The Perpetual Specter

On a campus where political correctness often takes priority over honest conversation, David Shin ’14’s Phillipian Commentary article, “On Discussions and Diversity,” was an overdue dissent. At place where buzzwords are employed ad nauseam, his candor was courageous. But in a nation where racial diversity and multiculturalism have contributed immeasurably, the bulk of Shin’s argument straddles the satirical.

By rightfully condemning “the exclusion of dissenting voices from the ‘conversation,’” as he said in his article, Shin initially seems to be expressing an earnest desire for all intellectual opinions to be respected. This is indeed an aspect of diversity in which Andover often fails, as demonstrated by the homogenous political affiliation of the bulk of our faculty. According to a 2012 Phillipian survey of the political preferences of faculty members before the last general election, an overwhelming 84 percent preferred Barack Obama, compared to 19 percent in support of Mitt Romney. Even more telling is the fact that roughly a third of Democratic respondents felt comfortable sharing their political views in class, and not a single Republican teacher expressed that same level of comfort. The facts are clear: Andover’s faculty is overwhelmingly politically homogenous. This, I believe, is the type of diversity for which Shin initially calls, and it is the type that Andover desperately needs.

After this, however, our paths diverge.

By questioning “the ideal of racial diversity,” Shin invalidates both experience and evidence that suggests that race still plays a major role in the economics, political systems and national fabric of the United States — and of Andover. His argument cheapens the significance of the impetus for diversity on account of race. Furthermore, by prioritizing one form of diversity and discussion over another — in this case, ideological over racial — his argument implies that the latter form must be subservient to the former. In short, Shin’s argument assumes one, or both, of the following: that race is so inconsequential that it does not warrant attention or that variations in an individual’s treatment on account of his or her race are merely circumstantial.

Shin, using the example of the college admissions process, suggests, “Some racial groups, because of a variety of factors, statistically perform better than others academically.” Yet simply by acknowledging a potential connection between various “factors” to academic success, Shin contradicts himself by reasoning that while race could indeed be a factor, its presence is not “strong enough to warrant support of racial diversity.” More importantly, the “variety of factors” that his argument ignores — socioeconomic class, gender, access to health care — have too often been tied to race, a fact that no student who completed History 300 can deny.

Following a similarly erroneous logical sequence, Shin later asserts, “Proponents of intentional racial diversity often say that people of certain races bring ideas and ways of thinking to the table that others could not. Please name one.”

I will oblige and name not one, but three.

First of all, as a black man, my perception of public safety and law enforcement have been undoubtedly colored by tragic stories like that of Trayvon Martin. I doubt that Shin can relate to the visceral fear many black men face when walking the streets of Boston each night — but I can, on account of my race. Secondly, my perception of social justice will forever be shaped by my father, who, as a black college student in the 1960s, dodged billy clubs and police dogs in Selma. Lastly, and perhaps most maddeningly, the way I view loss, movement and migration is indelibly shaped by the knowledge that my West African roots are forever buried under the sands of history.

Countless other nuances and ways of thinking, similarly attributable to race, abound across the board. Race is the perpetual specter that has haunted the United States since its inception, silent sometimes, but omnipresent always. As such, the varied experiences each of us has had with race make us each unique. True, we are all more than our race, but it would be foolish to deny the benefits of bringing such a wealth of experiences to Andover’s intellectual table.

Critics of my argument might accuse me of “playing the race card.” How I wish there was such a convenient card, like Visa or AmEx, used to purchase “race points” at just the right moment. But alas, there is not. What there is, instead, is a firmly established truth that race is an inextricable part of who I am, just like my religious views and political affiliation. Just as ideological diversity, a category into which these last two characteristics fall, is vitally important for Andover’s intellectual vitality, so too is racial diversity.

I respond to Shin’s final challenge with another: examine each person for who he or she is, taking into account all of the composite factors of identity that make us whole beings.

Junius Williams is a four-year Senior from Newark, NJ.