A letter from a reader: Academics and black identity
It was refreshing to see the article on Randall Kennedy '77 (cover story, April 2). I have a few observations. I recently wrote an entry on the identity of African-Americans for the Encyclopedia on Race and Crime. African-American identity is even more complex than Randall suggests. Most important, however, the identity discourse continues to be a dynamic dialectic.
Second, contrary to an earlier letter, I believe the academic-activist contrast to be false. The solution Rev. George Bates '76 seeks (letters, June 11) can be found only in the synthesis of the two. Academics focusing on criminal justice issues have helped deconstruct dysfunctional and discriminatory criminal-justice institutions and practices. They have both challenged and unfortunately supported the "old order." Criminal-justice activists and practitioners bring much to the table; however, there is a continual and critical need to professionalize and enlighten praxis. Finally, crime and the culture of criminality are not normative for the historical experience of African-Americans.
Black identity, even in its most outrageous formulations, never negated personal fulfillment or self-realization. Successful communities consist of successful individuals and families that engage in civic entrepreneurship. Giving back is not inconsistent with personal success. I encourage my students to practice three values: legacy, integrity, and competence. These values are viable for any graduate of any university.
JAMES P. MAYES '74
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