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Martin Luther King Jr delivers his famous "I Have a Dream" speech on 28 August 1963 during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The dream of equal opportunity is yet to come true nearly 60 years after / Photo: Youtube/Screenshot RARE FACTS

Why affirmative action is not ‘Black privilege’

Charles Negy, a professor at the University of Central Florida, caused a storm recently when he claimed that in a Twitter rant that “Black privilege is real”  and that people of African descent complaining of marginalisation in the United States should “stay in school”. A very short open letter to Charles Negy by Vienna-based writer and journalist Sarah Udoh-Grossfurther

Dear Professor Charles Negy,

I came across an article on Yahoo news detailing recent calls to remove you from office after a ‘Twitter rant’ in which you posit that “Black privilege is real” and ‘insist’ that the answer to systematic oppression is to “stay in school.” Your argument was, of course, a response to the nationwide protests over the death of George Floyd at the hands of four law-enforcement officers.

Professor, I am not going to go into the entire slew of your nine-point rant. However, I find it necessary to address one of your points, as I have encountered this argument too often and it is often based on flawed logic. You have claimed: “Black privilege is real: Besides affirm. Action… special scholarships and other set asides [are given out], being shielded from legitimate criticism is a privilege.”

There are a few things to note here. First, the essential element needed for ‘affirm.’ action’ to be put in place is proof of marginalisation. When a group of people is proven to be at a disadvantage due to marginalisation and are therefore unable to have access to the benefits easily enjoyed by others (say the white majority, for example), ‘affirmation action’ laws are instituted to counter that inequality. Thus affirmative action wouldn’t even exist if we were not able to prove that Blacks are denied the ability to advance, even when merit speaks in their favour.

Secondly, ‘special scholarships and other set asides…’ are also put in place primarily for the purpose of giving opportunity and chances to students who, owning to their disadvantaged/humble positions, would otherwise not have the resources needed to maximise their full potential. It is not a handout, it is a well-deserved chance to even begin to compete in the same arena as those who have easier access to these institutions because of their skin colour, family legacy and/or wealth.

As a university Professor, I assume you are familiar with the extensive research and information it requires to make a strong academic argument. This leads me to wonder whether you indeed undertook the actual work of investigating affirmative action and its purpose before you took to Twitter, or whether you took advantage of the title given to you to make a case based on your own personal feelings.

READ ALSO Black and German. Black German. An Oxymoron?

My late grandmother used to say, ‘Wearing a suit might make you appear smart, but that does not mean that you are smart.’ In the same vein, slapping a title over your opinions does not make you right.

Finally, in the words of a placard at yesterday’s peaceful ‘BlackLivesMatter’ rally: “We are all different, but our RIGHTS shouldn’t be.” If you are going to use your knowledge as someone who “stayed in school”, to speak on the George Floyd issue, why not start with the 14th Amendment, which prohibits any state from denying ‘to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.’

Your Constitution clearly requires that all American citizens be protected under the law. Or, do you disagree with the laws of your own Constitution?

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