On Wednesday, Sept. 25, I saw my name on Heraldsphere, the online message board arena of my school newspaper, the Brown Daily Herald, paired with another one of interest to both Brown students and FrontPage readers:
The fact of the matter is, Schulman is a prick trying to start controversy...he's the Horowitz-in-residence for Brown. There's one for every season and they usually find themselves living out a reflection of their own hatred.
The taunt was, of course, anonymous.
I had been waiting for the David Horowitz card to be played ever since my column on Brown's Third World Transition Program (TWTP), the name of a segregated orientation held here for "students of color," (meaning anyone but whites) ran two days before. And one cannot examine the dismal state of racial rhetoric at my school without going back to its most recent nadir, the theft of an entire press run of the Herald after Mr. Horowitz's well-reasoned argument against the slavery reparations movement ran in the spring of 2001. The controversy has already been documented by Horowitz himself, in his book Uncivil Wars, but suffice to say that it was, aside from the bravery of my newspaper's editors in standing up for real freedom of speech, an indelible stain on an already long-tainted Ivory Tower. The administration backpedaled almost immediately, coddling the criminals who stole the papers, and convening a "faculty forum" for healing (read: appeasing the offended blacks and ashamed white leftists) where not a single speaker coherently supported the Herald's perfectly ethical decision to run the advertisement. It was during Horowitz-gate that I finally saw, in all its glory, how elite schools had turned their back on every decent, tolerant, humanist, liberal value we are supposed to stand for and how, in the process, the academic left has made race virtually impossible to discuss in an intellectual manner
Since then, in meeting with dissident faculty that are few and far between, the picture has been more fleshed out for me — a rancid tale of ideologues eating the college deanery away from the inside, of trumped up charges against white males made for political advantage and careerist jockeying, of kangaroo tribunals a la Darkness at Noon deciding the academic fates of non-protected groups while anyone brown-skinned enough to pass our commissars' litmus test is given free reign to run roughshod over any tenet of behavior, as long as they can claim "offense" or "oppression" somewhere in the process. As an English major, I've seen the canon of Western literature reduced dependably to a shaggy-dog story of class, race and gender warfare in which those minds previous generations were stupid enough to call great invariably emerge as the bad guys. I was told by a Marxist professor (who all but accused me of white supremacy when I spoke out against Cornel West's execrable behavior last spring) that if "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" wasn't about the slave trade then it surely should have been, and that William Wordsworth brings his sister into the beautiful "Tintern Abbey," "only to oppress her."
Thus, the latest race-based flap, a perennial one in these parts, should come as no surprise; since I am an independent-minded liberal who respects the work Mr. Horowitz does, I thought I'd share it with his readers. TWTP, the separate "colored" orientation a few days before the rest of the freshman arrive on campus, opened another dependably fractious year of racial debate at Brown, with most debate settling along the predictable lines: defenders of the ugly, segregationist program insist that it was a great experience and that it didn't inculcate them with rage against white people , and opponents of the program usually respond with, "If it's a great experience, why not let everyone participate?" Both lines of argument are, in their limited capacities, eminently plausible.
The problem: holding a racially demarcated orientation is such a divisive issue (and rightfully so) that it will not do to simply measure TWTP by how much its participants learned, how much they enjoyed it, or how much it did or did not segregate them from non-persons-of-color at the outset of matriculation. Those are important concerns, and have been passionately explicated here by ones with more personal experience than I: I spent my Caucasian freshman year elsewhere, and thus did not experience either the program or the effects of exclusion from it. But for an issue so troublesome, we must look beyond utilitarian effect to intellectual underpinning; TWTP's is at best a wishful mirage, at worst an insidious stab at reverse apartheid, masked with a genial, academic rubber stamp.
The Third World Center's website lays its intellectual groundwork thus: "Frantz Fanon, author of 'The Wretched of the Earth' (1961), urged readers to band together against oppression and colonialism, by pioneering a 'Third Way'… When students adopt the term 'Third World,' they use it in the sense of a cultural model of empowerment and liberation." Lest anyone confuse students at an elite American school with the unwashed masses picking through the garbage in Jakarta or Sao Paulo, it goes on: "[Third World] is not to be confused with the economic definition of the term used commonly in our society today, but understood as a term that celebrates the cultures of Arab, Asian, Black, Latino, Multiracial and Native Americans."
That's a tall order — a lot of cultures to celebrate beneath one banner. TWTP's specific website declares it "a forum for students of color" — "it facilitates an exploration and (re)discovery of our uniqueness while encouraging us to celebrate the commonalities that bind us." The real question, uncomfortable yet necessary: what commonalities?
For instance, what commonality does the average incoming Asian-American student have with blacks that he doesn't have with whites? Relative pigmentation? As denominators go, that's pretty insulting, and I like to imagine generations of civil rights activists as well as immigrant families from the actual "third world" heartily rejecting it. Did anyone's family — whether descended from poor immigrants or freed slaves - work hard toward middle-class freedom so that their children could be dubbed "third world" (the very third world thankfully abandoned) by theory-spouting ideologues? Partisans of TWTP insist that its design is not sectarian - that is, it does not manufacture a sense of solidarity, of "us against them." If we grant this, mustn't we then assume that solidarity among the above groups already exists? I'm sorry to break the news: four decades after Mr. Fanon wrote his treatise (and Jean-Paul Sartre lusted after the murder of Frenchmen by the FLN in his salivating introduction, a convenient marker of the zeitgeist), it now exists only in the minds of academic bureaucrats on the road to hell — that is, the zealously, nightmarishly well-intentioned.
It is positively ludicrous to assume that more cultural commonality exists between South Asians / East Asians and blacks than exists between the former and whites. It is impossible to imagine a prejudiced corporate manager dismissing a Korean-American and an African-American job applicant in the same way and for the same reason. While it is plausible, though of course not given, that a black student attending an elite school is there due to his race, it is equally likely that an Asian-American is there DESPITE his race. What kind of ethereal Fanonist bond can explain the deep achievement gap between American blacks and any-generation offspring of South Asian / East Asian immigrants? After all, Asians on average score higher than whites on standardized tests, who in turn score higher than blacks. I know very few Asian, South Asian, black or Latino families that believe they have been treated anything but fairly by the American system. In fact, the story of most immigrant populations is one of incredible success — so even if we admit the situation of African-Americans is far different, as they were forcibly imported and long enslaved, that is all the more evidence that creating a solidarity between all non-whites is despicably dishonest.
Personal experiences of course differ, and I received angry missives with conflicting accounts, but intellectual honesty requires a look at broad, and often bleak, truths. As a cultural, if not really racial (for scientifically, there is no such thing as "race") group, Asian-Americans probably have much more in common with American Jews than they do with blacks or Latinos. Is anyone suggesting an orientation for only Asians and Jews? Or how about only Jews? After all, Jewry defines numerous campus groups, and the Jews have as distinct an American narrative as any other immigrant group. TWTP enforces the skin-color obsession of which one would think left-leaning academics hope to rid us.
And what about obvious extra-American cleavages within the manufactured "solidarity" group? TWTP's only real intellectual premise is that it gets all the remotely brown-skinned students together and tells them they are brethren in a vague struggle. Well, let's see: Coptic Christians are second class citizens in Egypt as they are not in America, yet they would be lumped in with all other Arabs according to TWTP logic. Japan has engaged in dedicated animosity with Korea and China for ages; ditto China and Vietnam; ditto Vietnam and Khmer Cambodia; ditto Hindus and Muslims in South Asia; ditto Muslims and Christians or Muslims and animists in North Africa. These hatreds are not idle academic games either, as this sort of thing can be in the Western academy (which glibly spouts phrases like "embedded power structure" to prove that society is racist at all times, whether we know it or not); they are the stuff of holocaust. To imagine the above are currently more persecuted in America for virtue of relative pigmentation than they would be elsewhere, for historically far deeper reasons, and then to band all together against a protean white power, is intellectual abdication. We are building a castle on quicksand, and Brown will reap exactly what it sows.