By Arit John
The story of the first-generation Ghanian-American student accepted by all eight Ivy league schools is wonderful, but it also stirs up the tension between black Americans and recent African immigrants — especially when you describe him as "not a typical African-American kid." That's been the reaction to USA Today's profile on Kwasi Enin, a Long Island high schooler who got into the nation's most competitive schools through hard work and, according to IvyWise CEO Katherine Cohen, being African (and being male).
Here's a semi-off-topic question. Leaving aside affirmative action and all that, how unusual is it for a high school student to be accepted at all eight Ivy League schools?
Top colleges would have at least a couple of self-interested reasons for sharing information with each other on who they want to admit and agreeing not to make offers to their peers' favorites. They don't want to get into a scholarship bidding war over the best students; and they don't want their "yield" percentage to be driven down because they make offers to kids who get offers from everybody.
Into the early 1990s, the Ivies, MIT, and some other famous colleges had a price-fixing ring that met every year called the Overlap Group to make sure they didn't compete very hard over individual students.
The Elder Bush administration accused the cartel of violating the Sherman Anti-Trust. The Ivies shamefacedly denied wrongdoing but promised not to do it anymore. MIT, however, went to court, arguing that laws don't apply to elite colleges because, well, we're special. MIT lost in court in 1992, appealed, and then, as so often happens, the incoming Clinton Administration dropped the case they were winning on the ground that elite colleges are on their side.
Then Congress passed a 568 law that provides an anti-trust exemption. The 568 cartel was formed, but, notably, it doesn't currently include the four richest colleges: Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and Princeton. (Their lavish financial aid perhaps explains a little about why Harvard has gotten so good in basketball and Stanford in football.)
Okay, that's the background. Now can anybody answer: do top colleges get together and collude on who will make offers to the most desirable students? Obviously, all Ivies will want the black male who averages 750 on the SAT, but if they all make him offers, 7 out 8 will get their "yield" percentage dinged on the USNWR charts because he can only accept one acceptance.
So, do top colleges typically pre-arrange that they won't all offer acceptances to all the top candidates, but somehow the cartel broke down here? Or is the Overlap Group completely a thing of the past these days?
At one point the piece reads:
Being a first-generation American from Ghana also helps him stand out, Cohen says. "He's not a typical African-American kid."
"Not a typical African-American kid" is being read as an allusion to the lazy black American stereotype. The tension comes from the fact that some African immigrants buy into that stereotype, which gets turned into "Africans don't like black people." This has almost nothing to do with Enin, who is obviously a remarkable young man, and everything to do with how America perceives and portrays black Americans and African immigrants.
In January, Luvvie Ajayi, a Nigerian-born immigrant, tried to explain "akata," a word some Nigerians use to refer to black Americans that translates into wild animal. (Note: A lot of Nigerians use akata to mean "ghetto" as well. My mom once told me I was dressed like an akata girl because I wanted to wear sweatpants in public.) She argued in a series of tweets, collected by Clutch, that the reason some Africans believe black Americans should be doing better is because they don't know about the history of black Americans but see their own success as a reason blacks should excel as well. "Africans who come to the U.S. are statistically more successful than African Americans and they think 'if I could do it, why not them?'" she wrote.
American society holds that same view as well. A 2007 study covered by the Washington Post found that a quarter of black students admitted to elite colleges were African immigrants, though they only represented 13 percent of America's college-age black population. The study's authors several theories on why black immigrants do better, including "to white observers black immigrants seem more polite, less hostile, more solicitous and 'easier to get along with.' Native blacks are perceived in precisely the opposite fashion."
Lani Guinier, a Harvard professor, argued instead that schools were attempting to "resolve historic wrongs against native black Americans by enrolling immigrants who look like them" but had different experiences. "In part, it has to do with coming from a country ... where blacks were in the majority and did not experience the stigma that black children did in the United States," Guinier said. Either explanation creates a divide — as if Africans can only succeed at the expense of black Americans, or vice versa.