Book Review: Blackballed: The Black & White Politics of Race on America’s Campuses by by Lawrence Ross

cover77052-mediumPeople need to understand that we do not live in a post-racial society. Racism is still prevalent in every aspect of our culture. Blackballed takes a look at it on college campuses.

Today, systemic and institutional racism still plagues African Americans, long after the “colored only” signs have been taken down. african americans are primarily the ones burdened with the task of fixing a race problem they didn’t produce or perpetuate, while white America continues to say, “I don’t see it.”

Pointing out the realities of white racism to America as a black person who lives them, and then having that reality dismissed unheard, logically makes black people question their sanity. How can we live in a world where, for African Americans, the racial inequities around housing, education, jobs, wealth, health care, and a thousand other categories are quantifiably tilted toward the benefit of white americans, often because of overtly racist public policy, when a 2013 Rasmussen poll shows that 49 percent of white Republicans viewed African Americans, and not themselves or other white Americans, as racist?

For most white Americans, the delusion begins with the idea that every child in America begins on an equal footing with every other child, regardless of race. That formula for success, and the formula most often preached to African Americans, is work hard, carry on with your life as though you believe wholeheartedly in the American dream, and with a little bit of pluck and ambition, you too can go far. And for many, including African Americans, you can go far. Failure isn’t a fait accompli when it comes to an african american’s life destiny.

But it’s also important to note that racism isn’t just some “thing” that you overcome. it’s omnipresent, like a sea of shit in which you swim, always stinking no matter how many showers you take. But to white America, the inequities of society created by racism are trivial when compared with the opportunities America allows everyone. Racism is simply, in the eyes and ears of white America, an unfortunate but inconsequential aspect of life, like being short or losing one’s hair at an early age. An aspect of life to be discounted where the presence of racism is more than balanced by the multitude of mitigating factors.

I don’t believe in white liberal guilt. I just think white liberals are the only whites that care to look around and see and see reality for what it is and that racism still exists and that all people don’t have the same opportunities.

And if you read chapter 2, you will be appalled and want to call for the end of all fraternities everywhere. And if you live in Alabama like I do, holy shit.

The organization that is behind the sororities and fraternities at Alabama (“The Machine”) has a goal to “control as much of the campus as possible, by being as conservative as possible. Controlling student government is only the tip of the spear, as the [organization’s] main goal is keeping greek row as white as possible.”

When I see how much colleges support these organizations it’s gross. Especially when I know people that give thousands of dollars for their kids for fraternity dues. It’s all the investment of a massive white privileged machine that gives more power and privilege to those that already have it.

By 1946 the greek system had solidified around strict segregation lines, with blacks almost exclusively joining black fraternities and sororities and whites joining white fraternities and sororities. In fact, white fraternities and sororities tried their best to exclude other whites, including Catholics, Jews, and non-Christians. Most included in their constitutions restriction clauses for membership, including Phi Delta Theta, founded in 1912, which required that “Only white persons of full aryan blood, not less than sixteen years of age, should be eligible.” Others specified that students had be “christian caucasians” while banning “the black, Malay, Mongolian or Semitic races.”

So, as recently as the 1950s, fraternities and sororities fought to keep themselves “racially pure”. I’m sure that has all been erased by now and there are no racist aftershocks. So, the story at the beginning of the book is such an anomaly.

According to Cornell University, only 2 percent of america’s population is involved in fraternities, yet 80 percent of Fortune 500 executives, 76 percent of U.S. senators and congressmen, 85 percent of Supreme Court justices, and all but two presidents since 1825 have been fraternity men. To have influence that extensive, you need to have an greek organization that starts on the undergraduate level and then operates as a powerful network once you’ve graduated.

The thing is, people use their contacts at fraternities and sororities all their lives. This just shows how this type of racism extends from college to the worlds of business and politics. The privileged do everything they can to get more privilege.

The book spends a lot of time discussing racism in the fraternity system, but also discusses it as an aspect of college campuses in general.

Because, of course, it doesn’t stop with fraternities and sororities. There’s a push to limit diversity on college campuses with anti-affirmative action campaigns.

Then, of course, there are the statues built and buildings named after confederate heroes and racists.

When reading about the massive number of racist incidents on college campuses, it boggles the mind that people suggest that racism isn’t an issue in our society or that when people of color bring up these atrocities, they’re “playing the race card”.

And where do we go from here?

Not one black student on a college campus should have to spend one second dealing with the scourge of racism or its symbols. It goes beyond the idea of zero tolerance; it means creating such a level of proactive antiracism that white high school students think twice before applying to your school. Universities need to move campus racism from the backwaters of their administrations to the forefront. They need to triple their current budgets for diversity education. The programs they create for white students should not just be a one-off during freshman orientation but a process that continues through each year of attendance. And for students, this shouldn’t just involve listening to lectures.

The question is, do people care enough to accomplish this?

There’s so much good in this book. Read it if you want to know what’s really happening with racism on college campuses.

Thanks to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for a copy in return for an honest review.


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