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.