By now you’re familiar with Ziad Ahmed, the son of a hedge fund manager and graduate of Princeton Day School (tuition: PreK through Fourth Grade: $28,230; Fifth and Sixth Grades: $33,010; Seventh through Twelfth Grade: $34,600 per year) who was just admitted to Stanford after submitting an application essay — answering the question, “What matters to you, and why?” — that consisted entirely of 100 repetitions of “#BlackLivesMatter.” If not, take a look at articles in the Wall Street Journal, the San Jose Mercury News, McClatchey newspapers, not to mention NBC, CNN, BBC, the Telegraph (London), Huffington Post, and Breitbart.
Stanford’s judgment in this matter speaks for itself (and as an undergraduate and graduate alum, I’m embarrassed by what it says), but let’s look more closely at Ahmed’s “essay.” As Katherine Timpf has just noted pointedly on National Review Online, Ahmed didn’t even answer the question. “The application did not just ask ‘What matters to you,’” she observes, “it also asked ‘And why?‘”
Young Mr. Ahmed is so certain that his “unapologetic progressivism” embodies revealed truth and justice that he explained to Mic, a millennial online site, that any insistence that he actually explain his answer “is inherently dehumanizing.” Nevertheless, he deigned to explain (to Mic, not to Stanford)
To me, to be Muslim is to be a BLM ally, and I honestly can’t imagine it being any other way for me. Furthermore, it’s critical to realize that one-fourth to one-third of the Muslim community in America are black … and to separate justice for Muslims from justices [sic] for the black community is to erase the realities of the plurality of our community.”
It is apparent that Mr. Ahmed in fact cannot imagine any way of thinking about race, religion, and ethnicity different from his own “unapologetic progressivism.” Perhaps by the time he leaves Stanford (or Yale or Princeton, both of which also accepted him) his imagination will have been stretched. (Or, more likely, perhaps not.) Perhaps some stray professor or instructor might challenge him to explain why he thinks “it’s critical to realize that one-fourth to one-third of the Muslim community in America are black.” Do their lives matter more than the lives of blacks who are not Muslim? I suspect asking him to explain any lesser concern for non-blacks who are non-Muslim — such as those Asians who have to leap a higher bar to be admitted to Ivy League schools than his favored minorities — would be far too much of a stretch.
Only grammar nerds need continue reading, but I can’t help wondering if Mr. and Mrs. Ahmed got their money’s worth at the pricey Princeton Day School. What would his English teachers there make of young Mr. Ahmed’s “one-fourth to one-third of the Muslim community in America are black”? Most writers who care about this sort of thing would write “one-fourth to one-third … is black.” The agreement between fractions and verbs can be ambiguous on occasion, especially where collective nouns are involved, as is nicely revealed by this photo caption from McClatchey: “According to a recent study, the average American thinks 17 percent of the population is Muslim, while in actuality just one percent of people in the U.S. are Muslim” (emphasis added). Given this possible ambiguity, The Writing Resource has a useful and persuasive rule:
With fractions, the verb agrees with the whole.One-fourth of the books are gone.One-fourth of the sand is white.
Despite what Mr. Ahmed describes awkwardly as “the realities of the plurality of our community,” if Muslims in the United States are indeed a community, then one-fourth to one-third of it is, not are, black.