Last Fall, faculty and students arriving in the Wasserstein Hall in Harvard Law School found black tape on the portraits of several black faculty members. The discovery caused an immediate uproar. Stories appeared in the Boston Globe, the New York Times, CNN, and the Guardian, among many others.
By noon on the day of the discovery, hundreds of students and faculty members had gathered in a community meeting. Law School Dean Martha Minow announced: “Racism exists in America and in the United States and in Harvard and in Harvard Law School.” She called racism a “serious problem” at Harvard. The president of the student body called the incident “a pretty clear act of intolerance, racism.” The President of the Harvard Black Law Student Association described it as “one of the most clear-cut, overt instances of very, very vile and disrespectful behavior.” A second year law student said: “I’m disgusted and outraged that it happened, but I’m also not surprised. Microaggressions and macroagressions happen every day, and that’s the reality of being a student of color at Harvard ….”
Reaction among the black faculty members themselves was more restrained. Professor Charles J. Ogletree said that he was “still waiting to learn more about the incident before making too strong a judgment.” And in an op-ed column the following week, Professor Randall Kennedy cautioned:
The identity and motives of the person or people behind the taping have not been determined…. Perhaps the defacer is white. But maybe not. Perhaps the taping is meant to convey anti-black contempt or hatred for the African-American professors. But maybe it was … a hoax meant to look like a racial insult in order to provoke a crisis.
In the days following the discovery of the tape, Dean Minow stepped back, albeit subtly. In a statement to the Law School faculty and students immediately following the discovery, she had pronounced herself “outraged.” A week later, in a statement to alumni, her “outrage” had vanished, and she pronounced herself merely “shocked and saddened.” In the earlier statement to faculty and students, she had called the incident “a hate crime.” A week later, writing to alumni, she referred to it as “a possible hate crime.” If these verbal modifications seem minor, remember that this is Harvard Law School, where students are taught to dissect the language of statutes and contracts, and to hunt for shades of difference.
Then last week, the Harvard Crimson reported that the University Police Department was shutting down its investigation.
There were no protests. There were no demonstrations.
What happened to the outrage? Continue reading