As a rule, it's a good idea to bring speakers of different viewpoints to campus. That may well have been what the Black Students Association (BSA) intended when it gave Wellesley professor of Africana Studies Tony Martin a campus forum last week to discuss the controversial book, The Bell Curve.
In his writings and in his Harvard speech, Martin alleges the existence of a Jewish conspiracy that seeks to thwart Black progress. That contention is obviously wrong. It was strongly condemned by Wellesley's president in a letter circulated to all students, faculty and alumni, as well as by half of that college's full-time faculty, who signed a statement expressing a similar sentiment. Still, Martin's opinion is shared by some, both inside and outside our community.
In recent years, the BSA has invited to campus speakers espousing similarly egregious views. In the past, however, BSA leaders made the intelligent, reasonable argument that such invitations are an effective way of advancing a wide range of Black views.
For example, when City University of New York Professor Leonard Jeffries was invited to campus in 1992, then-BSA President Art A. Hall '93 distanced the group from Jeffries's racist theories. "We endorse his Blackness as a Black individual and a Black intellectual, but as far as agreement with his viewpoints, that's another side of the story," Hall said. "Our effort is for people to be able to examine and ask questions about what Jeffries has to say."
Sadly, the current BSA leader wasn't as thoughtful. Indeed, BSA President Kristen M. Clarke '97 appeared to endorse Martin's views. "Professor Martin is an intelligent, well-versed Black intellectual who bases his information on indisputable fact," Clarke told The Crimson after the speech.
Clarke is entitled to her opinion, and we're glad she freely expressed it. But she's dead wrong, and she should have realized just how divisive her words were. Moreover, it's hypocritical for the leader of the Black Students Association--an organization that has expressed support for minority rights and strong opposition to racism--to endorse racist views that so obviously denigrate and insult another minority.
Indeed, Clarke's reference to the "indisputable fact" underlying Martin's bigotry is evidence either of her own anti-Semitism or of sheer ignorance.
In his speech, Martin echoed the charges contained in his 1993 book, The Jewish Onslaught, in which he sought to document what he termed "the continuing Jewish onslaught against the entire Black nation." Martin imagines a massive Jewish conspiracy against Blacks that spans the past two millennia and that dominates the modern-day media.
Among other bizarre claims, he charges the American-Israel Political Action Committee with formally training Jewish members of campus Hillels "in the art of deception and dirty tricks" for "Jewish assaults on Black progress."
And he repeatedly attacks Harvard's respected Afro-American Studies Department chair, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., claiming that "African America's most notorious Judaeophile" owes his successful academic career to his pandering to Jewish interests.
But the crux of Martin's argument revolves around the "Hamitic Myth," an interpretation of the Book of Genesis that justifies African slavery as part of a curse upon Noah's son Ham, who is supposed to be the progenitor of all Blacks.
Martin says the earliest version of the Hamitic Myth can be found in the Talmud, a 2000-year-old collection of Jewish religious writings. The professor then jumps 1,500 years into the future and argues that the myth led to the horrors of the slave trade.
"Now it is the turn of the Jews to retract, apologize and pay reparations for their invention of the Hamitic Myth, which killed many millions more than all the anti-Jewish pogroms and holocausts in Europe," he writes.
Martin's labored attempt to connect the origins of anti-Black racism with a work written in ancient Babylon strains the imagination. So, too, does the facility with which he dismisses the myriad forms of bigotry and injustice that have always been present in human history.
As president of the Black Students Association, Kristen Clarke should recognize her responsibility to foster improved race relations on campus. We do not question the BSA's right to invite a wide range of speakers. Clarke's view, however, that Martin "bases his information on indisputable fact" is unpardonable and leads us once again to question whether she truly is the right spokesperson for such an important student organization as the BSA.