To the Editors of The Crimson:
Dan Swanson's "Benign Apartheid at Harvard" is a bit much. It is one of the more disturbing examples of the paternalistic pat-on-the-head that white leftists are wont to give black separatists for their so-called Black Power posture toward white racism and white power structures. In regard to Dean John Dunlop, Swanson is simply wrong. There was nothing racist about Dunlop's efforts to restore academic standards to Afro-American Studies. He was doing little more than following proposals that I and Professor Orlando Patterson had formulated over a year ago.
Swanson's characterization of "most blacks" as being "socialized in a more communal, and in many ways more humane environment" than competitive whites is romantic nonsense and extraordinarily gratuitous. Whether "most blacks" would consider their environment of socialization "communal" and "humane" is questionable, but it is patently clear that most blacks (65% of them) are reared in either working-poor or outright lower-class households. The vicious privations, material and cultural, of these households cannot be lessened by labels like "communal" and "humane."
In his effort to rationalize black separatism, Dan Swanson misses the point. Harvard's past racism and current vestiges thereof, bad as these are, are not fundamental to black separatism among Harvard Negro students. Black separatism is essentially the product of a desire by Negro students to define an arena of activity within Harvard wherein they can realize a sense of relevance and value outside the competitive academic and intellectual life-styles of Harvard College. This arena provides two things to blacks at white Harvard: one, a source of identity separate from academic processes; two, a base for political leverage over some Harvard operations--e.g., admissions, hiring, curriculum (i.e., Black Studies), etc. How has this black separate arena fared?
There are more blacks admitted to Harvard than before, more hired on faculty and in administration, and black leverage in curriculum, insofar as the Afro-American Studies Department represents such leverage. But these gains have not been without their hitches. The authoritarian dimensions of black separatism at Harvard has produced widespread academic malaise among Negro students. The source of this malaise is the deep-seated emotional ambivalence and instability that black solidarity behavior creates among Negro students in regard to their place at Harvard. To whom do they owe basic loyalty? The demands of black-solidarity forces, or the academic, intellectual and success-oriented processes of Harvard College? This gnawing ambivalence is experienced by all but the most individualistic Negro students and the casualty has been their academic performance.
No doubt Dan Swanson and other white leftists might convince Harvard blacks that, in Swanson's words, "competitive whites...must appear bizarre to most blacks." But if Harvard Negro students do accept this they should at least know the cost of enjoying this outlook in the present structure of American society. The cost is high: no less than low income, privation, and powerlessness. Martin Kilson Professor of Government
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