AWARE Responds to Criticism


To the Editors of The Crimson:

In response to John L. Larew's editorial of February 19 ("Why I'm Skipping AWARE Week"), I would first express the sincerest hope that three years has provided Larew enough time to work through his guilt over not having proudly waved $80 in the faces of a group of "young, muscular, vaguely threatening" men, in some sort of liberal affirmation that just because they were Black he wasn't going to assume that they might mug him.

Well, I'd have to feel guilty, too, because I don't pull out $80 in fromt of any group of "young, muscular, vaguely threatening" men, whether they are white, Black, brown, yellow, red or purple. Having said that, I would like to address my concern with his editorial.

I disagree with Larew's belittling the importance of AWARE Week, and his implication that it is a waste of time for Harvard students just because widespread overt racism has not been manifested on our campus.

Larew notes his "indignation at the paltry turnout" at a previous AWARE week. But poor attendance does not necessarily indicate a poor event. This year's AWARE Week features a strong list of events and speakers, but may still suffer from a lack of publicity.


One may wish to fault the planning committee for its shortcomings in this area, but the effort to address the issues of racism and ethnocentrism and their prevalence today should not be criticized. If anything, let's have those with public relations acumen work toward informing more people about AWARE Week. We need an atmosphere in which people can recognize that different cultures are equally valid without being branded as quixotic fools who are wasting their time.

One would think the author of the editorial, in expressing his concern with such "nonsense" concepts as Afrocentrism and "the superiority of 'sun peoples' over 'ice peoples'" would want to air these concerns at one or more of the events. I again extend him an invitation to the events of tomorrow afternoon and evening, and Friday afternoon in particular, as well as the entire program. As the effort of AWARE is to promote an awareness of differing attitudes, all points of view are relevant, for they reflect the diversity of campus sentiment.

I am personally offended by the implication that my desire to participate in AWARE labels me a minority activist "worked up over trifles." I have had the benefit of a private education at an international school, quite possibly an ideal environment in which to grow, with a world community as my peer group. I have also been harrassed by police, eyed suspiciously by elder members of society, and have been engaged in fistfights with less openminded youths over the multicultural company that I kept.

Do not hand me that the Harvard ideal to put the pursuit of education before all else rules out the presence of racism. Racism is not necessarily born of ignorance; not the whole lot of slaveowners, Colonialists and Imperialists could have been fools. Even if we at Harvard do abide in a liberal nest of Political Correctness, don't make the mistake of thinking that I don't carry my set of past experiences with me every day I walk through Harvard Yard, because I do. My attitudes and treatment of people on issues regarding race and ethnicity are not formed solely from being here. Nor am I influenced solely by the opinions of sheltered members of our student body, who feel because no injustice has been done to them, that there is no real problem.

I think that it's divisive to suggest that AWARE consists only of minority students speaking to minority students. AWARE exists to promote understanding and tolerance by educating the Harvard community through dialogue. If this is something that Harvard doesn't need, then tell me who is really supposed to be here.

Larew's editorial suggests that Harvard has not been the scene of any overt expressions of racism on the level of the Ku Klux Klan's boasting. Good, I'm glad to hear it. However, are we to pat ourselves on the back for dwelling in a haven of political correctness and wag a condescending finger at any who would be so gauche as to suggest otherwise? Larew himself pointed to the keynote address of AWARE Week '89, which suggested that the majority (85 percent) of racist sentiments were not expressed overtly.

If the three publicized instances of "genuine, hateful racism" that Larew acknowledges are not enough to worry about, then how much is enough? What about the possibility that along with those, 17 instances of subtle racism might be even more likely to occur? Or should we abandon tolerance and understanding, and willfully decline opportunities to gain perspective?

We are left, then, with two alternatives. One is to follow Larew's reasoning: Racism and ethnocentrism exist outside the gates of Harvard, and "time's a-wasting" to engage in the fight. End of article, and end of reasoning too, I would imagine. Or we can, while we are here, share our feelings and attitudes with each other, and perhaps devise a way of dealing with what lies beyond Johnston Gate in that less 'politically correct' world we so soon will be heading back into.

This I don't find to be "preaching to the converted," and I don't feel that AWARE encourages anyone to "obsess about race." What does arise is an opportunity for expression of various and differing viewpoints. I'm sorry to disappoint Larew, but with diversity as Harvard's motto, it's unlikely that most people's thinking is alike. Hence, most people might want to think for themselves before they say that AWARE Week is not going to help them much.

Some good may actually have come from Larew's article; true to the spirit of AWARE, different opininons have been established--here, Larew's and my own--in a dialogue which will hopefully inspire people to think. I'd also like to thank him for giving the AWARE committee some needed publicity. I urge people who haven't become exceedingly cynical after four years at this institution (like John and myself) to attend the events, and not just listen, but speak up as well. AWARE is definitely one group to which everyone should belong. E. Michael Bobbitt '91-'92   E. Michael Bobbitt '91-'92   AWARE Planning Committee

Recommended Articles