Why is it, a gentleman asked me recently, that black people tend to view political conservatism as synonymous with racism?
Well, in the first place, not all blacks do see the two things as synonymous. After all, the country has a fair number of black conservatives. In the second place, there are some conservative ideas that hardly any black person would view as racist: calls for a return to the gold standard, for instance. In the third place, there is the Dartmouth Review, a few issues of which might go a long way toward answering the gentleman's question.
The two-year-old Review, an unofficial student paper published off campus, has been in the news of late because some of its "satire" has struck some readers as resoundingly unfunny, because the Review's unofficial adviser, one Prof. Jeff Hart, struck President Reagan as a resoundingly good choice for membership on the National Council on the Humanities, and because a black faculty member at the Hanover, N.H., school struck one of the paper's founders resoundingly in the chops.
The black professor apparently had confused a piece of conservative satire (attacking the college's modest affirmative-action efforts) with racism. The piece, "Dis Sho' Ain't No Jive, Bro," was written by staffer Keeney Jones entirely in what Jones imagined to be black dialect:
"Today, the 'ministration be slashin' dem free welfare lunches for us po' students. How we 'posed to be gettin' our GPAs (grade point averages) up when we don't be havin' no food? Dem lunch womans be spoonin' our sprigs cat-sup, and makin' racist comments 'bout our 'bility to work. 'Fyu be expectin' us to tink, you best be giving us fus dibs on da food line. . . . And who be mouthn' 'bout us not bein' good read? I be pracenticly knowin' Roots cova to cova, til my mine be boogying to da words! An' I be watchin' the Jeffersons on TV til I be blue in da face."
And so on.
Prof. Hart's contribution, apparently not intended as satire, was a piece entitled "Black Is Boring," in which he opined that 20 years of talking about the race issue is more than plenty. He had just seen a TV talk show on which "two prominent blacks were . . . attempting to make a very big deal of the Reagan administration's policy on tax exemption for schools that do not admit blacks."
"The whole black act has become a bore," he wrote. "In my judgment, the whole country is ready to change the subject. Let's talk about the Chinese or something."
It isn't necessary to be either black or liberal to find much of the paper's content in questionable taste--as the conservative Jack Kemp recently made clear when he resigned from the Review's advisory board.
Conservative columnist William F. Buckley, who once described the paper as "a vibrant, joyful, provocative challenge to the regnant but brittle liberalism for which American colleges are renowned," was less concerned.
"I don't see in it any of the meanness that is attributed to it," he told me. "I see a lot of satire and lampoonery. The Jones piece struck me as satire. Grown-ups can acknowledge that satire can be mean-spirited or not. You sometimes reach a point where nothing can be said about group characteristics . . . without raising charges of racism. That doesn't mean that I myself would have published the piece, but I might have when I was 21 years old."
And President Reagan, who has described the Review as "an impressive paper," appointed Prof. Hart to the National Council on the Humanities.
The Dartmouth faculty, on the other hand, has voted overwhelmingly to condemn the publication on the ground that its "racist" articles are polarizing the college. The undergraduate student council approved a similar resolution the day after Samuel Smith, the black associate director of the alumni fund, was charged with assaulting Benjamin Hart, who was attempting to distribute copies of the Review at the alumni center. Benjamin Hart, 22, is son of Prof. Jeff Hart and a founder of the Review. Smith pleaded "no contest" to a charge of simple assault.
I suppose I can understand the 53-year-old Smith's overreaction. That doesn't mean that I myself would have punched out young Hart. But I might have when I was 21 years old.