The popular press has, for some time, been treating us to long articles about the “resurgence of racism” at America’s colleges. These stories have a predictable political slant and, by now, almost a standard format. They are also a complete misreading of what is happening.
The usual story starts with a warning that today’s young people seem to be reverting to the “intolerance” and “bigotry” of more primitive times. Next comes a recitation of “racist” acts, almost always with the implication that only white students ever commit them. Then there is speculation about what may have caused this worrying trend, with a poke at President Reagan for having fostered an atmosphere in which “bigotry was acceptable.” A professor may be trotted out to say that today’s young whites are racist because they didn’t live through the civil rights struggles of the 1960s. The stories end with encouraging accounts of the stiff measures colleges are now taking to combat “ignorance” among white students.
Curiously, the weakest parts of these stories are what is presumably the heart of the matter: evidence of white bigotry. Even the average reader must be struck by how tame the reported acts of “racism” appear to be. But in the context of a major article on a major American problem, over which college presidents are wringing their hands, the absence of much discernible white “racism” somehow seems not to matter. If everyone says it is a terrible problem, then it must be.
Let us look at the sort of thing that has thrown the nation’s colleges into turmoil. During a late-night bull session at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, a white freshman reportedly said that Martin Luther King was a communist and then proceeded to sing “We Shall Overcome” in a “sarcastic” manner. For this offense, he was made to do 30 hours of community service at a local minority organization. A graduate student at the same university reportedly called a classmate a “Mexican” in a “derogatory” manner after an intramural football game. Presumably he could have called him any kind of obscenity and not been punished, but “Mexican” got him 30 hours of service also. These incidents were thought worthy of mention in the New York Times of May 6, 1990.
At Tufts University in Medford (MA), a student was put on academic probation for saying “Hey, Aunt Jemimah,” to a friend who was wearing a bandanna. A black bystander was offended and brought charges against the student for violating the college speech code. The University’s reasons for punishing the student were murky at best. “We did not find evidence to support [the] accusation [of racial harassment], nevertheless we decided [the student] still had no right to make the remark,” it reported.
When a Brown University fraternity advertised a recent “South of the Border” party with an invitation that showed a man sleeping under a sombrero, a student complained that this was “insensitive” to Mexicans. All campus fraternities promptly agreed never to have any more ethnic theme parties.
In 1989, 30 fraternity members from the University of San Diego were discovered by a park ranger as they were burning a cross in a nature preserve. They were quickly hauled before college authorities, to whom they explained that this was part of their initiation ritual, which was based on Emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity. Each pledge was to make a list of his faults and burn it in the cross’s fire. The university was eventually made to understand that the ritual had no racial significance at all. Nevertheless, the fraternity was put on probation for three years, forced to abandon the ritual, and its members each made to do 25 hours of community service. For good measure, every member of every fraternity and sorority on campus was made to attend workshops on racism.
It would be hard to think of a more grotesque overreaction. The initiation ritual was held in private and was discovered only by accident. Everyone eventually agreed that it had nothing to do with race. And yet, the mere fact of having burnt a cross was reason enough not only to punish those who did it, but to take measures against every other fraternity. As in the case of the “Aunt Jemimah” incident, neither “racist” intent nor “racist” effect mattered. Anything that an over-imaginative non-white could possible construe as “racist” appears to be a crime.
Most of the time, when “racist” incidents are reported in the news, it is impossible to find out what the circumstances were. In the fervor to stamp out “racism,” what happened is less important than the excitement of unmasking another white “bigot.” Nevertheless, some campuses take “racism” so seriously that they make official investigations of it. The whole story may be markedly different from what the newspapers tell us.
Beethoven at Stanford
In the fall of 1988, Stanford was one of many campuses said to be afflicted with white bigotry. Newspapers and magazines repeatedly referred to a notorious incident, in which a white student drew thick lips and kinky hair on a poster of Beethoven to make the composer look black. This was all that was said about the incident, but the reader was to understand that the poster was a definitive act of racism at one of America’s most prestigious universities.
According to an official Stanford report–which no journalist seems to have read–the incident started with a conversation among undergraduates in which a black claimed that all music in America has African origins. A white asked about Beethoven, and was told that Beethoven was black. The white laughed at the idea. Later that night he came across a Stanford Orchestra poster of Beethoven, worked it over with a crayon, and hung it outside the black student’s room.
For this, the unhappy white was put on a kind of student trial, before more than 100 people. He defended the poster as “satirical humor,” and as a jab at the “ethnic aggressivity” of non-whites. This brought down the wrath of the assembled blacks, who called him an “arrogant bastard” and demanded that he be expelled from his dormitory. The meeting went into an uproar that left several students in tears.
Two days later, white students in a mostly-black dorm found notices under their doors telling them to leave. The same notice appeared on the residence bulletin board. Someone also defaced the photo display of residents by punching holes in the white faces. A few signs went up around campus calling for vengeance for the poster incident and urging students to “Smash the honkie oppressors!”
In addition to local coverage, the Beethoven poster has been mentioned in at least three different New York Times articles. It was cited in Newsweek, Harper’s magazine, and even in the ABA [American Bar Association] Journal. Not one story mentioned the claim about Beethoven being black or the anti-white hysteria that followed. Two years after the fact, the poster was still being paraded as an example of pure, white racial prejudice. Perhaps we may be justified in wondering whether we are getting the full story in other reports on white “racism.”
Sometimes, of course, “racist” incidents are deliberately provoked by non-whites who know that they can only profit from the collective breast-beating they know will follow. Some college administrators have wondered privately how much of the insulting graffiti that occasionally turns up on buildings has been the work of non-white provocateurs.
Some cases of racial “harassment” have been exposed as provocation. Sabrina Collins, a black student at Emory University in Atlanta, gained national attention when she received death threats in the mail, her dormitory room was repeatedly ransacked, and racial insults were scrawled on the walls and floor. She was so traumatized that she curled up into a ball and refused to speak. An investigation showed that the episodes began just as Miss Collins came under investigation for violating the school’s honor code, and that she had staged everything herself.
The head of the Atlanta chapter of the NAACP said that so long as the incident highlighted the pressures that blacks face on mainly-white campuses, “it doesn’t matter to me whether she did it or not.” Astonishingly, university officials agreed that worrisome questions about white racism had been raised, even if Miss Collins had done everything herself.
Of course, there are also hateful acts by non-whites against whites. These are very lightly reported and never become national news. Furthermore, just as non-white crime against whites is rarely scrutinized for racial motives (see AR of Dec. 1990) student “racism” is usually thought to be an exclusively white failing.
Nevertheless, the worst outrages cannot be entirely ignored. For example, four black football players at the University of Arizona went to jail in 1989 for hunting down solitary whites and beating them up. Three of the blacks were on scholarship and the biggest was a 6-foot-4, 255-pound lineman.
In December, 1990, a white student attending mostly-black Tennessee State University was beaten in his dormitory room by a group of hooded black men. Another white student at the university carries a knife and sleeps with a baseball bat because of repeated death threats.
Brown University was considering asking for help from the FBI when, in the opening weeks of the 1989 school year, whites were attacked by blacks on 16 different occasions.
Why are crimes like these barely reported and quickly forgotten while the Stanford Beethoven poster lives on in the national news? Why was the poster itself big news but the anti-white reaction to it not worth reporting? Current dogma holds that racism is America’s most grievous affliction. Whites are guilty of it and non-whites are innocent. Whites are so guilty of it that even when a black student fakes a racial incident whites must search their souls. Dogma leaves no room for anti-white racism, so it’s best to ignore it.
Amidst all the talk of surging campus racism, the Carnegie Foundation actually spent a year studying the extent of it, and published a report in the spring of 1990. It surveyed 500 officials who are involved in the quality of student life, and asked them about trends in racial harassment on their campuses over the past five years. Eleven percent of the officials thought things had gotten worse, while slightly more–13 percent–thought things had improved. Thirty-five percent said there had been no change, and the largest number of all–40 percent–said there never had been any problems. When the officials were asked how many racial or ethnic incidents there had been on their campuses in the past year, fully 78 percent said there had been none, and 12 percent said there had been one. That left 10 percent who reported more than one.
It doesn’t sound as though there is a raging race problem that must be fought on all fronts. But the study does suggest why an incident like that of the Beethoven poster has been so widely reported: there’s not much else to write about. If the charge of pervasive white racism is to be made to stick, there must be examples of it. The same incidents–and the same distortions–can be written about over and over if necessary.
The first part of this article (AR of April, 1991) described the hysteria with which American colleges root out white racism, real or imagined, and their indifference to clear acts of minority racism. This concluding part reports on some of the extraordinary measures that colleges have taken to ensure white “sensitivity” to minorities and on growing disaffection among white students.
In the current witch-hunting atmosphere, nothing that is done in the name of suppressing “racism” need surprise us. In April, 1987, Wellesley College in Massachusetts commissioned a Task Force on Racism in response to incidents reported on other campuses–there had been no complaints at Wellesley. The task force predictably reported that Wellesley was “covertly racist,” so it has committed itself to hiring more minority teachers, and now requires freshmen to take a course in non-Western culture.
Harvard University recently put on a week-long program of AWARE seminars (Actively Working Against Racism and Ethnocentrism). John Dovidio, the keynote speaker, explained that all white Americans are racist, 15 percent overtly so and 85 percent more subtly. A black speaker, Gregory Ricks, explained that Ivy League colleges deliberately sap the confidence of blacks, and wondered if they weren’t practicing a particularly slick form of genocide. One professor suggested that teachers should edit out any facts from their lectures that might offend minorities, because “the pain that racial insensitivity can create is more important than a professor’s academic freedom.” Another professor agreed that teachers should have less freedom of expression than other people, because it is their duty to build a better world. Finally, Lawrence Watson, Co-Chairman of the Association of Black Faculty and Administrators, had this advice for minority students: “Overreacting and being paranoid is the only way we can deal with this system. . . . Never think that you imagined it [racial insensitivity] because chances are that you didn’t.”
Overreaction now appears to be institutionalized at Harvard. Insensitivity was nipped in the bud when the dean for minority affairs learned that dining hall workers were planning a “Back to the Fifties” party. The fifties were segregated, argued the dean, so such a party would smack of racism.
The University of Michigan marked the 1990 celebration of Martin Luther King’s birthday with a series of vigils, seminars, and lectures that involved virtually every department. Some of the offerings were nothing short of heroic. The classical studies department gave a talk on “Ancient Greece and the Black Experience,” and the nuclear engineering department offered a session called “Your Success Can Be Enhanced by Positive Race Relations.” The School of Natural Resources lectured on “Environmental Issues and Concerns: The Impact on People of Color.” As university president James Duderstadt explained, “We’re reinventing the university for 21st century America.”
Most of the time, reinvention takes the form of required courses that are supposed to “sensitize” white students to the needs of non-whites and to open their eyes to their own covert racism. The University of Connecticut recently set up a required course on “race, gender, and cultural diversity.” The University of California at Berkeley, beginning this year, requires students to study the contributions of minorities to American society. English Composition is the only other campus-wide requirement. The University of Wisconsin campuses at Madison and Milwaukee, New York State University at Cortland, and Williams College have also instituted race-relations requirements in the last year or two.
There are no blacks at all at Buena Vista College in Storm Lake, Iowa. Nevertheless, it feels it must get on the bandwagon and combat racism too. Special seminars are held every year, and in 1990, freshmen were put through a month-long immersion course on racism. At least one student was so struck by what he was taught that he reportedly wants to travel to other parts of the country to see racism first hand.
The University of Texas at Austin tried to slip “sensitivity” into its freshman composition classes. Instead of writing essays on literature or novels, first-year students were to write about civil rights and affirmative action court decisions. The proposed course change was only just thwarted.
There are powerful forces at work, folding the proper racial attitudes into courses on all subjects. At Barnard College in New York City, teachers who assign readings from the works of “minority women” get cash rewards paid for by grant money. The Ford Foundation recently announced grants worth $1.6 million to 19 different schools to “diversify” faculties and course content.
On many campuses, the campaign for racial sensitivity has taken the form of regulations limiting free speech. Emory University, Stanford, Arizona State University, and the Universities of Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and over 125 other colleges have rules under which students may be punished for speech that offends racial sensitivities.
At the University of Michigan, a rule was passed that prohibited students from, for example, venturing the opinion that women may be inherently better than men at understanding the needs of infants, or that blacks may be naturally better at basketball than whites. A student filed suit, claiming that the regulation prohibits legitimate research, and his view was upheld by a federal judge.
Most of the time, the rules go unchallenged. The University of Connecticut has what is probably the most pathetically broad “sensitivity” code in the country. It forbids not only all the usual bad words but “inappropriately directed laughter,” of all things, and “conspicuous exclusion [of another student] from conversation.”
Needless to say, speech restrictions are applied unequally. At the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) there was a campus newspaper comic strip about a rooster that was attending the university. When a character in the strip asked the bird how he had been admitted, the rooster replied, “Affirmative action.” The editor of the paper was promptly suspended for racial insensitivity. However, when a UCLA minority student newspaper said that Europeans “do not possess the qualities of rational thought, generosity and magnanimity,” nothing happened.
In some cases, double standards like this are not simply the result of haphazard enforcement; they may be official policy. Some college officials distinguish between the speech of “insiders” from that of “outsiders.” White males are “insiders,” and must govern their tongues. Everyone else is an “outsider,” so need not worry. Professor Charles Lawrence of Stanford argues that speech codes should protect only members of “historical victim groups,” that is, everyone but white males.
It is a sad day when our universities, which supposedly promote academic freedom and unrestricted inquiry, bind their members with tighter restrictions than does society at large. As was clearly stated at Harvard, some academics think that ministering to the sensitivities of non-whites is more important than truth or free debate.
In February of this year, Brown University actually expelled a student for breaking the campus gag rule. Douglas Hann, a varsity football player, celebrated his 21st birthday by getting drunk and yelling the word “nigger” to no one in particular. When told to pipe down, he replied with obscenities and shouts of “faggot” and “Jew.” Mr. Hann’s behavior was certainly loutish, but commentators were hard-pressed to think of a previous case of a college student being expelled because of something he said.
Pruning the Curriculum
Entire courses have been dropped from colleges in the name of “sensitivity.” Reynolds Farley, an acclaimed demographer at the University of Michigan stopped teaching a popular undergraduate course, Race and Cultural Contact, after he was criticized for racially insensitive observations. Other faculty members at Michigan have cut discussion of race-related subjects from their courses for fear of attack.
At Harvard, Professors Stephan Thernstrom and Bernard Bailyn stopped teaching a course called “Peopling of America,” after they were tarred as racists. Their crimes? Professor Bailyn had read in class from the diary of a white slave-owner, whereas students insisted on hearing the slave’s point of view. The fact that Professor Bailyn had pointed out that no slave diaries have been found didn’t matter.
Professor Thernstrom gave offense by using the word “Indian” instead of “Native American,” and “Oriental” instead of “Asian.” He also assigned a book that ventured the view that some people disapprove of affirmative action, and–most egregiously–he himself went so far as to suggest that the breakup of black families contributes to black poverty. This was racism, pure and simple, and a course that contained such venom had to go.
The same content restrictions do not, of course, apply to non-whites. Leonard Jeffries is chairman of the Africana Studies department at the City College of New York. He believes that whites are temperamentally inferior to blacks, that as “ice people,” they are greedy and aggressive. Blacks, or “sun people,” are humanitarian and generous. He also says that “rich white folks” could well be promoting the spread of AIDS among blacks. Professor Jeffries fills his lectures with this nonsense and often taunts the white students in his classes.
Michael Levin is a professor of philosophy at the same institution. After studying the evidence, he has concluded that blacks are, on average, naturally less intelligent than whites. He has published this view in academic journals, but his students of all races agree that in the classroom he is scrupulously fair and sticks to philosophy.
There have been many student demonstrations against Professor Levin, some of which have disrupted his classes. For a time, the university forbade him to teach introductory philosophy on account of the racial views he has never expressed in class. He has been physically prevented from speaking in public, called a “horse’s ass” by one newspaper columnist, and denounced by virtually everyone. By the end of 1990, the university had begun proceedings that could lead to revocation of tenure. Professor Jeffries came to public notice only as an afterthought to the furious denunciations of Professor Levin. He continues to teach his racial nonsense with no fear of disturbance.
There is another racial double standard on campuses that is just as stark. Black students frequently shut themselves off in a kind of voluntary segregation that would be impermissible to whites. At many colleges, for example, most blacks choose to live in all- or mostly-black dorms. Any whites who expressed a desire to live among whites would probably be expelled.
Honest blacks acknowledge this double standard. As Shelby Steele writes in Harper’s magazine (Feb. 1989), “Administrators would never give white students a racial theme house where they could be “more comfortable with people of their own kind,’ yet more and more universities are doing this for black students. . . .”
Rather than work for or read the school newspaper, many blacks gravitate towards black student newspapers with names like Black Ink (University of North Carolina), Black World (State University of New York at Stony Brook), or even The Black Explosion (University of Maryland). Many black papers contain puerile, anti-white sentiments of the sort that would never be allowed if expressed by whites about blacks. Obviously, there is no such thing as a “white” student newspaper, even on campuses where whites are a minority.
At U.C. Berkeley, there are certain floors in the library that blacks have taken over, where whites do not feel welcome. At many campuses, including both Harvard and Yale, there are all-black fraternities. Berkeley guarantees on-campus housing for blacks but not for whites. At the University of Illinois, blacks hold a separate, informal commencement ceremony, with their own speakers.
Alice in Wonderland
American college campuses have turned themselves into racial versions of Alice’s wonderland, from which any semblance of logic has disappeared. Every formerly white enclave has been forcibly integrated in the name of tolerance, while overt, non-white separatism is promoted in the name of . . . the same thing. Whites must police their speech–and at University of Connecticut even their laughter–for traces of anything that could possibly be construed as “insensitivity,” while black professors openly lecture their students on the inferiority of whites. Non-whites are free, even encouraged, to show racial pride, and to develop racial consciousness through “Black Student Unions,” “Latino Community Centers,” and “Asian Task Forces.” Whites are expected to smother any trace of racial consciousness and to rejoice whenever European culture is displaced by Third-World Studies.
White students have watched repeated assaults on their race and culture with astonishing passivity. A few, though, have begun to fight back by organizing White Student Unions. The first such organization to receive any media attention was founded in 1988 at Temple University by a senior named Michael Spletzer. Temple put up every possible resistance, but could find no way to deny whites their own student union when other races had theirs. Mr. Spletzer rejected the inevitable charges of white supremacy. “White people are being discriminated against by affirmative action,” he said. “We feel that giving scholarships, jobs or anything else because of race is wrong and they should be given on merit alone.” In January 1989, when the union tried to recruit members, clusters of black students shouted obscenities and threatened violence.
A similar organization has been established at the University of Florida at Gainsville and has met with the same shrill opposition. White student unions have sprung up at the Universities of Nebraska and New Orleans as well. Given the long history of open, systematic preferences for non-whites on campuses, it is surprising that white organizations have been so long to appear. There will surely be more of them.
Official reaction to white student organizations has been illuminating. Groups that complain about prejudice against whites are denounced as “racist.” According to the topsy-turvy thinking that governs race relations in America, “equality” means preferential treatment for non-whites, and any white who doesn’t submit gladly to discrimination is a “racist.”
Perhaps most laughable is the solemn explanation that is inevitably offered for this rise in white “racism.” President Reagan is to blame for not having done enough to promote systematic preferences for non-whites. His inaction is said to have fostered a climate in which whites began to think it was all right to vent their prejudices against non-whites. This is, of course, dead wrong. If Ronald Reagan had spent eight years shoving affirmative action into yet more corners of American life, there would be far more white student organizations than there are today.
Although the racial thinking on American colleges is more overtly and spectacularly cuckoo than in the rest of society, it is based on the same assumptions: (1) That white racism accounts for all the failures of non-whites, (2) that any expression of white pride or consciousness leads to oppression of non-whites and is therefore evil, but (3) that racial pride among non-whites is healthy and virtuous. It is only a small step to the conclusion–openly promoted by some minorities–that simply to be white is an offense, while to be a “person of color” confers a form of moral superiority.
This kind of thinking is bad enough anywhere, but it is particularly harmful at colleges. Not only is it beaten into young Americans at a susceptible age, it is used to curtail debate and even to suppress the truth if the truth might hurt feelings. American universities have by no means given up their mission of education. Nevertheless, they do not hesitate to subordinate it to the mission of fostering a divisive, anti-white racial ideology.