Like a lot of black folks in my generation, I felt that it was my responsibility to become more attuned to racial sensibility - to achieve a higher level of sensitivity to those people and conditions that might lead to oppression. It was a constant theme in my youth during which the very term 'black' was coined and people questioned having been 'Negro'. During that time as well, many of us went from passive observation to active participation in both directions. In 1967 many of us were adamant about looking for 'safe space' and determined that could not be found anywhere at all in the USA. We looked to Cuba, to Brazil, to Ghana. Similarly during the Vietnam war, many looked to Canada as an escape route. But in the end we found, even through assassinations and jailing, that racial integration in America was the far superior road for practical and moral reasons. It was not simple, it was not easy. It was worth it.
Leaving my community to attend Catholic School outside of my school district was not easy. I wasn't Catholic. But I wasn't afraid and I was willing to test my skill against people of the sort I'd never known. I never sat in a classroom with white suburbanites until I was 14 years old. The experience was full of surprises. It didn't take long for me to recognize the greater priority I could put on Christian similarities than racial differences. That was, after all, the spirit of integration over separatism. But it wasn't only religion there was also sports, music and most importantly, learning, the reason I attended school in the first place.
If your studies of history have been satisfactory you would know that around the time of the first Star Wars film, affirmative action regimes were in flux and the Bakke decision came down. It expressed something of the common sense we already knew from experience, race should not be the sole factor in choosing whether someone does or does not belong. We were proud of our ability to find common purpose in achieving athletic, academic and character excellence at my Catholic school, even though I was not and am not a Catholic. I did not integrate my prior self into nothingness but into common purpose. We were a solution, in the chemical sense. Mixed yet distinct. We kept stirring, we stayed infused. We understood that it took effort. Over time, many of us became bonded and changed.
It is frighteningly disturbing that this generation of students has chosen to ignore the achievements of crossover and gone to greater extremes of racial sensitivity in their demands for resignations. I can't imagine college universities now having the stomach to even listen to Richard Pryor or George Carlin, two of the many whose humor brought us together in the 70s. Indeed today's students seem to have lost all sense of humor. I can only speculate this comes from a poor interpretation of what they expected that we went through or what others before us did. We sought the guarantees of the Constitution and we also wanted to escape small places and move about freely. Listen to the students at Little Rock High School. Remember Charlayne Hunter. Study James Farmer. They worked to end segregation, not to hide from insults or even injuries. What is clear to me is that far too many Americans expect from oppositional politics what can only be achieved from actual friendship, which is mutual respect and admiration. What a sad result. Finally calling someone a 'racist' has nothing to do with what someone actually believes, but one's position in an artificial political war. This fight is not about crime and punishment, it's not even about the law. It's a tawdry catfight over bourgeois privileges between bourgeois actors who desperately seek to inherit the imprimatur of Civil Rights struggle. My ass.
I understand and respect that every generation may decide how to conduct themselves and shape their immediate society, but nothing I'm seeing from campus protests of the sort at Claremont resonate with my upbringing. So clear is this distinction between our integration and your separatism that I am almost willing to dismiss it. But I understand that it has successfully drawn from a deep well of youthful ambition and strident self-righteousness. This is the stuff of violent conflict of the sort one would naturally expect college administrators to avoid at all costs, even the cost of the integrity of the institution. If you students have learned from Eldridge Cleaver, you have learned well.
Our times had Hair. Our times had The Warriors. Every time has rebels. Every time has heroes. Every time has fools. Take your time and figure out what the stakes actually are. We are watching now. I for one, am not impressed.