and build a whole new world.

It has to become the case that:

The days when this system can just keep on doing what it does to people, here and all over the world... when people are not inspired and organized to stand up against these outrages and to build up the strength to put an end to this madness... those days must be GONE. And they CAN be. ("The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have. A Message, And a Call, From The Revolutionary Communist Party, USA")


1. Stokes told UCLA's FEM newsmagazine, "I didn't speak of Black females because I didn't have statistics regarding Black females available to me... I did not want to put anything out there that was inaccurate... [Black Male Institute, or BMI] would like to also have a Black Women Institute, but UCLA is not giving us funding for it..." [back]

2. Proposition 209, passed by voters in 1996, amended the state Constitution; it now bans state colleges, and any other government institutions, from considering race, sex, or ethnicity in education, hiring, or contracting. [back]

3. See "Supreme Court Tightens Noose Around Affirmative Action;" Revolution #309 [back]

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