SHEMIKA DAVIS: Will Black people be respected among their professional peers?

Friday, June 9, 2023 -- No other race is questioned about the validity of their degree based on how they were admitted into a school. So why should state Rep. Jones, D-Wake, have to defend his degree?
Posted 2023-06-09T02:39:00+00:00 - Updated 2023-06-09T10:49:21+00:00
Rep. Jeff McNeely, an Iredell County Republican, asked the question of Rep. Abe Jones, a Wake County Democrat who ran track at Harvard.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Shemika Davis, M.Ed., is an English instructor at Shaw University in Raleigh.

It is always distressing as an African American to hear people who are not of color try to discredit the educational background or capability of our community to prove a point. This happened recently on the NC House floor when Rep. Jeff McNeely of Iredell County decided to challenge how successful Rep. Abe Jones of Wake County would have been if he were not an athlete or a minority when he applied (and was accepted) to Harvard University in the early 1970s. Jones ran track and cross country at Harvard.

McNeely, who is white, apologized for his comments, claiming that he was unable to articulate what he was trying to say. But it begs the question: why are African Americans, no matter their position, deemed unqualified, or that we somehow received a sympathy vote for the success we have gained?


No other race is questioned about the validity of their degree based on how they were admitted into a school. So why should Jones have to defend his degree? Students are admitted to colleges based on certain criteria that usually includes test scores, class rank, and participation in other activities, such as sports. The admissions team uses that information to determine whether a student will be successful at the school.

I don’t know what the admissions criteria were at Harvard in 1970. But Jones wouldn't have been admitted if he had not been an outstanding high school student, and if the admissions staff did not think he would succeed. He did succeed. After graduating from Harvard, he was admitted to Harvard Law School and earned a law degree.

The frustrating part of being an African American is that we already feel that we must work so much harder so that our success is viewed as valid. This situation can be considered a piece of evidence that many people of other races may think that a person of color is not validated if they do not work ten times harder for their success.

It’s even more disturbing that this happened during an open debate on school vouchers. Situations like this provide teachable moments. House Republicans, to their credit, stripped McNeely of his leadership post, but did so without giving an explanation. House Speaker Tim Moore should have used this as a moment to educate everyone on how inappropriate McNeely’s comments were.

It appears that African Americans are held to a higher and even different standard. Other situations involving politicians have come to different conclusions.

An example is New York Republican Congressman George Santos, who admitted after being elected to having lied about his job experience and college education. U.S. House Republicans have declined to take action against him, and he remains in office today. Where is the integrity in that? Jones earned his degrees, yet has been mocked while doing what he is qualified to do.

Jones did not deserve this public humiliation. He’s had a distinguished career as a prosecutor, judge, Wake County commissioner, and state legislator. The sad reality is that African American people are not respected on some platforms, especially political ones.

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