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Kilson Criticizes BSA In Open Letter to Class

By Flora Tartakovsky

In an open letter to one of his classes last week. Thomson Professor of Government Martin L. Kilson called the decision by the Black Students Association (BSA) to invite Wellesley Professor of Africana Studies Anthony Martin to speak late last month "misguided."

Kilson, who is Black, described Martin as "a xenophobic Afrocentrist" and said he considers the BSA's decision to have Martin speak on the controversial book The Bell Curve an "unfortunate invitation."

Martin's speech, which included allegations that there was a Jewish "tradition" of persecuting Blacks, sparked controversy about the BSA's choice of a speaker and "shocked and saddened" members of the Harvard-Radcliffe Hillel.

But BSA President Kristen M. Clarke '97 said after the speech that Martin's visit "did not create the need, but inadvertently served to highlight the need for dialogue" between Blacks and Jews.

Kilson's statement was originally issued in an open letter to students in his class, Government 1570: "Class-Politics and Society Among Afro-Americans."

He released the letter to the Harvard community at large earlier this week.

Kilson's letter suggests that the BSA could better serve the Black community in other ways.

"You [BSA] should be formulating week-by-week and month-by-month numerous projects to assist that long-haul task of outfitting the Black poor and underclass youth to read adequately, to manage math, to replace vulgarity with beauty, to overcome hyper-macho, anarchic, and anti-humanistic values and personal identities," Kilson wrote.

After reading Kilson's letter, Clarke said in an interview yesterday, "Unfortunately, Professor Kilson and members of the community only attain a limited view of BSA activities [because of the slant of reporting in The Harvard Crimson]".

"Community service is an integral part of our program," Clarke said yesterday.

In her letter of response, Clarke cited the BSA's end-of-semester project at Martin Luther King Elementary School and the "channeling of more Black students into Phillips Brooks House community service programs" as examples of service projects.

Clarke also said that inviting Martin to speak provided the BSA with "the opportunity to hear several perspectives on various issues so that we can form opinions for ourselves."

Joe Mathews '95, managing editor of The Crimson, defended the paper's coverage of both the Martin event and of the BSA-organized celebration of the Kwanzaa holiday, the latter of which Kilson also criticized in his letter.

"I think The Crimson in the two articles to which Professor Kilson referred did an exceptional job of representing all points of view on the issues of Kwanzaa and Tony Martin," he said. "Neither of these stories has been challenged on any sort of factual basis."

In his letter, Kilson labeled Martin's speech and the proposed BSA Kwanzaa celebration as "cathartic responses or symbolic rebellious responses to racist patterns in American society."

Instead of focusing on Afrocentricism and the "symbolically stirring and solidaristically glamorous" Kwanzaa Rituals celebration proposal, Kilson said there is a "mature way of managing the trauma of persistent racist victimization of Black folks in American life."

In her letter, Clarke defended the holiday, saying that "Kwanzaa is the penultimate expression of formalized African-Diasporic significance in America."

Kilson also said Clarke and BSA Treasurer Joshua D. Bloodworth '97 "clearly nurse a strong appetite for Black-solidarist catharsis and its high-symbolic and emotive forms represented by Kwanzaa Rituals celebration."

He encouraged both Clarke and Bloodworth to focus on activities such as forming "tutorial programs for the millions of poor black children in our cities."

Although Clarke said she shared Kilson's concerns about issues in the black community, she said that these issues must first be examined before solutions can be found.

"I share the same concerns as Professor Kilson," Clarke wrote in her letter of response. "Concerns of male neglect, runaway teenage births and Black-on-Black violence.

He released the letter to the Harvard community at large earlier this week.

Kilson's letter suggests that the BSA could better serve the Black community in other ways.

"You [BSA] should be formulating week-by-week and month-by-month numerous projects to assist that long-haul task of outfitting the Black poor and underclass youth to read adequately, to manage math, to replace vulgarity with beauty, to overcome hyper-macho, anarchic, and anti-humanistic values and personal identities," Kilson wrote.

After reading Kilson's letter, Clarke said in an interview yesterday, "Unfortunately, Professor Kilson and members of the community only attain a limited view of BSA activities [because of the slant of reporting in The Harvard Crimson]".

"Community service is an integral part of our program," Clarke said yesterday.

In her letter of response, Clarke cited the BSA's end-of-semester project at Martin Luther King Elementary School and the "channeling of more Black students into Phillips Brooks House community service programs" as examples of service projects.

Clarke also said that inviting Martin to speak provided the BSA with "the opportunity to hear several perspectives on various issues so that we can form opinions for ourselves."

Joe Mathews '95, managing editor of The Crimson, defended the paper's coverage of both the Martin event and of the BSA-organized celebration of the Kwanzaa holiday, the latter of which Kilson also criticized in his letter.

"I think The Crimson in the two articles to which Professor Kilson referred did an exceptional job of representing all points of view on the issues of Kwanzaa and Tony Martin," he said. "Neither of these stories has been challenged on any sort of factual basis."

In his letter, Kilson labeled Martin's speech and the proposed BSA Kwanzaa celebration as "cathartic responses or symbolic rebellious responses to racist patterns in American society."

Instead of focusing on Afrocentricism and the "symbolically stirring and solidaristically glamorous" Kwanzaa Rituals celebration proposal, Kilson said there is a "mature way of managing the trauma of persistent racist victimization of Black folks in American life."

In her letter, Clarke defended the holiday, saying that "Kwanzaa is the penultimate expression of formalized African-Diasporic significance in America."

Kilson also said Clarke and BSA Treasurer Joshua D. Bloodworth '97 "clearly nurse a strong appetite for Black-solidarist catharsis and its high-symbolic and emotive forms represented by Kwanzaa Rituals celebration."

He encouraged both Clarke and Bloodworth to focus on activities such as forming "tutorial programs for the millions of poor black children in our cities."

Although Clarke said she shared Kilson's concerns about issues in the black community, she said that these issues must first be examined before solutions can be found.

"I share the same concerns as Professor Kilson," Clarke wrote in her letter of response. "Concerns of male neglect, runaway teenage births and Black-on-Black violence.

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