black men = first class marshal?

Three years in a row now, the First Class Marshal of the Senior Class has been a black man: Shaka Bahadu, Caleb Franklin and now, Ty Moore. I got an email from a reporter yesterday asking why I thought it was that this had occurred three times in a row. A coincidence? An example of some emerging social or political trend? Assuming (and no one I’ve talked about the process with has disagreed with me on this) that Class Marshal elections are simply a popularity contest, why is it that three years in a row the most popular member of the Senior class at Harvard has been a black man? Maybe black men are just cooler than the rest of us…

If my memory is correct, Harvard is 12% black, so black men make up 6% of the community. So, the chances of this happening being purely coincidental are .06x.06x.06 = .000216 or one fifth of one percent. So probably it’s not a coincidence. So what’s going on?(more in expanded post)

To be clear, I’m not writing about this because I care. Caleb and Ty (I’ve never met Shaka Bahadu) are nice guys and, so far as I can tell, have/will do just as good as anyone else at being First Class Marshall. In fact, I almost don’t care who does the job in the first place (the marshals are really just going to be the head Harvard fundraiser for our class for the rest of our life). But, as a reflection of other social/political dynamics on campus, it’s an interesting question (hence the Crimson writing an article). Alright, enough set up, what the heck is going on here? Why are black men so damn popular? I have two guesses.

First, I think black men have just worked harder (and more successfully) than most at this school on campus politics: the ascendancy of BMF as a major campus group, the BMF’s leadership in last year’s AIDs conference, their leadership role in this year’s STOP Campaign, Ty’s run for UC President last year, the Vote or Die campaigns to get more minorities on the UC. They’ve been effective and public. Part of the reason they work so hard, I would guess, is that they have more to fight (prejudice, Harvard’s de facto old white man, etc.) than most, so they learn how to be effective, how to mobilize their community, how to create their own institutions, etc. And, they’ve had good leadership to make that happen.

My second theory is either totally obvious or totally bogus, and I’d love to hear what others have to say. It goes something like this: American pop culture, while often degrading and stereotyping black males as criminals etc., also holds them up as the pinnacles of “cool.” Hip hop culture, sports, and many other aspects of culture that define “cool” are based around images of “cool” black men: P Diddy, Michael Jordan, etc. etc. Hence, the white kids in the suburbs who listen to Tupac (while understanding very little of what he’s really saying) and wear FUBU (and never realized that it stands for “For Us By Us”). So, while many suburban white kids at Harvard may be able to say that they understand that not all black men are cool rappers and basketball players, there’s still a subconscious association between back men and “coolness”. The result, under this line of thinking, is that we suburban whities have some subconscious desire to be friends with cool black men that goes beyond whether or not they’re smart/nice/etc. There’s something inherently “cool” about black men, and therefore being friends with Ty or Caleb etc. makes us a little cooler by proxy.

So those are my theories, what are yours?


2 responses to “black men = first class marshal?

  1. Hey, I wonder if you can really assume that the black population at Harvard has an even gender split. I recall that in the class of 2001, there were so few black men that they became sort of celebrities.


  2. While I do not doubt that Ty, Caleb, and Shaka were all highly qualified for the job, I doubt that they were all the most qualified individual in their class, even if the only qualification is popularity. Is it possible that black voters are more likely to vote specifically (and perhaps exclusively) for black candidates, of which there are fewer on the ballot? Through the BMF and BSA, as well as other organizations, the black community has developed a highly unified and savvy electoral force. I’m not sure, but I’d be interested to see if others share this intuition.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s