Bell's Message is Repugnant


To the Editors of The Crimson:

I felt an obligation to attend Weld Professor of Law Derrick A. Bell's speech last week. A respected scholar and teacher, Bell was about to cross a personal Rubicon, and what he had to say deserved to be heard. Unfortunately, what he said shocked me, for it was utterly repugnant to the very ideals he purports to believe: diversity and equality.

At one point in his speech, Bell said that it was not enough for the University to hire somebody who looked Black, but who thought white. Will Bell tell us how white people think? Will he tell us how Black people think? Will Bell be the arbiter of who thinks like a white and who thinks like a Black? Will he be satisfied if the Law School hires someone who "looks white" but "thinks Black?"

If, in Bell's view, it is not enough to tenure someone who "looks Black" but "thinks white" then he must believe that such a person is somehow less Black than someone who "thinks Black." Is Bell prepared to decide, on the basis of how that person thinks, that he or she is not truly Black and, therefore, not fully deserving of membership in the community of persons who have ancestral roots in Africa?

Bell's comment represents intolerance in its purest form. It establishes an orthodoxy of thought, and Blacks must embrace it or else face excommunication for their "white" views. The ostracism of those who dissent from the mainstream is not unique to the Black community, but, as the experiences of Julius Lester, Glenn Loury and Clarence Thomas demonstrate, neither is that community immune to the internal bigotry that is the enemy of diversity.

There is a second statement of Professor Bell's that should disturb people, for it rejects the concept of human equality. Professor Bell stated that because of his gender, he was unable to understand fully the Black female students whom he teaches and who come to him for guidance. Only a Black woman, in Professor Bell's view, can adequately serve as a teacher and role model for women of color.

As a practical matter, how will the Law School ensure that its approximately 110 Black women receive the exposure to a Black female faculty member which Professor Bell declares is essential to their education? Should they be segregated into a single section taught or advised by that faculty member? Will they enjoy priority in the course-selection lottery or in the supervision of written work?

What of the other groups into which students can be slotted? Shouldn't they have similar priority rights to faculty also belonging to a particular group? If so, should we care if the Law School becomes an archpelago of "separate but equal" schools?

On a deeper level, what is disturbing about Bell's comment is its message that human beings are fundamentally different from one another, that there is an insuperable divide of race and gender between us. Such a message is at odds with the lessons of history, so painfully learned.

It is at odds with the philosophy of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., a minister of the Gospels, that we are all God's children, and that the liberation of society consists of individuals overcoming differences of race and religion which, in the final analysis, are superficial.

I do not doubt that a Black woman faculty member would more readily understand the needs and perspectives of Black women. But that is an altogether different thing from saying that others are incapable of understanding. To the extent that a woman of color on the faculty would give other women a sense of belonging and enfranchisement, I can appreciate the feelings of those who form under the banner of "diversity." But I cannot accept the themes of intolerance and inequality that suffuse their arguments.

Professor Bell cast his die last week, but the river he crossed was not the Rubicon, it was the Alabama. Last week Derrick Bell crossed over the Edmund J. Pettus bridge, and he crossed if heading back to Selma. He crossed it into Selma because he denied Blacks full freedom of intellectual development and because he accepted racial and gender divisions as the natural order of things.

In sacrificing for that which he believes, he has my respect. But where he is heading, I, for one, will not go. Robert Zafft   Harvard Law School '90