The way I see it, black men are popular for three reasons. I think a lot does have to do with what Andrew alluded to, the fact that in popular culture, hip hop, r&b, breakdancing, rap, and the endless elements of what’s seen as “black culture” are touted as the epiotme of cool. And to be honest, a lot of it really is just more fun and exciting than the other stuff that’s going on. So being black is cool. On top of that, there’s the historical weight of the black community having fought oppression and overcome it, or is at least rising out of it, making history as we speak. Black men at Harvard, above all, are seen as exactly that–people who have risen to the very top in spite of more difficult circumstances, historically, economically… They are seen to represent the success of the black community (whether or not they actually represent the general black community is another topic entirely). The success of the underdog is just that much more appealing and seems that much more meaningful. So not only are black people intrinsically cool, they are historically cooler too. All that, however, just says why why black people in general would be popular. If my underdog theory were universally true, this post would be about Black women and their social domination, since they would have had to fight not only racism but sexism too. But it’s not. And that’s because of the last reason why black men are so popular: at Harvard, if you’re a man, power equals popularity; but for women, it’s an entirely different story. (more in expanded post)
It’s still in many ways the old boy’s club here. I think that’s hard to argue. But in many ways the fight for respect that the Black community had to struggle with has been fairly successful, here, at least socially (and there is an AfAm department). That’s not true for women, (Women, Gender & Sexuality is still not a department, last I checked) whether it’s because of the very nature of academia (and subsequently tenure) or if it’s because the long history of final clubs has resulted in the fact that they now have very valuable space that simply isn’t possible for similar women’s organizations (for better or worse) could get. Vocal women making known their opinions means something in the Harvard status quo needs to change, and that’s threatening. But for Black men who are kind of at the top already…well, they’ve succeeded in not only topping the academic charts by being here, but they’ve also managed to get here while still being less socially awkward (i.e. cooler) than the rest of us. Or so MTV says.