Letter to the Editor: Policing Whites and Whiteness at HLS

The following piece was written before I learned of the anti-white racial language directed at my classmate Bill Barlow. Before I learned that “the beauty of Belinda Hall is that whiteness, in all its forms, including the obsession with persuading white allies, does not occupy the center.”  I wholly agree with Reclaim that racism has no place at Harvard Law.  I am now convinced, more than ever, that racism is alive and well at HLS.  But as long as the political left continues to legitimize anti-white racism and use it as a tool to achieve its goals, racial harmony will remain a dream deferred.

Try explaining American racism and discrimination to the Dominican spouse of a Harvard Law student in today’s campus climate.  It can get pretty confusing, but it’s something I have tried to do during the two years that my husband has lived with me as a member of the HLS community.  The greatest challenge is attempting to unpack our community’s struggle with “structural racism” when overt acts of discrimination toward whites and whiteness are common, accepted and openly encouraged.

Exhibit A is the following image, HLS’s official White Zone for speech, a stone monument of white segregation in our diverse community:
Though the White Zone may not bear that official name, a proxy for “white” screams from the top of the wall: “privileged.”  At HLS and in leftist parlance, “privileged” is code for white, usually white and male (but this is not a hard and fast rule; some argue, and I agree, that we are all privileged by virtue of attending HLS). “Privileged” as a descriptor is usually used as an insult and as an attack on whites and whiteness, whether or not a white individual enjoys any personal privileges beyond the color of their skin.  (As one of our colleagues eloquently reminds us, racial disparity in America is measurable, pervasive, and unacceptable.)
We are told that the White Zone and “white spaces” are the appropriate fora in which white students can express themselves.  What are those “white spaces”?  What makes a space “white”?  From what I can see, the only “white space” on campus is the aforementioned White Zone.  It is a scar on our community, one that I hope is dismantled and denounced by its creators as antithetical to the ideals of diversity and inclusion.
The fireside lounge isn’t the only place where whites and whiteness have been policed on campus.  Last year, a group of students in Lambda supported a “pro-diversity” bylaw that operated as a race and gender quota for the group’s board.  I believe that the rule was well-intentioned, but debate over the quotas divided a community that was otherwise universally in favor of diverse representation and participation in Lambda’s activities.  The only disagreement was how to achieve the ideals of diversity and inclusion.Detractors were labeled “anti-diversity” and “white supremacist.”  Discussions of the effects of such a quota were, at the time, theoretical.  Up to and including last spring’s elections, we did not have the white or male supermajority that the bylaw was intended to prevent.  Thus, when I stood up for the rights of a male or a white board member who might be stripped of their position on account of their gender or race—which would happen by invalidating the election results and forcing a series of elections until the quotas were met—I was only speaking about the hypothetical student.  But things have changed.

This year, in an uncontested election, Lambda elected a supermajority of white students to lead the organization.  If the former Dean of Students had not intervened and required removal of the bylaw, we would have seen this year’s election results invalidated.  We would have seen white students removed from the office to which they were elected solely on the basis of race, even though they bring to the board a diversity of experiences and viewpoints that, I am confident, will make them strong and effective as a group.

There are many reasons to support diversity, affirmative action, and even quotas, in a number of settings. I won’t argue those merits here.  But it is difficult to heed a call for diversity and inclusion when it is accompanied by segregation.  Power structures, imagined or real, do not justify targeting students because of the color of their skin—period. And if we continue to police whites and whiteness, diversity and inclusion at Harvard will be all the more difficult to achieve.

Stephen Manuel Silva is a 3L at Harvard Law School.