Reflections On Race and Class

Sitting here in the Crimson newsroom, the view is pretty much the same as its been for the past two years: Few Black writers, editors, design people...most of the time this discrepancy doesn't even occur to me: by this point in my life, I'm used to seeing mainly white faces in my classes, where I work, where I spend my time.

But last week, as I sat in Au Bon Pain waiting to meet my mother for dinner, I had the sort of epiphanal moment that brought together lots of fragments that had been floating around in my mind concerning race (primarily) and class (secondarily).

Once again, I was forced to confront how painfully divided this country is by race, how much distance and anger separates Blacks and whites, Latinos and Asians.

And we, as Harvard students, inevitably experience the doubled-edged sword that confounds every discussion of race in America: Class.

I'm well off and I'm white. Most of the time, I don't need to think about depressing issues such as racism and classism.


As I walked into Au Bon Pain to get some coffee, I decided it would be too much of a pain to put out my cigarette, so I just kept it lit.

I didn't really try to hide it, and no one said anything. That's great, I thought, Harvard Square is so liberal: as long as I'm not bothering anyone, no one will give me a hard time.

As I was walking out, a bunch of Black kids from Cambridge Rindge and Latin sauntered in, baseball caps on backwards, jeans hanging a good six-inches down below their hips. They carried themselves a lot like I did in high school: very cocky, somewhat obnoxious, and loud.

They called each other "nigger." They said they were sick of taking some teacher's shit. And when they got up to the counter, the manager refused to serve them.

"Out of my store. Get out of my store...I do not want to serve you." Serves them right, I instinctively thought. Obnoxious kids.

Outside, I realized that I found the Au Bon Pain's supervisor's behavior appropriate not because the kids were obnoxious, but because I assumed they were up to no good. Black, inner-city kids--obviously not well-groomed Harvard students. And the fact that the manager was a minority only served as a buffer against looking at my own racism,

The manager kicked them out of the store because he knew, just like I knew, that a lot of people would look into Au Bon Pain and see a bunch of Black kids and think: Gang wannabes. Crack. Guns. Inner-city violence.

Never mind that these kids were not only less obnoxious, but less violent than a lot of drunk Harvard assholes I've seen in Au Bon Pain on plenty of weekends. With Harvard students, Cambridge seems to adopt a boys-will-be-boys attitude.

But when confronted with lower class Black kids, too much of Cambridge, just like too much of white America, ends up assuming that if they're not criminals yet, they're well on their way.

I live right next to The Bow and Arrow. Every night at closing, Harvard students stream out, swearing, shouting, and breaking bottles. Not once have I seen a cop give a single one of these River-trekkers a hard time.