Racism is still alive and well, despite what many U.S. residents think and especially at places like Harvard. Most students who identify as racial minorities can most likely state a number of incidents during their time here where they were treated a particularly unfair and hurtful way on the basis of preconceived race-based notions. These situations occur in the streets, in the yard, in the classrooms, in dining halls, and anywhere else stereotypes are not confronted and prejudices not debunked. A campus-wide debate on race is something that is far from most people’s minds. This might sound strange to individuals on campus who are in groups like the BSA, AAA, or Fuerza where these topics are frequently discussed in some respect, but for the majority of students on our campus who are White (non-Hispanic, of course) and choose not to become members of these groups (since membership in all of them is completely open) four years can pass and they may never confront racial ideas that they held as 17 and 18 year-old first-years. For all the lauding of campus diversity here, simply attending class with someone of a different background or living down the hall from them does not suffice. In order to get the most out of the relative diversity that Harvard does offer, one must emerge out of their secluded and comfortable bubble. Remarkably, Harvard IS the most diverse school I’ve ever attended since my previous schools were even more racially, socioeconomically, and religously homogenous.
In his seminal book The Declining Significance of Race, Lewis F. and Linda L. Geyser University Professor William Julius Wilson posits that class disparities are becoming more salient than racial disparities and now form the chief rift in U.S. society. Whether or not you agree with Professor Wilson, one cannot neglect the fact that race still plays a huge role in domestic and global society today. The two riots at the beginning of this post that garnered international media attention attest to this. Hurricane Katrina attests to this. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s comment on the recent public transportation strike attests to this. The recent murder of Stanley Williams by the State of California attests to this. The end-result bad guy in all of these scenarios is White (Bush, Bloomberg, and Schwarzenegger) and the victims are overwhelmingly or solely Black (Katrina victims, Union members, and Stanley Williams). This is exactly what racism is: power utilized by a member of one racial group to the detriment of another. Two of these situations brought about death (Katrina and Stanley Williams) and the other brought about fines and may bring jail time. The power that Whites have over Blacks worldwide is still widespread. Until government bodies are representative of the populations they serve and understanding and fruitful collaboration is fostered between individuals of different backgrounds, positive race relations will continue to be hampered on campus and in the far corners of the globe.