Dinesh D’Souza, an experienced lecturer and author, presented his talk, “Racism is not the Problem” to a large audience in Chapin Hall on Feb. 26. The presentation led to a discussion on issues of affirmative action and racism both in and outside of the auditorium, and was followed by a small reception in the Stetson Faculty Lounge.
Introduced by Jon Foreman, the President of the James A. Garfield Republican Club, D’Souza is an Indian immigrant from Bombay who came to the United States in 1978. After graduating from Dartmouth in 1983, D’Souza became a senior domestic policy analyst for the Reagan administration. He left public service to become an author and speaker, and his first book, Illiberal Education, was a national best-seller. He has since written several books on America’s racism debate, and his latest work is a biography of President Reagan. D’Souza has also appeared on several television programs, including ABC’s Politically Incorrect.
D’Souza’s visit was sponsored by several organizations, primarily the Garfield Republican Club. The speaker began by telling the audience he wanted an “animated discussion on the politics of race in the United States,” and that he was happy to be back at Williams for his third visit.
He called on his experience as an immigrant to highlight a difference he sees between himself and the “Jesse Jacksons of the world.” D’Souza believes that while the majority of his fellow immigrants have a conception that America works, Rev. Jesse Jackson and other leaders in the African-American community contend that racism keeps the nation’s minorities down. While not denying the existence of racism in the country, D’Souza told the audience that, in his opinion, there are other, more fundamental problems involved.
Starting with the Affirmative Action debate, D’Souza then launched into the heart of his lecture. The speaker stated that the two goals of Affirmative Action, to judge applicants on the content of their character and to foster diverse institutions throughout the country, are mutually exclusive.
D’Souza challenged the process set forth during the Civil Rights Movement that would lead to a sort of natural representation. He presented to the audience his interpretation of Martin Luther King’s premise: outlaw racism, and equality will come about naturally. D’Souza went on to say this view is flawed, in that it sees racism as the greatest obstacle to minorities, while in fact, D’Souza argued, it is the existence of cultural differences.
The statistics show, D’Souza said, if a random sample of students were given a test today Asians and Whites would score highest, Hispanics would score in the middle, and Blacks would score on the lower tier. Racism has been outlawed, at least legally, said D’Souza, and yet this pattern is alive and well. His explanation for this appealed to attitudinal and cultural differences rather than any genetic or racial differences. “Racism is not the problem,” D’Souza said, and the real problem “has much more to do with conditions in inner cities and poor public schools.” He added, “Affirmative Action camouflages the problem by proportional representation, but what is needed is not representation but development.”
After the lecture, D’Souza asked for questions from the audience. One question concerned the domination of African-Americans in professional sports today. D’Souza explained it was a perfect example of merit generating inequality. Once you accept only on the basis of merit, different groups will dominate while others will be reduced to minorities.
Another member of the audience challenged D’Souza’s idea that Affirmative Action was simply a “liberal remedy.” She appealed to the existence of structural racism and the practice of red-lining inner city districts to defend the “liberal view.” She went on to say that one cannot give up on the Civil Rights acts now, and that the key was to ensure the enforcement of the laws.
D’Souza answered by saying that each group must take matters into their own hands if anything is to be done. “Whites have to respect a black man living in a two story house,” D’Souza stated, quoting Booker T. Washington. “The ultimate refutation of white racism,” D’Souza said, “is black achievement and excellence.” He brought his talk to a close with these thoughts, and ended on an optimistic note. “When blacks achieve in a competitive environment, racism will be deprived of its empirical foundation. Once this is done, we will be on the verge of a cultural renewal,” he said.
The Garfield Republican Club was pleased with D’Souza and the campus’s reaction. GRC President Emeritus Matthew Jeffers ‘98, said, “(The club) wanted D’Souza to come speak because he is a dynamic speaker who is an expert in his field.” He added, “His views and his arguments for them are motivated more by rationality than by a political agenda, and for this reason I think his lecture appealed to a large percentage of the campus.”
While a large crowd attended the lecture, only a few students came to the reception afterwards in the Faculty Lounge. Despite this fact, the talk reverberated throughout the campus that evening.
Some attacked D’Souza’s copious figures and statistics, and several students found that D’Souza could not be taken seriously because they found his statistics unreasonable. But there were other arguments as well.
“I agree with his view that the best way to combat racism is through excellence,” said Enuma Menkiti ‘01. “But he completely ignored the political, social, and cultural history of this country. How can Blacks or Hispanics achieve if many of us are not allowed the educational, social, or monetary foundation to achieve D’Souza’s so-called ‘excellence’?”
C. J. Tyson ‘01, agreed. “If a person, or a people, try to pull themselves up and get knocked down and pull themselves up and get knocked down, do you really think that they are going to try very hard to pull themselves up if they know what the outcome will be?”
Overall, D’Souza was pleased with his visit to Williams. He was recently embroiled in a debate at Brown University, one which he could only call “stormy.” He expected a more aggressive response from the Williams audience, but said he was very pleased with the civilized tone of the debate. He said he enjoyed coming to Williams. “I’m a would-be teacher,” D’Souza said. “If I wasn’t doing what I do, I’d be teaching. When I come to Williams…well, this is as close as I get.”