Letters from alumni about African-American
How do professors of black studies respond to the following perceptions or misperceptions?:
1. Black studies will be irrelevant in the medium-term future because our population will be more homogenized. Black Studies enjoy built-in obsolence.
2. Black studies will form a coterie of teachers and advocates having a personal interest in perpetuating "blackness" in order to keep their jobs.
3. Native-American studies, "gay" studies, Irish-American studies, holocaust studies, etc. will compete with Black studies in the curriculum. A sociologist may one day study the various ethnic "studies" and find that such programs are in many ways a boondoggle.
4. Black and other such studies inculcate of guilt among outsiders, the rest of us who, of course, fail to understand the feelings and situation of many minorities. Once the outsiders recognize supposed victimization of minority groups and the use of guilt against the guiltless, a backlash will occur.
Baldwin Maull '53 *88
In his article (cover story, April 9), Gerald Horne adds alot more "hoopla" for the field of study he celebrates. Grand claims are made or implied, and one wonders how we ever got along without Black Studies. "New interpretations" gushing from its scholars, "spawning"' such things as "critical race theory" will I would hope be founded on more than enthusiasm, and what has been criticized as a postmodern resentment.
Newell Stepp '54
Castle Cove, NSW, Australia
The Princeton of my day (1962-66) was a wonderful place, but still struggling with race relations, as we called it in those days. My class, the great Class of 1966, had seven African Americans, which I believe was the highest number in Princeton history. Of course, the phrase "African American" was not yet part of the lexicon; we were on the cusp between "Negro" and "Black." Two of these students were from Africa; the other five, including my close friend and roommate, the late George Miner, were talented scholars from around the U.S. By the way, the shortage of students of color applied to all colors; based on my quick review of the Freshman Herald, my class had 10 Asian Americans. A very Caucasian campus, all male as well.
To be African-American on the Princeton campus in those days was to face challenges, as was true for African-Americans in the society as a whole. The vast majority of Princetonians, true to the welcoming character of the school, assimilated people of all sorts without difficulty. This included a substantial Jewish population, including myself, at a time when barriers to Jews just were beginning to diminish. But I remember another close friend, from the south, someone I respect and admire greatly to this day, and someone I believe to lack a single prejudiced bone in his body, telling me that he would be friendly to George on campus but would walk by him on the street at home without saying a word, because to do otherwise would be to invite trouble for himself. And George heard enough racial epithets in his daily life that, in protest and sarcasm, the name he chose to put on his beer jacket was "Boy." I feel pain for him to this day.
The campus was sufficiently conservative that we four roommates, Bob Warwick, Dave Richardson, George and myself, printed up membership cards designating us as the founders of PLOP, the Professional Liberals of Princeton. Humor? Yes. But it was not all humorous.
I write this letter not to complain about the Princeton of 40 years ago. I loved Princeton then, and I do now. I doubt if many schools were as progressive, or as sensitive, or as understanding of how the world was changing, and the vast majority of my many friends and classmates saw George as just another member of our class. He knew this. But when I see articles like those in PAW, I cannot help but want to say this to today's students of all colors: It ain't perfect yet. But we have come a very long way. Be proud that you attend a school that wants to get it right.
Jon Holman 66
April 14, 2003
The April 9 PAW cover story proclaims that the African-American studies program is "No longer black and white." I certainly do not wish to question the abilities of the outstanding faculty that our university has attracted, but I do wonder about the fact that only blacks are teaching it. If truly no longer black and white there would surely be a more racially varied faculty. After all, the program was established more than 30 years ago. Can't other races speak to such subjects?
I note too that a black woman teaches a course entitled "Introduction to Black Women's Studies" that enrolls only women "about 60 percent of whom were African American." Can't a man teach it? Is its subject matter so narrow that no man will enroll? Back in the ancient past both engineering and medicine were considered fit occupations only for men, taught by men to men. Things have changed of course in both fields, thank goodness. When we can make a similar statement about African-American studies, I will agree, "No longer black and white."
William B. Hunter '37
After reading the latest issue of PAW, I am cautiously optimistic about Princeton. Back in 1968, we had no courses at all in African-American studies. In the April 9 edition, issues surrounding People of Color graced PAW literally from front cover to back cover and in between. While the heading "No Longer Black and White" treads that slippery slope of the so-called "color blind" society, I was particularly impressed with Editor Marks's comments, as well as the On the Campus piece "Talking About Race," which directly addresses what we need to do.
Since my graduation, I have had to find out about this issue outside of Princeton, including Woodrow Wilson's own shameful history. I am proud of my master's degree in Africana studies from the State University of New York. Sadly, I still can't get one at old P.U., which is why I support full departmental status for the "program." Nell Painter summed this issue up perfectly, "It's not 'I want you to feel good' or 'I want you to feel guilty' It's 'I want you to know something.' "
Charles Touhey 68
This ancient alumnus schooled at Princeton long before there was a single black or a single woman in the student body rejoices to read in your April 9 issue the articles featuring the rise at Princeton of black and other ethnic studies and the great numbers of students and faculty of black, Hispanic, Asian and other racial and ethnic minorities. Gerald Home '70, the author, got it exactly right in his concluding sentence: "Humanity itself, as a result, is the ultimate victor."
When some form requires me to declare my race, my preferred answer is one word: Human. But when can the six billion of us on this planet make that great leap? Maybe never; certainly not soon. If we ever do in some wiser age, it will only be after having struggled through a maddening, ever-shifting patch quilt of racial and religious identities, such as the late Harold Isaacs depicted in his eloquent and original book Idols of the Tribe (1977). In our era of massive worldwide change, Isaacs wrote, "great masses of people [are] trying to get back to . . . a place where they can feel they belong." Our studies should acquaint us at least with the texture of this great human striving, for it underlies today's politics all over the world.
In my time at Princeton we had a small program, brand new then, called the Special Program in the Humanities. (Its direct descendant is the Council of the Humanities, still thriving in Joseph Henry House.) All male and all white we were, both faculty and students; but the works of literature, art, history, and philosophy that we studied inculcated in us a sense of universal human values and of the good and evil impulses that contend in every human heart. That wonderful education helped to make us ready for the civil rights movement and other convulsions of the mid-century and for the long sequel that will surely play out in triumph and tragedy all through the lives of students now at Princeton, as America strives again and again to fulfill her destiny.
Wallace Irwin Jr. 40 *48
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