Blacks Cite Racism in Summer School
Most white Harvard Summer School students are concerned about relating to black men and their problems. They have nurtured, painstakingly, a kit of liberal racial attitudes. Nevertheless, black summer school students speak of racism at Fair Harvard. And for a number of reasons, the blacks have made their own separate community in the Summer School.
Two major programs have brought black students to Harvard this summer: the Intensive Summer Study Program (ISSP) and the Council on Legal Education Opportunity (CLEO). The ISSP program is designed to encourage black students to attend graduate school. The students receive full scholarships for a summer, and also get money in lieu of summer earnings. They are required to take at least four credits, and participate in an independent study seminar related to their discipline.
In CLEO, prospective law students take five courses related to the law. They are also permitted to take one regular Summer School course free. CLEO students also receive scholarships.
There are 73 black students participating in the ISSP program and 38 in the CLEO program. In addition, there are several blacks involved in Harvard Business School Program and several who came to Harvard Summer School on their own.
If the 130 or so black students at the Summer School dispersed evenly throughout this "overwhelming white sea," as one black woman put it, they would be lost. However, as anyone can see in the dining halls where blacks eat with blacks, they are not lost. They have formed a community of their own.
Familiarity is the most important basis of this community. Edwin Barrett, a member of the ISSP program, said, "I've grown up with black people. I'm accustomed to them. I feel most relaxed when I'm with them. This is the reason most black people cling together."
Black Is Enough
Most black students are from the South and have attended predominantly black schools. But the community includes many who came from northern cities, in spite of substantially different backgrounds. Being black is enough.
Harold McDougall, assistant head of ISSP, said, "The whole black communty (on a national scale) has been catalyzed in the last year. Last year, if one black saw another, he might wonder, "Should I say hello to this guy? Maybe he wants to blend in and I shouldn't embarrass him by having a Negro say hello to him.'"
"Now, continued McDougall, "people realize the positivity of being black. They realize that being proud to be black and hanging together in no way impairs their education, it heightens it."
On a campus where strangers walking by each other rarely exchange greetings, blacks are conspicuous because of their gregariousness. George Curry, who attends Knoxville (Tenn.) College, said, " Wit blacks they go by, and shake your hand and ask, 'What's happening tonight, brother?'"
Many blacks find Summer School social activities unattractive. Frank Sessoms, a member of the ISSP program, complained, "None of the events on campus are oriented toward blacks. At the mixers, they usually play psychedelic music, while most blacks here prefer soul music. So, we have our own dances."
Most whites at Harvard would probably deny having racist attitudes and using stereotypes in their relations with blacks, Summer School Director Thomas E. Crooks, for instance, said, "I can't believe that these attitudes exist here. I have no sense--from the 7th floor of Holyoke Center--of any tensions. I do have the sense of universal concern about race relations on the part of both blacks and whites."
But many black students insist that racism, however subtle exists at Harvard Summer School. According to Curry, "In the South, they don't like black people, and they'll tell you. Here, you see more subtle manifestations of racism. In the classroom, I'll say something, and they'll look back with an expression on the white person's face as if to say," Oh, he can talk!' And if I say something twice, they seem to say, Oh, he can think!'"
Barbara Miles, a biochemist major in ISSP, also said, "There are some girls who will talk to me inside the dorm, but when we go outside, the dorm, but when we go outside, they won't walk next to me, but behind me.
For some, such as Wayne Peeler, from Pittsburgh, the question of subtle racism at Harvard is, "null..It's like asking, 'Does the weather exist?' It's a matter of degree, sometimes it's stormy, sometimes it's mild, but you know it's there."
Mike Powell, a junior at Atlanta's Morehouse College, observed, "I's an atmosphere. Racism is very difficult to pinpoint. There is often a very thin line between discrimination and lack of intimacy. You can't draw a line and say, 'on this side is discrimination and on that side is unfamiliarity."
Powell added, however, "White people will let you know that they'll make concessions simply because they're aware that you go to Harvard. This in itself shows that they don't respect you for being a man, but for the little bit of education you have. The general attitude of the white people on this campus seems to be 'We don't respect you as a man; but your education has brought you a little respect.'"
Some of the sensitivity of the black students is probably related to their feeling of being on display. Summer School Director Crooks said, "What we try to avoid, but what we can't avoid is the feeling that they've been brought to this grand' institution to be looked at."
George Curry to some degree confirms Crooks' observation. "People look at you like you are some kind of specimen. You go in with the idea that you have to prove that you're as good as they are, or with the aim of getting--quote--accepted--unquote."
In addition to a certain amount of racism, some whites retain other old attitudes towards the blacks. For example, some summer school women apparently accept certain ideas about the sexuality of black men. "White girls seem to be fascinated by black men. It is very evident here," said Barbara Miles.
Frank Sessoms said, "These babes, the white girls on campus, like black men, but don't want white men to know it." It is, of course, entirely possible that the white women are fascinated by black men because of reasons unrelated to the belief in black sexual superiority.
In addition to racism and misconceptions, many whites are simply ignorant. "There is a significant minority of white students who have a real grasp of what's going on and understand the problem (of the black man)," said Wayne Peeler, "but the great majority of white students are just liberal thinking or liberal feeling people who want to show their liberalism by being friendly with a Negro."
A student who will enter law school next fall, added, "I have met many whites who confess ignorance of some of the contemporary black thought even down to using such trite expressions as 'some of my best friends are Negro. They're often in the position of starting off conversations with such corny, ill-phrased, and nonsensical conversation pieces as Will Mays, or Jim Brown, or James Brown or any other things they can associate with black people. Many can only go on stereotypes, scenes they remember from Sidney Portier pictures, and the like."
According to Sessoms, "The white people are two-faced. There are a lot of phonies. Students I have met put on false airs..they front. Some of the girls smile at you, they're friendly, but if you ask for a date, they go through all sorts of changes." Added George Curry, "Everybody's a liberal these days."
Even at Harvard, then race relations are, rather graceless. To improve the situation, whites must start talking to blacks, and not about the black man, but about the white man.