Black On Campus
Higher Education and the African American Experience

Two Great Words that Work Well Together

December 15th, 2006 by Ajuan Mance

If I really wanted the title of this post to sounds like that 1970s peanut butter cup commercial, I should have written”two great tastes that taste great together,” but I couldn’t bear to write a sentence that was deliberately incorrent. Mind you, I have no problem with making grammatical errors by accident…

Some might imagine that as an African American, I am much more likely to make such errors than my white counterparts, given that I must certainly have been invited to attend college and graduate school only as a result of the over-generous, ill-conceived, and guilt-ridden efforts of said institutions to “diversify” their campus populations through affirmative action. For many opponents of those admission and recruitment initiatives that are lumped under that infamous heading, such efforts amount to little more than wrong-headed attempts to “right past wrongs,” to make up for the racial injustices of the pre-civil rights era by loading up on African American students, with little regard to ability or proven academic success. Such is the mythology around affirmative action, a mythology whose folly was recently illustrated with stunning ignorance by the editors of , Primary Source, a student-run conservative magazine produced at Tufts University student magazine.

If you haven’t already heard the not-so-good news, the editors of Primary Source, the second oldest conservative publication of its kind, recently published a parody of the Christmas carol “O Come All Ye Faithful” titled “O Come All Yet Black Folk.” The an editor at Primary Source recently apologized for the carol, explaining that it was intended as a critique of affirmative action, but acknowledging, “that the purpose of the carol was not clearly communicated.” The lyrics of the carol are as follows:

O Come All Ye Black Folk
Boisterous, yet desirable
O come ye, O come ye to out university
Come and we will admit you,
Born in to oppression;
O come, let us accept them,
O come, let us accept them,
O come, let us accept them,
Fifty-Two black freshmen.

O sing, gospel choirs,
We will accept your children,
No matter what your grades are F’s D’s or G’s
Give them privileged status; We will welcome all.
O come, let us accept them,
O come, let us accept them,
O come, let us accept them,
Fifty-Two black freshmen.

All come! Blacks, we need you,
Born into the ghetto.
O Jesus! We need you now to fill our racial quotas.
Descendents of Africa, with brown skin arriving:
O come, let us accept them,
O come, let us accept them,
O come, let us accept them,
Fifty-two black freshmen

Affirmative and action: two words that, taken individually, have relatively positive connotations; and yet when used alongside one another they have the peculiar effect of leading otherwise intelligent people to draw on some of the oldest, most hackneyed and offensive stereotypes applied to African Americans. “O Come All Ye Black Folks” is a case in point. Despite their regular contact–in classes, in the dorms, in the locker room, in the library, and on the playing field–with highly motivated, academically sound, intellectually engaged Black students, the editors of Primary Source remain mired in a perception of African Americanness that sounds more like the setup for an episode of 1970s, Norman Lear sitcom.

Nearly 170 after the first African American college was founded, 233 years after the poet Phillis Wheatley became the first African American to publish a book, and in an era when African Americans are found throughout academe, enrolled as students, and employed at all levels of the administration and the faculty, Black people remain, to this small and hopefully non-representative group of student editors, loud, self-pitying, underachievers.

In the end, thought, I think that the last line of the refrain speaks volumes about the real intent of this racist carol: “Fifty-two black freshman.” Before the landmark 1978 legal case The Regents of the University of California v. Bakke ended the use of quotas in college admission, much of the affirmative action debate centered around the ethics of that practice–of the fairness of the use of quotas in selective admissions. Curiously enough, many affirmative action opponents continue to cite their opposition to the long defunct practice of quota-based admissions as the basis for their rejection of diversity initiatives.

In the this post-Bakke era, however, the sad reality is that much of the opposition to affirmative action and its perceived preferential treatment for African American applicants is truly about a fundamental discomfort on the part of many non-Black students and alumni with the simple presence of Black students on campus.

Perhaps for the student editors Primary Source, a mere 52 young Black men and women, in a freshman class of 1284 students, is sufficient to diminish the quality of their Tufts experience. Maybe it is as simple as what Patricia Williams suggested in The Alchemy of Race and Rights, that when Black people become associated with an elite institution, an elite art form, or any elite place or pursuit, that space or activity loses some of its prestige for its white participants. It simply becomes less special.

52 Black men and women out of a class of 1284 are a sufficient basis to compose and print a racist “carol,” that suggests that none of those students have truly earned their place in the entering class. The implication is that their presence on Tufts campus sullies the entire institution. Did their applications sully the entire applicant pool? Is this the new 1 drop rule? Is this the new version of draining the entire pool because 1 “colored person” has attempted to swim in it?

Posted by Ajuan Mance

Posted in African Americans, Current Events, Higher Education, My Favorite Blogs

5 Responses

  1. Kevin Morris

    Primary Source bills itself as Tufts’ Journal of Conservative Thought. If the carol in question is representative, then it seems to me that with respect to Primary Source, Conservative Thought is an oxymoron. If they are going to be against something, they should at least understand what it is that they are against. If they believe, as implied by their so called satirical critique of affirmative action, that their African American counter parts are loud, economically and academically poor students whose presence at Tufts is due only to their skin color and a quota, then they are either deficient or dishonest in their criticism. Either way, the quality of thought expressed is decidedly poor.

    Primary Source says that their motto is Truth Without Sorrow. In my opinion, they have not done their motto proud with this effort. They say that their somewhat murky point is that policies of racial preference serve to perpetuate racial stereotypes. I contend that featuring those very stereotypes in their protected speech does more to perpetuate them than so called racial preferences.

    I believe that all parties would be best served by honest and open dialog instead of a contest of closed minds seeking to inflame passions without regard to reason. Let’s say that I myself am against racial preferences. Many might interpret that statement to mean that I am against affirmative action. Not so fast! You must understand that racial preferences existed before affirmative action and will continue to exist should affirmative action be dismantled.

    The fact of the matter is that white priviledge has existed and continues to exist, irrespective of affirmative action. This is a defacto racial preference. It seems to me that arguably affirmative action can be viewed as a counter balance to inherent social and institutional bias. Is affirmative action necessary? I contend that some sort of counter balance is needed if we really want a color neutral society. I say color neutral because I’m not so naive as to believe that color blind is really a pratical near-term objective. I also don’t think that affirmative action is particularly effective. I would rather see an honest effort to achieve equal opportunity in all phases of society.

    So, if Primary Source is truly opposed to racial preferences, they should realize that the issue goes far beyond affirmative action. If they’re honest with themselves, they might find that they are actually only against racial preferences for minorities. How’s that for truth?

    Kevin Morris (E’79)
    Tufts University Alumnus

  2. Blackness Visible, Part III (”You’re Black, but You’re Not Really Black”) « Black on Campus

    […] songs, cartoons, and other “comic” material (like the affirmative action carol “O Come All Ye Black Folk”) that reinforce their association of Blackness, not with the stately buildings and well-manicured […]

  3. greenrascal

    affirmative action based on color is a joke and proof that the system is unfair and racist, people who are minorities demand the same rights and then some how is that fair? there are plenty of whites in america who either cant afford or dont have access to good schools why dont they enjoy the benefits put in place to serve ethnic minorities? especially considering that throughout our history these are the people we send to fight our wars and not just the idiotic ones like iraq but the good ones like WW1-WW. While it is true hat a couple hundred years ago these places were started by racist whites, it doesnt apply today, white people are so scared of the backlash for saying anything remotely “racist” that their to scared to do anything but heap love on everybody, frankly i find it to be a refreshing change of pace that these guys from the student magazine published that carol. god knows we have to put with being the butt of ridicule everyday, whether it be in comedy or in song (rap). Im not saying everybody should start making racist remarks to be funny now, but there has to be a balance or else one side becomes racist and frankly the balance tipped along time ago towards ethnic minorities, i mean don imus gets fired, these guys from the student paper get flack and all the while the racist rev. al sharpton is still given the spotlight (he is racist check online you will find numerous rants about jews and he even called a politician in NYC a ni@#er whore!) so where does it end? maybe we should only make fart jokes now, that way no one will get offended. anywho seems to me like the whites are gettin to much of the stick from the media, long live SOUTHPARK!!!

  4. MSoul

    Re: greenrascal

    “WW1-WW. While it is true hat a couple hundred years ago these places were started by racist whites, it doesnt apply today, white people are so scared of the backlash for saying anything remotely “racist” that their to scared to do anything but heap love on everybody, frankly i find it to be a refreshing change of pace that these guys from the student magazine published that carol.”

    Do you speak for all white people? In your post you are so comfortable with using “we”, assuming thats how every white person feels. Do you honestly know that every white person is scared of the backlash? The United States was established by racist whites, and racism DOES apply today. Institutionalized racism is in the nation’s laws, education systems, housing, careers and prisons. By negating racism, you are refusing to acknowledge it and preventing any effort to understand how it plays out. You participate in racism because you benefit from a system designed to keep certain people privileged and in positions of power. Its not about having to carefully tip-toe around which politically correct phrases to use, its about being respectful of other people. Next time an issue like this comes up, check yourself- are you reacting defensively or are you listening?

  5. BerlGoetz

    Please allow me to suggest that as students, racism is the least of our worries. It is a blame game that leads us away from personal reflection and towards a fixation on others. For me, the challenge is to completely eradicate the useless concept in race in all of my thinking.