Black On Campus
Higher Education and the African American Experience

The Quotable Black Scholar: Henry Louis Gates, Jr. on Affirmative Action and Hypocrisy

July 25th, 2009 by Ajuan Mance

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. in ranked #3 on the list of 2008’s most cited Black scholars in the humanities.


Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (b. 1950) with author Wole Soyinka (left) and scholar Cornel West (center).

(Source: Reuters)


For me, no matter how intelligent I may or may not be, for me to have been one of those six black boys who graduated from Yale in 1966, affirmative action was a class escalator. As far as I’m concerned, ladies and gentlemen, no one in the American academy has benefited more from affirmative action than I have. And that’s why I will go to my grave as an ardent and passionate defender of affirmative action. For me to become so successful in America, and for me to become a gatekeeper of American society and stand at the gate and protest affirmative action to keep out women or people of color would make me a hypocrite as big as Justice Clarence Thomas, and I’m not that kind of person. We need more affirmative action in this country, not less affirmative action. I don’t care what the White House says, and I don’t care what the minority on the Supreme Court says, and that’s the subject of my address this afternoon.

–Henry Louis Gates, Jr., from his 2008 commencement address at Berea College


Biographical Notes: Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and the
Director of the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Gates earned his B.A. at Yale University (History, summa cum laude). He holds an M.A. and a Ph.D. in English literature from Clare College at the University of Cambridge, where he was the first Black student to earn a doctorate in literature.

In addition, he has received 50 honorary degrees, from institutions including the University of Pennsylvania, Dartmouth College, Harvard University, New York University, University of Massachusetts-Boston, Williams College, Emory University, University of Toronto, Morehouse, the University of Benin, and others.

Gates is the editor of The Root.Com. He is also the author of several books, including The Signifying Monkey:
A Theory of Afro-American Literary Criticism
(winner of the 1989 American Book Award), Colored People: A Memoir (Knopf, 1994), and Finding Oprah’s Roots, Finding Your Own (Crown, 2007). His biography on the Harvard University website describes the impact of his discovery of previously forgotten Black women’s texts:

Professor Gates authenticated and published two landmark African American texts: Our Nig, or, Sketches from the Life of a Free Black (1859), by Harriet Wilson, the first novel published by an African American woman; and The Bondwoman’s Narrative by Hannah Crafts, one of the first novels written by an African American woman.

Posted by Ajuan Mance

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2 Responses

  1. SjP

    That is an amazing intro by Dr. Gates and the photo is even more amazing. It reminds me of a commencement ceremony I attended a couple of years ago. Dr. Soyinka walked pass in full “royal” academic regalia. He was truly an impressive sight to behold. Some folks sitting near me actually had the nerve, the audacity to mock his “clown suit” (their words not mine). I simply could not their mocking go without telling him that That MAN was the Nobel Laureate Dr. Wole Soyinka! Don’t know what shocked them more – that “this” institution had a Nobel Laureate – that the Nobel Laureate was Black – or that a Black person told them that he was a Nobel Laureate. Needless to say that it gave me “great hunks of joy” to tell them about this man in the “clown suit”.

  2. Clnmike

    One of the brilliant minds out there, but he is on my ish list for that police incident.

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