Interesting WSJ Article on Ethnicity at Elite universities

Friday, March 9, 2007 2:09 p.m. EST

Importing Diversity
The Harvard Crimson reports on a telling trend among selective universities:

While Harvard leads the nation in black student yield numbers [the fraction of accepted applicants who enroll], a high proportion of those enrollees may be recent black immigrants, not African Americans, a new study found.

The study’s goal was to examine reasons behind the high level of diversity in heritage and socioeconomic levels within black student populations at 28 American universities, said Camille Z. Charles, a co-author of the study and an associate professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. The report was published in last month’s American Journal of Education (AJE).

According to data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Freshmen conducted in 1999, immigrants account for 26.7 percent of black students at the universities used in the AJE study. At Ivy League schools, the statistic reached 40.6 percent.

Because first- and second-generation immigrants only accounted for 13 percent of all 18- and 19-year-old black students, according to the Current Population Survey conducted the same year, the numbers show that recent black immigrants are represented in these universities at higher proportions than in the general population, the study says.

The terminology here is awfully confused. For one thing, “second-generation immigrants” would seem to mean not immigrants at all, but native Americans whose parents are immigrants.

For another, as we’ve noted before, the exclusion of immigrants from Africa (and their children) from the category “African-American” shows how senseless is the politically correct employment of that term. You wouldn’t say, “His parents are immigrants from Ireland, so he’s not Irish-American.”

What is clear here, though, is that, at least as measured by enrollment in elite universities, black immigrants and their children are succeeding in America far more, on average, than blacks whose families have been in the U.S. for generations–i.e., the descendants of slaves. This is a strong argument against the proposition that black underachievement in America is primarily the result of present-day racism.

How to explain the disparity? The Crimson article offers this:

Charles said the gap had less to do with value systems of immigrants as a group, and more with who immigrants tend to be.

“In practical terms, immigrants, no matter what color they are, are a highly selective group of people,” she said.

“At some level, there will always be an immigrant-native difference because you only get the most motivated, best prepared, cream-of-the-crop set of immigrants,” since their families have had to leave their native countries and start anew in the United States, she said.

This last comment points to an uncomfortable truth: Every ethnic group in America consists almost entirely of a “cream-of-the-crop set of immigrants” and their descendants–except blacks, whose ancestors were mostly brought to the U.S. by force, and American Indians, who were already here when America was discovered. It may be that disparities between these two ethnic groups and the rest of the population amount to an intergenerational version of the “immigrant-native difference” Prof. Charles finds unremarkable among contemporary populations.

When Jesse Jackson and other black “leaders” urged, some two decades ago, that the term African-American supplant black, their aim appears to have been to inspire the same sort of ethnic pride that other hyphenated Americans feel. But a change in nomenclature cannot undo the tragic facts of history.

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