In search of genuine campus diversity

David Bernstein

September 13, 1991|By David Bernstein

DIVERSITY" is the new shibboleth of the self-appointed campus race monitors. They demand "diversity" of almost every kind -- race, gender, sexual orientation, even physical ability. What these folks won't countenance, however, is diverse opinions.

As a black college student at the University of Maryland I learned this truth the hard way. As a black conservative, I was ostracized by the very people who claimed to value difference because I was, well, different. They didn't mind that I was black, of course, but College Park's politically correct student leadership seemed prefer ideological lockstep within its "diverse" student body.

Fortunately, I was never subjected to the kind of overt intolerance that many black conservatives endure, but there was always a palpable disdain for me and my views among other minority students. One black sophomore, for example, explained me that "white people are puttin' those ideas in your head." Another of my peers wrote in the student newspaper that black (( conservatives must be "neutralized" (whatever that means). Still another person once complained, "you just don't understand." It came as no surprise when the president of Maryland's Black Student Union refused to work with me and the other black Republicans when we wanted to bring conservative black speakers to campus.

Like many black college students, I found the student leadership's attempts to insulate me from diverse opinions condescending and antithetical to the idea of a university education. Black collegians should learn to appreciate the rich heritage of intellectual debate and dissent that has defined the black American experience. Men like W.E.B. DuBois, Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. did not share a single set of ideas. Each came to his own conclusions through study and honest reflection. If any of us hope to understand the "black thing" referred to by those popular T-shirts, we must try a little study and reflection of our own.

In 1905, DuBois scolded a young black girl. "There are in the U.S. today," he told her, "tens of thousands of colored girls who would be happy beyond measure to have the chance of educating themselves that you are neglecting." He further warned her that "ignorance is a cure for nothing . . . every time a colored person neglects an opportunity, it makes it more difficult for others of the race to get such an opportunity. Do you want to cut off the chances of the boys and girls of tomorrow?"

The campus diversity mongers should ponder DuBois' words. Each time we refuse to consider diverse opinions we are "neglecting an opportunity" to learn. Each time a minority student leader demands "solidarity" from his peers he makes it more difficult for others of the race to get such an opportunity. And ignoring or extinguishing "Western culture" in the curriculum is truly a cure for nothing.

Perhaps more important, this desire for intellectual unanimity and separation threatens to undermine more than 25 years of civil rights gains. Black Americans are closer than ever to being treated by white society simply as individuals, but now many minorities themselves assert that race is the defining characteristic of every person.

How quickly we forget that this was the very attitude that made slavery possible, that has kept apartheid alive in South Africa and that delivered Jews into the Holocaust. I, for one, would rather the average American did not believe that all blacks act a particular way because they are black!

Similarly, I would rather not toss aside many of the great works of science, philosophy and literature just because their authors were white. Black collegians can understand and appreciate James Madison, John Milton and Charles Darwin as well as any white student. To suggest otherwise is racism in its pristine form.

My college experience has not left me as discouraged as it might have because I believe there has been a quiet reawakening of independence among most young minorities. During the past year I have met several other young college graduates who agree that we need more genuine diversity -- diversity of thought.

David Bernstein is editor of Diversity, a new magazine written by young writers of different racial backgrounds.

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