The response by administration to the recent defacement of the portraits of black professors and calls to remove racist symbols at the law school has frankly been nothing short of disappointing and inadequate. Students of color have been warned not to fall down the unbecoming path of self-victimization by blowing such individualized and obscure racist incidences out of proportion. Such statements truly exemplify why the self-congratulatory nature of this generation is more racially toxic than those that came before.
Allow me to explain. At least in past generations racism was palpable; it was in the streets, embodied within the segregation laws enforced in schools and in public spaces. Now, students of color must fight a more sinister and furtive evil, one that is entangled within the very institutions that shout diversity and welcome you with open arms, flattering you with shiny red folders on which an undignified symbol of torture and aggression is routinely printed and glorified without question.
Racism exists within the walls which continue to silence the voices of black and brown students yet assure us that we were searched for in the world. My question is why then were we searched for? Simply to be brought to a space that is indifferent to our experiences? Are we simply supposed to express gratitude for being “chosen” yet not question the academic content that construct the space in which we come to learn?
This op-ed will be short because by now, it should be self-evident why the Royall crest must be removed. The time for philosophical discussions on the matter has run its course. Discourse is undoubtedly important in understanding the nature and implications of objections and the repercussions of responding to objections, however when this is understood such discourse must be followed by tangible acts. Harvard law school commercializes yet fails to cater to its so-called diverse community and this can no longer be tolerated.
Administration can no longer fall back on the argument of shared responsibility. Certain grievances cannot simply be appeased by “turning and shaking the hand of your neighbor” or “making sure to talk to someone you have never spoken to before” especially in an environment that fosters and glorifies symbols that undermine social solidarity in the first place.
The crest falling will be the match the lights the bridge between discourse and action and will serve a first step, a promise for a more inclusive environment at the law school. Yes, symbols are important, and the removal of the crest will be symbolic in itself denoting that the school commits to change. The crest will fall. I am hopeful, because I do not want to imagine what it means for the future of students of color at this school should it remain.
Lindiwe Sibande is an LLM at Harvard Law School.