Dinesh D’Souza, notable author and speaker, visited the Colgate campus on Monday April 12, delivering a talk entitled “Obama and the End of Racism: Prospects for a Color Blind Society?” that sparked emotional and powerful discourse from a wide audience.
No stranger to controversy, D’Souza graduated from Dartmouth College in 1983 where he founded the critical and overtly conservative newspaper, The Dartmouth Review. Acclaim for his work at the Review led him to accept a job as a policy analyst on the White House staff during Ronald Reagan’s administration. Currently, an independent scholar at the Hoover Institute, a think tank associated with Stanford University, and author of numerous books, D’Souza focused the speech he delivered last Monday on addressing modern racism during an “interesting moment of race relations.”
During his lecture, D’Souza addressed several controversial points regarding racism on both a collegiate and national scale. According to D’Souza, Obama is the first African American politician that seems to place none of his own weight on his race as a catalyst to his popularity. D’Souza asserted that America, a country that has placed such a man in ultimate political power, could not be racist. Instead, it is the universities, which force the “institutionalizing” of race through the admissions process, who appear to be a step behind.
In an attempt to address this inconsistency regarding the very “liberal” universities in America, D’Souza brought the topic of affirmative action into the exchange. In discussing the origins of the policy, he spoke of the moral and political tensions that black civil rights leaders faced when determining whether other minority groups should be a part of affirmative action. Ultimately, he stated that the voting power gained by allowing more minorities to be written into the policies swayed the decision.
This discourse led to further debate of the policy as a whole and what D’Souza coined the “interesting problem.” While it is obvious that racism leads to the over and under representation of certain groups, a merit or a “color-blind” policy often has similar results. D’Souza cited the findings of standardized testing, in which race is consistently shown to be a factor of achievement, as an example of how “merit produces inequality.”
D’Souza then brought up the ideas of two very different, but equally influential black leaders, W.E.B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington. Ultimately, D’Souza’s argument came down to the issue of cultural disadvantages being a secondary problem to racism. While both thinkers believed that their race’s disadvantages were a “product of oppression,” Du Bois proposed agitation of the majority as a solution, while Washington proposed, “work” and the development of skill as the only way to overcome these cultural disadvantages.
Washington’s theory led D’Souza to define what he called the “great tragedy,” or the failure of the Civil Rights Movement to recognize that work, not agitation, as necessary for success. To argue this concept, he cited the recent, but “pre-Obama” trends of achievement in non-white immigrant populations, surpassing those of the African American population, a group that has been struggling for much longer.
While these events all occurred in a “pre-Obama” America, D’Souza continued his lecture by turning his focus to the Obama administration itself. He maintained that Obama is “immunizing white America” because “he steps away from the politics of race.” In fact, D’Souza contended that Obama’s ability to “transcend race” is a significant source of his popularity. To D’Souza, Obama is an example of refuting the “rumor of inferiority” by proving his success without excuse; this is what will need to be done in order to ultimately eliminate racism in America.
The question and answer period led to the introduction of a variety of heated arguments brought forth by both students and professors. D’Souza’s arguments were questioned regarding his approach to Booker T. Washington, his discussion of the origins of affirmative action and the reliability of his perspective on the subject at hand.
“It was obvious D’Souza worked for a think tank,” senior Ashley Niness said. “He slanted data to fit his agenda while providing anecdotes and analogies, which on the surface seemed to further his point, but in actuality over simplified a complex subject while conveniently ignoring important facts, statistics and issues.”
Contact Taylor Fleming at [email protected]