In Search of a Voice


FOR CENTURIES somebody has been telling Black people to keep quiet. "Keep your mouth shut, nigger, keep picking. Be happy you got somebody to think for you." Of course, Black people could always think for themselves, but to communicate their ideas to each other--without suppression--Black Americans developed their own English, their own art and music. The song and dance, while always beautiful, never represented the entire substance of Black talent. The shouts of Black joy, inspired by Emancipation, were muffled by that incessant scolding: "Hush up now, you're free. What more could you possibly want?" Today, on this campus, the desires inherent in Black political expression are a whisper shared by some but still unheard by many. All too often, Black artistic expression loses its power once the lights go up and the audience files out of the theater. The dominant Black voice must be blatantly political--particularly at Harvard.

Last week, a committee of student and faculty members, headed by Rev. Peter J. Gomes, presented a proposal on "race relations" to President Bok. The Harvard Administration has long declared its willingness to listen to the campus' non-white community. Through the proposal of this as yet untitled Foundation, Black students may find a channel for political expression.

This expression can be used to implement better University policies only if Harvard means what it says about its commitment to improve the racial situation on campus. The University, however, remains suspicious of any movement or group that faintly hints at separatism. The Foundation proposal seeks to counter this suspicion by maintaining its position as an organization to promote racial and cultural interaction. But this effort dooms itself if a straightforward expression of the political problems that Black students face on this campus are excluded from the Foundation's goals. When we don't speak out--loud and clear--we are invisible to those speaking around us. We often remain hidden underneath a glossy "Third World" banner. If we do not speak for and support ourselves while this Foundation exists in its malleable stage, surely no one else will speak for us.

The proposal clearly leaves room for our voices. People have complained, over the past few days, that the words are vague, that the proposal itself is weak. Ironically, that vagueness may be the proposal's greatest strength as it leaves room for more concrete ideas. The Foundation proposal accepts the future responsibility to give expression to Black political goals. With its resources and its funding "relations with the several professional schools of the University, the international alumni network and the communities that surround the university in metropolitan Boston could be utilized in the search for solutions to some of the vexing problems of our age," especially, one hopes, the vexing problem of admissions and hiring of Black students and faculty on this campus. We need to change that conditional "could" to a definite "will" if affirmative action is to succeed. The proposal's vagueness provides space for that effort--if Black students claim their territorial rights in the foundation itself.

The proposal's malleability is evident in many key places, particularly where it says "through the support of existing programs and the establishment of new ones, the Foundation could make a significant contribution to the aesthetic and intellectual life of the University". Other "woulds" and "coulds" and "in some sense"'s beckon Black involvement. The aesthetic and intellectual life of this University is much too pale without our vibrancy.


FORTUNATELY, the Foundation has no name. It will not be a "Third World" Foundation because the University smells separatism in that label--for once agreeing with many Black students who detect dangerous ambiguity in a term that places so many cultures in one neat group. The Foundation needs to emphasize the uniqueness of each culture--the proposal seems to understand this.

The proposal aroused skepticism among many Black students. To some, the Foundation seems to be under too much University control. To others, it looks like more lip service paid to non-whites. There is anger that this Foundation proposal ignores the Black Students Association, and other organizations on campus which Black students created themselves. Doubtless, this very obfuscation can occur--but we must fight to prevent it. The next months promise tremendous University focus on this Foundation. If Black students shy away from the spotlight, much of what has already been created will be thrust offstage.

The Gazette headlined their article on the proposal "Committee Proposes Race Relations Foundation." This misnomer proves how much attention centers on relations with Blacks--race seems to say "Black" on Harvard's campus even while everyone speaks of the "Third World". Clearly, most white people on this campus do not understand the Black condition. As long as a white campus editor--who truly wants to be racially sensitive--can quote a Black student stereotypically and not realize what he has done before the article is printed, this University needs Black voices. Black does not mean invisible. We must speak out to make this Foundation stand firm.