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Well-Intentioned Thought Isn't Enough to Fight Racism



The letter to the editor written by Jarrett N. Blanc '97 (May 10) completely misunderstood the purpose and significance of the April 25 non-disruptive protest of Kenan Professor of Government Harvey C. Mansfield's '53 recent editorial, belittling the effort by calling it "intellectualy hollow." If Mr. Blanc "often disagrees" with Mansfield's views on the issues at hand, we hope that he has taken the time to debate his views with Mansfield. We, on the other hand, chose to make a visual statement with 16 other conscientious students. The purpose of the protest was not to impress students or evoke their sympathy; the message was aimed directly at Professor Mansfield and at students who were not aware of his comments.

It is ridiculous to suggest that by debating Professor Mansfield he may have "refined his opinions." You cannot refine racism. The point of this protest was to point out to Mansfield that his comments about the performance of black students were unsubstantiated and had no place in Harvard's "marketplace of ideas."

Blanc claims that the purpose of attending a university is "to learn to hone and defend our opinions." We were under the impression that our education was an instrument to help us change the world and change does not always come through debate. In the past, people have been murdered, maimed and forced to sacrifice for changes that others were only content to debate and write about, for instance the civil rights movement and last week's union protest of Harvard's hiring practices. Well-intentioned action is the flip side of well-intentioned thought. One without the other is useless and the fact that they are separated contributes to the scripted manner in which we conduct the race discussion in America today.

It is highly ironic that in Harvard's "marketplace of ideas" Mansfield's racist comments are elevated because they are opinions expressed through editorial writing while Jason B. Phillips '99 is degraded and demonized for attacking such comments through protest. This is the irony that allows racism to flourish, even at Harvard. We would urge Blanc and anyone who is concerned about the race problem in America to write, debate and attempt to change the opinions of people who are misguided or confused and to follow your own advice and contact us.

We all must realize that positive change is difficult to come by and sometimes requires more urgent action, not "subtle" argument. To borrow a phrase, we do not believe that respect and understanding is too much to ask of Harvard's student body. --Dionne A. Fraser '99   Dahni-El Y. Giles '99   Josephine S. Noble '99   Terrance Q. Norflis '99   Jason B. Phillips '99

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