ONCE AGAIN, our country has lurched into a crisis. So once again, it's time for America's blowhards to start playing the blame game.
George Bush blamed LBJ. Jerry Brown blamed George Bush. Dan Quayle found an intriguing scapegoat: Murphy Brown. (Murphy Brown?) Mickey Rourke of 9 1/2 Weeks fame took it upon himself to blame Spike Lee. (Mickey Rourke?)
Needless to say, this infantile finger-pointing is not going to improve the dismal state of race relations in America. Blame Congress, blame Reaganomics, blame the conservative Court, blame the fascistic cops, blame the unruly rioters until you're blue in the face--the fact remains that Americans of different skin colors are not getting along with each other very well.
Even at Harvard, a University community that proudly trumpets itself as the diversest of the diverse, race relations are a mess. That became painfully clear this February, after the Black Students Association (BSA) invited Leonard Jeffries to speak at Harvard. Leaders of a huge coalition of campus organizations--Hillel, Raza, the Asian-American Association, the Bisexual, Gay and Lesbian Students Association (BGLSA), even the Undergraduate Council and The Crimson--addressed a huge anti-Jeffries protest outside Sanders Theatre.
Inside Sanders, the seats on the floor were reserved for BSA members, most of whom cheered enthusiastically throughout Jeffries' speech. The spectators in the mezzanine and balcony seats were predominantly non Blacks, and predominantly silent.
The divisions were stark, and cut along obviously racial lines: Blacks versus non-Blacks, glaring across a gulf. No communication. No middle ground.
It was a scary evening.
WE CAN ALL AGREE that racism is bad, that all people are created equal, that sensitivity and communication and diversity are good, good. At this University, you probably couldn't find 40 genuinely racist students, people who truly believe that Blacks or whites or somebody is inferior by nature of their skin color. And even if you could find 40 racists, you wouldn't be able to find any who would admit it in public.
Yet racial antagonisms persist, even at Harvard, and occasionally they explode. Nobody actually says anything particularly racist, but accusations of racism fly freely across the chasm. Sensitivity becomes hypersensitivity, and everyone ends up pissed off.
Case in point: This April, Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations Director S. Allen Counter co-signed a long, nasty letter accusing "Crimson writers active in Hillel" of racial insensitivity and bias, of using this newspaper to promote their own "racial agenda." And then all hell broke loose.
The Crimson fired back a long, nasty editorial accusing Counter--an administrator specifically responsible for fostering racial and ethnic sensitivity on campus--of insensitivity to Jewish students. Several leaders of Hillel wrote letters to The Crimson expressing similar sentiments. One former Hillel chair filed an official complaint with President Rudenstine, calling for Counter's resignation.
The next series of letters featured attacks on the counterattacks on Counter's attack. One letter, signed by another broad coalition of Harvard's minority groups (not including Hillel, of course) repeated Counter's complaints about Crimson sensitivity, while affirming their satisfaction with Counter's efforts to improve intercultural understanding.
The Crimson, as usual, got the last word. (It's nice to own the presses.) In an editorial titled "Now, A Time to Heal," the staff called for a cessation to interracial hostilities, praising Rudenstine's call for the Harvard community to "stop blaming each other."
In the same editorial, The Crimson trashed Counter for his refusal to apologize for a 1985 article he wrote for Crisis magazine titled "Racial Slurs." The Crimson claimed that the article perpetuated anti-Semitic stereotypes about Jewish control of the media and Jewish racism.
One dissent to the editorial complained that the staff had failed to call for Counter's resignation. Another dissent complained that the staff had failed to call Counter an anti Semite.