February 3, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 20°F

ColumnsInto Identity

Who counts as a black student?

The Daily Caller, a politically conservative news site, published an overly sensationalist article on Sept. 28 alleging that Cornell University’s Black Students United (BSU) insisted their university disfavor black immigrant applicants at the expense of black American students. According to the article, BSU “takes issue with the fact that there are more African and Caribbean students on campus when compared to black students.” This demand is simply one of 12 that were delivered to President Martha Pollack in September after a string of incredibly racist incidents.

BSU’s unfortunately worded statement generated widespread controversy both on and off campus. Conservatives, who tend to have something of a hate-boner for “identity politics” and “intersectionality,” used this incident as a way to pit black immigrants against African Americans. For example, a piece in the Wall Street Journal argues that African Americans are full of “victimhood” and that the reason black immigrants succeed academically is because their “culture tends to value academic achievement and believe it is possible no matter what happened to your ancestors.” I find this intensely gross. I’ve heard of this line of thinking before, usually among the more openly racist types. It has less to do with an appreciation for a smaller group of people and more to do with saying how they don’t care for American-born blacks.

There’s an entire industry in criticizing black America. Aside from a handful of cherrypicked examples of “the good ones,” nothing black America does will ever be enough for them — both conservatives and liberals. They’re especially eager to gloss over severe setbacks the black community has suffered like redlining, the razing of black Wall Street, and numerous other practices which continue to prevent black Americans from advancing as easily as other racial minorities.

As for my thoughts on BSU’s initial statement, I think there’s some merit to it despite it being clumsily written. It raises awareness about the severe lack of black students at elite American institutions. According to Indiana University’s Center for Postsecondary Research, black enrollment at top-tier universities and colleges has actually dropped between 1994 and 2013. However, there is no need for BSU to throw first-generation immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean under the bus because no matter which region a student hails from, the outside world still sees us as black.