excerpts from a personal conversation about affirmative action & my schooling originally March 1996

Bowen: i believe that asian students and [those] sympathetic with their cause have made a sufficient case regarding their complaint against policies of uc. i also believe that the significance of this case is highly overstated and skews the discussion about affirmative action in general. as i have said before regarding admissions criteria at colleges, i don't believe that uc or cal state are effectively excluding significant numbers of students from getting the education they deserve. to the extent that race is taken into account post-bakke, anyone will have a hard time convincing me that there is some chilling effect against whites in california.

my own experience tells me that scrutiny of black and latino retention and graduation rates in support of arguments against affirmative actions is resentful and reactionary. i say this as a former student representative to the minority engineering program advisory board at cal state northridge. in short, it was part of my duty to help these students and work on their behalf. and i find it mind boggling that anyone might approach an [affirmative action] student and tell them that their presence on campus is based on immoral grounds. but i wouldn't be surprised to see it happen in the current atmosphere in california.

the set-aside market is tiny. despite that i know little (and don't care much) about it. i can't find much to quibble about it other than corruption. in a country where toilet seats and cargo door hooks and specialty wrenches can be priced in the thousands of dollars, there will always be plenty to scream about. i almost don't care one way or another.

O: All such corruption should be removed, if possible.  I think the set aside market is significant in certain regions, esp. the Metro DC area, due, of course, to the high concentration of government agencies in the region.  One might not care much about the affects of the set-aside practices of the Feds if one had never suffered the results.  As it exists, I'd just scrap the whole thing.  It's so easy to abuse at this point it's not even worth trying to save.  When I left, there was already some relaxation of procurement rules, and I just got an email telling me that the purchasing idiocy at least has been canned.  In other words, labs are allowed to purchase most goods from large companies that can offer substantial discounts for bulk orders, etc.  These large companies, by the way, often have aggressive minority recruitment programs.  Or at least, so I am told.  Perhaps this is to appease the Feds, I don't know.  Contracting still is problematic, in that lowest-bidders are still the mandatory awardees.  How this relates to "minority-owned and disadvantaged" I'm not sure, but can ask for followup.

M:  Michael, you must not have to pay taxes.  First off, the set-asides are *huge* amounts of dough, and the whole thing is a big joke. Billions and billions of dollars are being mishandled in this way, and the resulting deliverables are laughable.  This is a scandal to make agribiz porkfare seem positively benign in contrast...

California is a state with where women outnumber men, and minority voters very nearly outnumber whites.  And yet AA is certainly doomed at the ballot box.  This is not, as many would propose, because of obscure wording and duplicitous positioning.  It is because most people, even minorities and women, know that AA is inherently unfair, unworkable, and producing disastrous results.  It is doomed, and I, for one, will happily dance on its grave.

You do not remedy injustice with a reactionary injustice.  You remedy injustice by eliminating the injustice.  Discrimination on the basis of race is the injustice, and changing the color of the victim does nothing to ameliorate it.

Bowen: i pay more taxes than the overwhelming majority of americans, but i don't let it guide my politics. paying taxes is just the cost of doing business in america. i am not rich enough to buy loopholes and i am not selfish enough to screw my fellow citizens and i try not to get led around by every loudmouth who promises a tax rebate in every pot, especially when they connect with the politics of resentment.

if i had my way, there would probably be some more direct mechanism to direct my tax expenditures. i like the idea, but i don't need it.

i no longer live in california, but when i did last, i can remember the kind of propaganda i received from republicans to remove rose bird, cruz reynoso and willie brown. those are the same republicans in power now in the state. i am not fooled by their rhetoric and i know precicely how they regard the political representatives of blacks and latinos. mike woo in los angeles is one of the most enlightened multicultural political leaders in the state. where does he stand? i can remember the kind of confusion and misrepresentation that surrounded california referenda. i can distinctly remember the nimby politics and dirty tricks in property assessment, redlining and school board fights over race. i can intimately remember the fights blacks had to go through to get equal medical care in the public sector. i can recall that and dozens of other things political, especially those done 'in the spirit of proposition 13'. i find it difficult to believe that the ideas which have created the political climate in california have undergone dramatic changes since i left five years ago. and having seen pete wilson in action over this particular issue has shown me that the political majority of californians can be dead wrong.

i will not belabor the point of the political implications for affirmative action reform under ccri. (i mean policy details and implications) but i don't believe that there will be a reasonable coalition of reformers involved in the process. i would tend to watch willie brown's and mike woo's comments on the entire matter, and procede from there. for in california (espceically southern california) and elsewhere, i regard the matter of residential segregation most central to all of these politics.

the most fundamental question of social justice and injustice is determined by one's access to power. in america, racially segregated communities asian, black and latino are cut off from that access. all inequities start at that point. there is one true remedy to that which is residential integration, and unless and until that is realized, everything else will be a less than perfect remedy. if you want to talk about a level playing field, level the racial distribution in residence. short of that, we will have to deal with compromises.

W: If you want to locate at least one fatal flaw in AA, look at a few of the words used in the final paragraph in the above posting: "asian, black, and latino communities." These words mean absolutely nothing. (Coming from the border area "latino" has always been a particular laff-riot for me -- as if a Oaxacan migrant laborer and an Argentine of English ancestry could fit nicely under a single descriptive.)

The problem *is* that race is fluid. Visit L.A. someday and see the various couplings of Lao and Guatemalan, African and Japanese, etc. Where do the children of *these* families fit into the AA scheme of things?

I guess I'm most disgusted by folks who see AA as the absolute, most fantastically perfect solution to the problems it seeks to address. As if there were a limit to brain-power and problem-solving.

You know, it's very possible that other, more workable solutions exist.

Bowen: ok so substitute zip codes, i don't care. if you grow up in 90016, you go to dorsey high school. dorsey is pretty decent but it doesn't compare favorably with palisades high school. not in teachers, not in facilities, not in test scores, not in number and diversity of classes offered or atheletic programs offered, and certainly the hell not on college recruitment day. if you grow up in 90016, you are also mandated to attend mount vernon junior high school, a pit. you basically have to lie in order to go to audubon junior high, that's just the way the borders are drawn. there are real borders and crossing them is not trivial.

is jefferson high school lousy because the los angeles unified school district wants it to be lousy? or is it lousy because it is in a lousy part of town which 'just happens to be poor black and latino?' or is it something else? so what if you live near jefferson, (or locke or jordan) but you want to go to fairfax (or palisades, or university) high school? you have to pull teeth or lie *or* have some affirmative action program. but at the high school level there is no affirmative action program, so you learn whatever you possibly can at the inferior high school, and wait for affirmative action at the college level. so all of the potential for all of these promising students who just 'happen' to live in the *wrong* neighborhoods is just spent for 3 years in holding tanks. but actually it happens in junior high school first. this is residential segregation of children, largely by race and economics, into 6 years of inferior secondary schools and the political majority will not do jack about it.

so it's easy to pretend that 'black and latino' communities mean nothing, but this is real, and students and parents who cannot afford to send their children to private schools all know it. but even in the archdiocese, the situation is the same. in the black and latino communities, schools are not as good as those in white communities. in fact, the closing of mount carmel high school in south central los angeles sent shockwaves all over the black community in the mid-seventies. i remember.

as for multi-racial mixes, well that's all fine and dandy. but if you live in east los angeles and are catholic, chances are that you are going to attend salesian high school, which was also threatened with closure in the 80s. when salesian attracts and keeps the same caliber of instructors and money as servite in orange county then you might be able to convince me that the racial composition of the neighborhood is irrelevent, but that will not be any time soon.

race might be fluid, but the poorest communities in los angeles have been black and latino for over 50 years, and bussing was fought. as for asians, i can only speak about crenshaw high & dorsey high, neither which i attended although there was a significantly large nisei community adjacent to the black, (actually surrounded). neither highschool was considered to be excellent, and plenty of blacks and japanese lied on residence applications and did whatever they could to get their kids bussed into university and palisades high schools in the white communities during the 70s.

R: Wait.  You're saying all the kids from Crenshaw that I went to high school with in the 70's *lied on their residence applications*?  Is *that* what Bobbi Fiedler was so mad about?

Bowen: to be blunt about it, yes, we lied. i don't know if bobbi fiedler knew the extent of the lying but that is what happened. there was a kind of underground network of black folks who lived in the fairfax area and some other nice places who worked it. bussing was a kind of cherry picking from the beginning. there were a fixed number of slots available for kids to be bussed from the better black neighborhoods near crenshaw, specifically view park, baldwin hills and ladera. parents saw the numbers as rediculously low and fought to allow more kids to be bussed. since there were a large number of students outside of the audubon jr high area who wanted in but were not included it got pretty ugly. (audubon had ben a recognizeably oustanding junior high school in the 'hood, and candidates were taken from that area). so you could also lie and say you lived in the audubon district and maybe get bussed, but they would check your transcripts. there were other programs too, and plenty of parents scraped together money to send their kids to catholic high schools. it's kind of an inside joke with my old gang about how many non-catholic blacks attended catholic high schools back in the days. the 'abc'  program (a better chance) also took kids from audubon jr. high. the author of the recent book 'white bucks and black-eyed peas', marcus mabry was an abc student. my youngest brother robert attended half of his junior high school and all of his high school years in minnesota on full scholarship through this program. so i understand full well the irony of that, and the lengths black families go to in order to see their children well-educated. it's all well and good to send high achieving black kids 12 years old halfway across the nation to receive a high quality education, but ask one of those heavy-duty 9th grade science teachers to come teach in the neighborhoods that grew those black children... the silence is deafening.

my other two brothers, we got into audubon but both went to dorsey, robert and my baby sister were both bussed to the san fernando valley *for elementary school*. i started (as the oldest) a bit early for bussing and went the catholic school route.

one fascinating side point is that there also used to be a program called the nsysp, the national summer youth sports program which was sponsored in part by the president's council on fitness. it was essentially a sports day camp sponsored at the area universities. black kids were bussed from audubon and redondo elementary school in my area. the programs was considered good basic training for kids who would be bussed, and unlike real academic school, there were no limiting numbers and everyone who showed up at the sites got in. i met donna devarona and bobby bonds through this program when i was around 12 years old. i went to the program at ucla, there was one at usc too. it was through this sports program that black kids from my neighborhood got their first peek (a lot of them) at that big world. but not every kid even got that opportunity. i can clearly recall that there was some premium on us black kids who got on those busses, and i can't tell you how many times we were schooled about our image. something to think about..

R: I'm confused about something.  What lie would you tell to get into Palisades H.S.?  Would you claim that your zip code was 90272?  (And if so, how would you convince the bus to come pick you up in Crenshaw?)  I'm not clear about the mechanics of this situation at all - not that I doubt you, or that your fundamental point about zip codes is anything but dead on.

Bowen: if you lived in 90043, which is basically view park and some of that area where the lakers live, you would be in the audubon district. i think 90008 is in there too. if you live in the audubon district you are eligible for bussing slots for paul revere junior high which feeds university high and palisades high. my best friend ebon, for example, lived over on kenniston just off of 54th street which is the neighborhood for both audubon and crenshaw high school. he got bussed to paul revere and then went to palisades. the best way to get bussed into 'pali' or 'uni' was to attend paul revere junior high, just a few miles up the road on sunset boulevard. the other way would be be to claim that you moved - and that generally worked for kids who wanted to go to fairfax, hollywood high or uni. that was the group i alluded to with the underground who fronted addresses in the fairfax area. once you were into hollywood or fairfax, transfers were easier. my poor sister went to at least three highschools before we got her into palisades.

my parents prepared me to go to palisades after the 8th grade (where parochial schools stop) by sending me to paul revere for summer school. my friend ebon still was bussed there, i took the public transporation (rtd) from adams and crenshaw to pacific palisades (almost 2 hours each way on the 176 line). evidently, the summer school requirements weren't as strict. i would have gotten into paul revere for the 9th grade and then gone to pali for the 10th and we were prepared to fake our address to be 5604 kenniston. (which by the way is the same neighborhood that 'monster kody' grew up in - actually a very pleasant place.) my folks were then going to drive me (or more likely i would take the rtd) to the busstop at 54th street elementary school. as it went, i kicked ass on an entrance exam for loyola, the jesuit prep school, and we didn't have to 'steal my education'. but the groundwork was laid. you basically had to use devices to weasel (or shuffle) your way in.

also, a lot of kids i hung out with later, who were from 'the dons' (that area of baldwin hills which is fairly upscale and all the streets are named 'don' something .felipe, arreano, miguel..) went to westchester high school under similar bussing arrangements. however, westchester had race riots almost every week.

R: Very interesting.  I think it's safe to say that my impressions of Paul Revere JHS were a little different from yours.

Z: Fascinating stuff, mdcb. I know a lot of black kids from Baltimore, where I grew up, who said they lived in the county to go to those schools...

Bowen: i fuckin' loved paul revere. i was an instant success. it was, essentially at age 13, the first time i went to school with white kids. i almost immediately found my niche with the jocks and the jokers. i took schutze's electric shop and merryman's p.e. class. did merryman ever get arrested for molestation? he was a piece of work. anyway, i found out that like the rest of the black kids in my neighborhood with skateboards that we were all 'goofy footers'. i gained an enormous reputation as the don rickles of paul revere. i always recall that i never knew what a pollack was until i told somebody to stop telling nigger jokes. so all the nigger jokes, in my presense became pollack jokes. i had no idea that there was a real such thing as a pollack - i just assumed it was whitespeak for moron.

i inteded to play baseball and run long distance plus i was taking joke classes so i didn't mind running the 'iron man' or a 'superman' around the perimiter of the school. i figured that summer that i ran about 7 miles a day. being connected with the most popular kids (walgren, sheen, elliott, baum, o'conner, norris, & ebon) had big advantages. we could get passes of all sorts from kids who worked in the office, pretty much on demand. i was told who i would have to fight in the next semester to maintain my popularity. i had a nickname, 'bo' which corresponded to my last name and my favorite karate weapon, and i was informed of all of the girls who 'put out'. it was a rather extraordinary experience.

a few things completely amazed me about the white kids. one of them was that they wore braces which cost more than 6 months of mortgatge payments on our house, just so they could smile nice. to this day i am still befuddled about such things as 'perfect smiles'. another thing was that for the first time i had actually connected with people who were what their last names said. i had the experience growing up of knowing ron karenga (originator of kawaida and kwanza) and had met stokely carmichael in person. so if your last name was campbell, i would ask you about the soup (and always be disappointed). now before paul revere, i didn't know who donald o'conner was but i did know danny kaye. so when i met o'conner (whose first name escapes me) i was very glad to make the acquaintance of the son of a movie star. baum always claimed to be the son of linda lovelace but nobody was sure. but we did know that he knew everything about sex, plus he promised to hook me up with flip wilson's daughter. that white kids who were really actually rich loved to dress in ripped up jeans and pretend that they were surf bums was a completely shocking revelation to me. and i first learned to sign the alphabet at paul revere. (being 'bo' meant i had to learn how to sign 'kiss my ass' faster than anyone). it was a fascinating summer.

i think the most interesting thing i learned at paul revere was how significant the social lives of white kids seemed to be. they were no more intelligent or crazy or anything than we were, but they had a kind of weight about every trivial thing they did. the idea that when we all decided to start wearing that new brand of tennis shoe, nike that hit the stores back then in 74 made a real smash on campus was incredible. that if lisa n. with the enormous boobs kissed walgren that their reputations could change and that it would really matter. that if we decided to say 'delco' in every other word of the pledge of allegiance, we wouldn't get suspended. that we could actually tell coach merryman what *we* wanted to do in p.e. it seemed that nothing the students at paul revere could do was dismissable by students, teachers or parents and that no matter what we did, it mattered. i know that it sounds as if i'm repeating myself, but if i tell you that most black kids get treated in school just like that movie about joe clarke who principalled his school with a bullhorn and a baseball bat, perhaps you'd see. and the parochial school i attended was no better. revere was literally a breath of fresh air, and the first school i ever attended where we were allowed, even encouraged to play on the grass.

R: I'm pretty sure you were there the same years I was.  Merryman never got popped for anything, and died of a heart attack a couple of years after I graduated.  (Did you know he was a paratrooper in WWII?)  I can't remember O'Connor's first name either.

My memories of Revere are of being desperately lonely, fearful, and unhappy every single day, all day, all the time.  Part of this was because I was a clueless unsocialized friendless geek; most of it was clinical depression.

There were a few bright moments (mixed chorus, horticulture, and learning how to make tennis ball cannons in Mrs. Brown's science class come to mind) but by and large it's three years of my life that I have no clear memory of.

Z: I love listening to you two talk about the school. Thank you.