Sunday, November 15, 2009

November 15

An ugly incident took place this past week. I mentioned earlier that Danielle had a run-in with a black student over the grade she gave him on a midterm for the Trizenko class she is the TA for, and that he accused her of racism. Well, she gave him a low grade on another assignment for the class. Angered by this, the student came to confront her about this during her office hours. As it happened, there was nobody else in the office (the rest of us were, as usual, somewhere else at the time).

The situation quickly escalated: he allegedly shoved her against the wall (they were apparently standing) and she shouted, “Keep your hands off of me, you asshole!” Hearing the noise, people from neighboring offices and the hallway rushed in, including Michael. According to him, Danielle called the campus police. To his credit, the black student didn’t run away, but stayed there telling everyone how this “white bitch” was prejudiced against him because he was black. Danielle was in tears.

What happened next was very interesting. If an incident like this occurred off-campus, the regular police would undoubtedly have carted the black male off to jail immediately. But, as Michael explained, university police are for more sensitive about racial matters. Since nobody else was in the office at the time, there were no witnesses present to say whether the black student shoved Danielle or not. She said he did, but he denied it. Since it was just his word against hers, the police didn’t arrest the student—much to Danielle’s fury.

The black student also claimed that Danielle had called him an “asshole” just out of the blue. She, of course, said his actions had provoked her to say this, which many people outside the room (including Michael) had overheard her calling him. The student demanded that Danielle apologize and raise his grade, but she refused. The campus police then attempted to initiate a “healing” session, but according to Michael, Danielle would not cooperate. Instead, she insisted that a police officer escort her back to her campus apartment, which one did. The black student, the police, and everyone else who did not have a carrel there then left the office. It was all over by the time I arrived, but Michael was there to tell me all about it.

After doing so, Michael said ominously, “This little episode is not over!”

I expressed concern that the black student might experience negative consequences as a result of it.

Michael snorted at this, saying that Danielle was the one likely to experience negative consequences—and that she might do so in just a few short weeks when the department faculty met at the end of the semester to decide upon whether grad students should receive continued funding.

Michael, I’m sure, was exaggerating. He really seems to harbor an active dislike for Danielle. But if he went to one extreme with regard to this incident, Shivvy went to the other when I told her about it. According to her, Danielle would never have accused the black student of shoving her unless he had actually done so. Further, she claimed that Danielle would never have called him an “asshole” unless he deserved it. I almost wish I hadn’t told Shivvy about the incident (although she probably would have found out anyway) because it has only served to increase her irrational fear of black males. She’s going to have to get help for this problem, I think.

As for me, I take a more balanced view of the situation. If indeed he did do so, it was clearly wrong for the black student to have shoved Danielle. But it was also clearly wrong for Danielle to call him an “asshole”—which she definitely did. But the underlying problem that led to this incident—the fact that Danielle gave low grades to this black student on two assignments—must not be overlooked.

Now if she had given low grades to a white student on two successive assignments, it could be argued that the student may have actually deserved them. But giving low grades to a black student on two successive assignments does seem a little suspicious to me. More than this, it was insensitive. Surely Danielle should have realized that, given the history of injustice experienced by them, black students are far more likely than white students to react negatively to receiving low grades from white professors or TA’s.

Yes, I think it is always important to exhibit the highest degree of racial sensitivity whenever the occasion arises. And this is something, I must say, that Danielle obviously did not do.

Clearly, though, she is not alone. Another person who, most surprisingly, does not seem to exhibit much racial sensitivity is Prof. Saltz at Harvard. Although black himself, I have not yet heard him even once refer to an African or African-American perspective on international security. The one African-American whose views on international security he cites positively is Colin Powell. But being both a Republican and a former general, Powell is hardly representative of African-Americans, as far as I am concerned. And Saltz has frequently disparaged the views of Jesse Jackson on international security issues. This makes me very uncomfortable.

It seems obvious to me that an African-American like Saltz would never have become a Harvard professor had it not been for the efforts of Jesse Jackson and other civil rights leaders. It also seems obvious that for Saltz to criticize Jackson is an instance of biting the hand that fed him. And by criticizing Jackson and ignoring the African-American perspective on international security, Saltz is being less than loyal to his race.

Re-reading the last paragraph, I realize that some might see Colin Powell as an example of an African-American perspective on international security, but this is not true. Powell is a Republican. And as everyone knows, authentic African-American perspectives are always liberal.

I find, then, that I profoundly disagree with Saltz on many issues. My own intense concern for racial sensitivity, however, prevents me from challenging him. Republican though he may be, I am afraid that openly disagreeing with an African-American professor would be interpreted—either by him or by others—as racially motivated.

It never ceases to amaze me, though, that the white Harvard grad students do not hesitate to challenge Saltz, often quite fiercely. They, clearly, do not possess the same degree of racial sensitivity that I do. While Saltz gives no indication of being bothered by this, I am sure that he must be hurting inside.

[I really have to congratulate myself: this entry will truly demonstrate to my future biographers just how racially sensitive I am. This will really go over well. Don’t delete anything I’ve written here—except, of course, for this paragraph.]

The only other news I have to report this week is what Michael told me about the progress of Trizenko’s tenure application. I don’t know how he learned this, but according to him, the chair of the political science department, George Stavros, decided to recommend in favor of Trizenko receiving tenure despite the negative vote from the tenured faculty.

I hadn’t realized before Michael explained it to me that that there are many stages in the tenure process. First, there is a vote by the tenured members of the candidate’s department. Second, the chair of the department makes his, or her, own recommendation. Third, a vote is taken (in this case) by the social science subcommittee of the Arts and Sciences College’s promotion and tenure committee. Fourth, a vote is taken by the college’s full promotion and tenure committee. Fifth, the dean of the college makes a recommendation. Sixth, the provost makes a recommendation. Seventh, the president of the university, reviewing all the earlier stages, makes a decision on the case. And eighth, if the president’s decision is positive, the university’s board of trustees then has to ratify it. Whew!

Michael expressed sheer disgust that Stavros would recommend Trizenko for tenure after the tenured faculty of the department had voted him down. As for me, I hope that Trizenko does get tenure. He’s obviously not in the same league as Briggs. But he really is a pretty good professor—even if he did testify on Capitol Hill and appear on TV.


  1. Dude. Slavery ended 150 years ago. Jim Crow ended 40 years ago. You've gotta hold everybody to the same standards, or the ones given the more breaks will act spoiled, as your oppressed black student did.

    Furthermore, a 'black viewpoint' is not what an objective person holds. An objective person holds a personal viewpoint, be that Repubican or Democrat. Also, "biting the hand that feeds him?" You assume that that professor is or should be subservient to Jesse Jackson.

    "Saltz is being less than loyal to his race." Seriously? You are far more racist than Danielle could ever be.

  2. You're kidding, right?

    Maybe the Black student just did poor work? Should he receive a higher grade out of fear he'll call racism?

  3. For all your self-congratulatory "racial sensitivity," you seem to separate blacks and whites a great deal.
    "Oooooh, he's a black guy, be careful not to offend him with a poor grade or by openly disagreeing with him, or he'll flip out 'cause you're being a racist!"
    Does that really sound race-sensitive to you? What qualifies one African-American perspective as "authentic?" Everyone has the right to have any belief or perspective they want, and if they truly hold that viewpoint, it's authentic. Why should Saltz be beholden to Jackson? I mean, sure, our founding fathers (I'm white) are responsible for all my freedoms as an American citizen, but that doesn't mean I'll hesitate to openly criticize them for keeping slaves.

    Oh damn, I sounded pretty race-sensitive there, huh? I may just have to go buy myself a quart of celebratory eggnog.

    I don't claim to be an expert on race relations (or anything else for that matter). But all this garbage about "authentic African-American perspectives" always being liberal, disagreeing with Jesse Jackson being disloyal to Saltz's race, Colin Powell not being representative of his race because he's republican and a former general... as far as I'm concerned, buddy, you're the racist here.

    I hope you're kidding about all this.

  4. I have to agree with the above comments. Giving poor work a high grade because of race is ridiculous. Poor work deserves a poor grade, race shouldn't matter.

    And the whole authentic african american perspectives are always liberal? really? You're a friggin idiot.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.