America’s Overseers: How the Example of Harvard Discredits the Meme of Black “Marginalization”

Among the many spells the wicked witches of the woke West have cast upon us is the one that compels us to believe that blacks (and other minorities) are eternally “underrepresented” and “marginalized” in America. This shibboleth is repeated uncritically again and again until we are bludgeoned into accepting it as a cornerstone of the hastily erected, shoddily constructed, lightning-rod-tipped imaginary tower that goes by the name of “systemic racism.” But whatever truth it might have had in earlier epochs, the marginalization thesis is, in the 2020s, a patent exaggeration and, in many respects, a gross error. It is high time to dislodge this bit of bad code from the program.

I should confess, first, that I have never really understood what “marginalization” is supposed to mean or why it is problematic for any nation to have its default settings, whether institutional, cultural or linguistic, calibrated to the majority rather than to all its multifarious minorities. A majority of voters in a democracy will predictably seek to institute its preferences; this, indeed, is the very purpose of people coming together to form a nation in the first place, as the late conservative philosopher Roger Scruton has argued in England and the Need for Nations. So long as others are treated with dignity and respect and accorded an equal legal right to participate in significant opportunities, I see no particular reason for them to be “centered” rather than “marginalized.” Because of the logic of collective action and dynamics of block voting that are easier to navigate for smaller, more tightly knit interest groups than for the diffuse majority, any ethnic or racial minority that grows sufficiently substantial will rapidly gain the ability to wield political influence disproportionate to its population percentage, as the economist Mançur Olson has explained. The majority should not have the additional obligation to refurbish its entire culture to cater to all the disparate and conflicting preferences of all the possible Others who may live within the nation’s borders or who may later find their way in by hook or by crook.

But, be that as it may, taking “marginalization” and “underrepresentation” on their own terms, any intellectually defensible notion of these phenomena cannot content itself with merely throwing out numbers purporting to show facial disparities and blurting out “racism!” as Ibram X. Kendi would have us do, but rather, should consider why any disproportion exists. Thus, for example, one cannot look at a university physics department and complain that black faculty are underrepresented without dealing with the glaring fact that blacks account for only around 3% of bachelor’s degrees in physics, so that, if anything, it is the latter rather than the former fact that needs to be explained.

Even without delving down to this more granular level of analysis to look behind surface disparities, however, the reality is that, at this point in time, taking only bare population percentages, blacks are no longer underrepresented and marginalized in many respects that matter. First, despite the fact that the corporate media, especially lately, sometimes seems to be spending something like 90% of its air time on coverage of what it deems anti-black racism, blacks actually represent around 13% of the American population. Notwithstanding the endless gripes about purported racism in the entertainment industry, as of 2018-19, blacks accounted for 24% of all lead acting slots on broadcast t.v., 12.9% of cable t.v. leads, and 18% of cast members on broadcast and cable shows. Blacks were also cast in 15.7% of top film roles as of 2019. These numbers are, of course, from before the Great Awokening of 2020, and we should have every expectation that the numbers are still more skewed today.

But black faces are not only getting significantly more than their proportionate share of airtime in fiction on t.v. The overrepresentation and blanket coverage of issues of race and racism, both real and imaginary, whether on t.v., on the radio, in print news or on social media and other online media, are not, I would hope, facts I need to prove empirically at this point. For those interested in what data has to say, however, there is a good argument to be made — one that, indeed, has been made in compelling fashion by Zach Goldberg here — that the divisive racial hysteria that has engulfed much of the country in the last few years is driven by the media’s sensationalized and relentless coverage of race and alleged racism rather than the other way around, viz., any actual uptick in racism driving the spate of media coverage. This is a point given further substantial support recently by the University of London’s Eric Kaufmann’s report on the subject of racism’s social construction, which shows that perceptions of racism in America are largely motivated by larger political affiliations rather than by real-world circumstances.

With black people and issues of alleged anti-black racism at the very front of so many stages today, then, in what sense are black people still “marginalized”? In the sense that actually matters, the marginalization/underrepresentation narrative tells us in response. Conspicuous displays of melanin, the story goes, are reserved for frontstages, i.e., smiling black faces on t.v. screens and in glossy company and university brochures, while all the power behind the scenes is still exercised by the usual suspects: old white men.

In response to this artful dodge, I want to tackle an actual and conspicuous example: Harvard University. Harvard, we can surely agree, is at the epicenter of institutional power in America. But like many contemporary universities, and especially elite universities, Harvard is hard at work using that institutional power to lead an attack upon the culture that created it. Harvard’s English major, for example, was revamped in 2008 to eliminate the chronological survey courses that had given our ever-more functionally illiterate and culturally ignorant students a fundamental background in English literature and substituted electives that would allow them to avoid substantial portions of the British canon and go globetrotting through the diaspora instead. In 2017, Harvard added a requirement that English majors take a victimology course in “marginalized” authors. As it stands now, the revamped English curriculum goes further still, requiring our already intellectually backward contemporary students starting with the Class of ’23, lacking any proper grounding in the English literary tradition, to begin at the end, with a class entitled “Literature Today,” i.e., since the year 2000, which “address[es] current problems of economic inequality, technological change, structural prejudice, and divisive politics.” The subtext is on the surface: this is a prescriptive class in contemporary progressive politics, with the pretext of literariness failing to disguise the bait-and-switch.

The radical agenda is not limited to the curriculum, of course. In 2016, Harvard’s law school, for example, shamefully caved to a student-led pressure campaign to cancel its official seal reproducing the family coat of arms of its founder, Isaac Royall Jr. The reason was Royall’s ties to slavery, despite the fact that the actual crest in no way indicated so much as Royall’s name, such that anyone wishing to uncover the tenuous link to slavery would have had to go to the trouble of figuring out what the design was about and then research the gentleman at issue. Illustrating the hypocrisy of these newly woke institutions, moreover, Harvard, while vanquishing its symbolic ties to Royall, did not see fit to sever its far more substantial material ties to Royall by returning the valuable piece of real estate that he had generously bequeathed to the university to found its law school.

Harvard has also notoriously discriminated against Asian-Americans, downgrading them on intangible “personality” metrics to increase the share of blacks admitted (almost 15% of those admitted, as compared, again, to blacks’ 13% population share), such that an Asian-American with a 25% chance of getting into the university would have a 95% chance of admission if he or she could only check the “African-American” box on the application form. Asian-Americans, moreover, have to score at least a whopping 250 points higher on the S.A.T. than black Americans in order to gain entry to the university. What all of this means is precisely what one would expect: blacks have the highest “admit rate” at Harvard, while Asians rank lowest.

But, once again, the marginalization advocate’s retort might go, such overtures may fall into the category of gestures meant for show, while behind the scenes the usual powers-that-be remain firmly in control.

So who is really in charge at Harvard?, one might wonder. According to the university’s website, one of Harvard’s two governing boards is somewhat infelicitously called the “Board of Overseers.” “Formally established in 1642, the Board plays an integral role in the governance of the University. As a central part of its work, the Board directs the visitation process, the primary means for periodic external assessment of Harvard’s schools and departments.” The Board is composed of 30 Overseers, nominated to serve by the Harvard Alumni Association’s Board of Directors (along with those nominated by petition) and then elected for six-year terms by Harvard alumni.

It is as a member of that last, largest grouping that I recently received my ballot to vote for five out of the newest slate of 11 candidates on offer. I graduated from Harvard Law School in 2000. This is a fact that I used to be embarrassed to admit because of the usual “looking like you’re bragging” problem that graduates of elite universities face (yes, there are much larger problems in the world than that!) but which I am now also embarrassed to admit for a very different reason: as I have explained at length elsewhere, I have lost nearly all respect for these universities, once elite but now coasting on their reputations, because they have all-but-entirely abandoned their educational missions and their missions to serve the important goal (one T.S. Eliot saw as primary) of preserving culture against the unremitting incursions of barbarism and have become, instead, politicized ideological monocultures that are at the heart of sowing divisiveness across the land and unraveling the already-frayed political fabric holding this nation together. Motivated by this consideration among others, I have refused to give any charitable donations to this over-endowed institution and do not so much as keep my current address on file with them. All their mail goes to my parents’ address. This keeps everyone happy: my parents can go on receiving perpetual reminders that their son went to Harvard, while I can avoid those same reminders. Thus, in any event, it was only while I was visiting my parents on a recent occasion that I chanced to come upon one of Harvard’s mailings asking me to vote in their upcoming elections for the Board of Overseers. I decided to take a look.

Here are our candidates, consisting of three men and eight women. Among these 11 individuals, there are:

Mark Carney exactly one white male, a gentleman named Mark J. Carney, described as a “a globally recognized economist, public servant, and climate action advocate”; and
Terah Lyons one white female, Terah Evaleen Lyon, who somehow, despite only graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree from Harvard in 2014, served in the Obama Administration, with her roles including “advis[ing] on issues of diversity and inclusion in the technology industry.”

As for the rest, we have:

two black men:

Raymond Lohier Raymond J. Lohier, Jr., a Hatian-American “[d]edicated to equal justice for all,” who “previously served in the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, combatting employment discrimination nationwide”; and
Christopher Howard Christopher B. Howard, described as “the great-great-grandson of an enslaved person,” who did not highlight any other notable “diversity” credentials in his bio but still made sure to give all the “right” answers to the pointed D.E.I. questionnaire pushed on all the candidates by the Coalition for a Diverse Harvard;

two black women:

Kimberly Dowdell Kimberly Nicole Dowdell, the “past president of the National Organization of Minority Architects,” “committed to … equity and inclusion,” who “championed numerous initiatives to increase opportunities for architects of color;” and
Yvette Efevbera Yvette Efevbera, who, “[a]s a global health specialist, … [has] seen the consequences of inequity and advocated for organizations to bring community voices to the table,” “develops strategies and investments addressing barriers girls and women face in her role as Advisor, Gender-Based Violence and Child Marriage, Gender Equality at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation,” received the NIH’s “Kirschstein Predoctoral Individual National Research Service Award to Promote Diversity in Health-Related Research,” and states that “[r]acial injustice, gender inequality, and climate inaction impact Harvard students’ success”;

two Latina women:

Maria Kumar Maria Teresa Kumar, “[f]ounding president of Voto Latino, … [t]he country’s largest Latino voter registration organization,” who is “passionate about a just, equitable, and enfranchised country,” “believe[s] education is our best means to achieve greater equity [and] inclusion,” “received the Hispanic Heritage Foundation’s Leadership Award,” and “helped revamp the Harvard Hispanic Journal as a student”; and
Natalie Unterstell Natalie Unterstell, a “Senior International Expert at the United Nations’ Green Climate Fund and founder of a groundbreaking, cross-sector data initiative to protect the Amazon rainforest and its Indigenous inhabitants [who is] working to build a zero-carbon economy and deforestation-free world,” who “believe[s] Harvard has a responsibility to lead on climate action and racial justice through research, education, responsible investments, and recognizing the impact of climate inaction on the most vulnerable communities throughout the world”;

two Asian-American women:

Sheryl WuDunn Sheryl WuDunn, “[t]he first Asian American to win a Pulitzer Prize in journalism,” who, with her husband, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, has co-written five books, “including Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide”; and
Christiana Bardon Chrstiana Goh Bardon, who, aside from letting us know that she is “[a] proud immigrant who came to the U.S. when she was four,” shockingly has nothing else to say to us about her race, gender or passion for diversity, equity, inclusion or social justice, but, just as in the case of Dr. Howard above, managed to convey her pre-commitments to the usual party line on these subjects on her D.E.I. questionnaire (though, perhaps, with a bit more formality and less enthusiasm than some of the other candidates exhibited);

and one Native-American woman:

Megan Red Shirt-Shaw Megan Red-Shirt Shaw, who puts her particular tribal affiliation (“Oglala Lakota”) in parentheses immediately after her name as though it were (as it likely is) a career credential comparable to a Ph.D., describes herself as “an advocate for greater Indigenous presence and commitment to Native student success in higher education,” is pursuing an actual Ph.D., including a minor in American Indian Studies, “is the Director of Native Student Services at the University of South Dakota” and tells us that, “[a]s a Lakota educator studying higher education, I’ve challenged the institutions I’ve attended and worked for to think about their impact environmentally, academically, and racially on both a local and national level.”

So, there we go. We have a diverse panel (do we not?), albeit not at all politically diverse. These are the individuals vying for spots as the newest additions to Harvard’s leadership class. I do not make want to make light of them or their credentials or suggest that most of them are in any way less than qualified for the job. Mr. Lohier, for example, is a judge on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals (appointed by Barack Obama), and Dr. Howard is a Rhodes Scholar and decorated military veteran, who has served as president of several universities. The qualifications of these candidates have nothing to do with my point, which is focused solely on the racial and gender categories and obvious political commitments of nearly all these individuals.

But perhaps, one might object, this is just the Harvard Overseer Class of 2021, presenting a much-needed corrective to the old white male establishment undoubtedly comprising the bulk of Harvard’s Board of Overseers. Objection overruled. Here are the members of the current board. Their photos and bios do not seem to be online, but here is a photograph I took of my own copy of Harvard’s mailing:

We have here, out of 30 people — assuming the genders of these individuals can be judged by appearances — 11 men and 19 women. Judging, again, largely by appearances (i.e., names and faces), coupled with a bit of targeted Googling to clear up some ambiguities, there are four white men and seven white women (though one of these women, Thea Sebastian, seems intent on pulling a Rachel Dolezal on us by surfacing on lists like this), for a total of just 11 white people out of 30. There are four black men and seven black women, so 11 black people total, exactly equaling the white contingent, both in race and gender. There are four Asian-American women and one Asian-American man. There are two Latin-American men. And there is one Native-American woman.

For those interested in keeping score, what we have here, on one of the governing bodies of one of America’s most powerful institutions and its most readily recognized, most well-endowed university, is that white people, who represent over 76% of the American population, are under 37% of Harvard’s Board of Overseers, a percentage almost certain to diminish still further when the current slate of candidates is voted upon. Black people, representing, again, around 13% of the population, likewise stand at just under 37% of the Board. Marginalization and underrepresentation? No.

I would add here in passing — and to make clear that the demographic underrepresentation of white people that I am seeing is not some unique aberration limited to the Board of Overseers — that the candidates for Harvard’s Alumni Association Board of Directors, the ones responsible for nominating the members of the Board of Overseers for election to their posts, break down along similar racial lines. Among the nine, there is one white man, two white women (neither Anglo-Saxon, for what it is worth), one black man, one black woman, one Latin-American man, one Latin-American woman and two Asian-American men.

Far from a place where blacks are marginalized, Harvard is one that has been completely taken over by woke politics and their aggressive “diversity” agenda that elevates a tribalist concern with superficial racial, gender and sexual characteristics to the highest value in the pantheon. We have every reason to expect the same set of norms and priorities to be in place in other, similar institutions, whether elite universities or professions where graduates of those same universities, and especially of their radicalized humanities departments, predominate, viz., journalism, education, politics and the entertainment industry. I have never seen any proof, however, that the dumbing down of educational standards and the infusion of identitarian tribalism into such elite institutions actually improves in any substantial respect the lives of the large contingent of black Americans disproportionately living in poverty and who are not the ones gaining entry to Harvard or its peer institutions. In that respect, the entire notion of “marginalization” is inherently, down to its rotten core, all about putting on a show to mollify intemperate activists and lighten the load on the guilty consciences of wealthy white liberals.

Let me make this much crystal-clear: I have gone through the motions of engaging in the racial bean-counting exercises above not because I personally think them necessary or desirable, but rather, because the proponents of the marginalization and underrepresentation thesis have made such contemptible calculations necessary to rebut their ungrounded claims. In reality, however, odd as it would be for a majority-white society to yield such an outcome, I would have no problem whatsoever with — and, indeed, would happily vote for — a 100% black Board of Overseers if all the members of that Board were committed to refocusing Harvard on its abandoned educational mission and to defending and restoring respect for learning and high culture rather than attacking these abiding values.

But how, you might wonder, am I going to vote on the current candidates actually on offer, candidates who, I have every reason to believe, will further the politicization and continuing self-destruction of a once-great university? Rest assured that as soon as I am done with using it for the purpose of writing this article, I will be throwing my ballot in the same place all of Harvard’s entreaties for my financial contributions go: the trash.

The post America’s Overseers: How the Example of Harvard Discredits the Meme of Black “Marginalization” appeared first on New Discourses.

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