Ali's Argument Flawed and Unproductive


Zaheer Ali's angry letter, published in the March 3, 1993 Crimson, is reflective of the unbearable, stifling atmosphere in which the race debate is forced to stagnate. The issue of racial justice is simply not Black and white. A dogmatic unwillingness on the part of Ali to see grey has two unfortunate consequences for his group, the BSA: it loses the sympathy of all those who still have faith in constructive, level-headed discussion, and it forces Ali to misrepresent comments (or to substitute counter-arguments with a series of ad hominem attacks) in order to dispense with opposing viewpoints.

I do not wish to speculate on the veracity of Professor Mansfield's claim. And I also feel little need to defend the Crimson from Ali's suggestion that by quoting Mansfield's opinion in an article it is "buttressing racism." I only seek to point to a central and characteristic flaw in Ali's arguments.

Ali writes that Professor Mansfield's statement--that Harvard professors were unwilling to give Black students C's in the 1970s--implies "that Black students were unable to compete at the same level as the other students" and that C's were "presumably the grades we really deserve." This inference, apparently the basis for his scathing indictment of Harvard, is wrong. An alleged unwillingness to give some Black students (those who had performed at a level which thus far had merited a 'C') C-grades does not deny the presence of Blacks who received and deserved A's and B's. Mansfield's statement does call into question the alleged fears of some professors.

But Ali does not give arguments for why Mansfield, read correctly, is wrong. Instead, a wild interpretation of Mansfield's statement leads Ali to denigrate Mansfield (and Harvard). A door to a substle, real debate on the causes of grade inflation is slammed shut by Ali's excessive dramatics and demands for an official University apology. Who wants to voice views in this atmosphere!

Who loses here? Most certainly, the BSA loses, because across our campus, students, both Black and white, shake their heads at its President's attempts at bravado at the expense of dialogue. Dhananjai Shivakumar '93