It is ironic that The New York Times would turn to Randall Kennedy for perspective regarding the current upheavals on American campuses, where allegations of racism have been surging in recent weeks.
Kennedy, yes, has been directly affected by the controversy. Harvard University Law School, where he teaches, was stunned two weeks ago (Nov. 19) by the discovery that black tapes had been placed over photos of black professors, including Kennedy.
I have been deeply touched by this and other happenings at Harvard, Yale, Princeton and other colleges. Back in the mid-1960s I was in that first cohort of African Americans accepted to Ivy League colleges in significant numbers. In my undergraduate years, between 1966 and 1970, I and black buddies of mine considered ourselves radicals. Some of us even possessed guns, in preparation for the revolution we were sure would happen.
Given my race sensitivities back then, how was it that in my four years at Yale I did not once hear the word nigger hurled by a white person, inflammatorily or otherwise?
Wondering if my memory was failing, I sent an email blast to some surviving black alumni, asking if they had heard the word. All half dozen who replied said no, never. Even before I received the replies, I knew why the n-word is being heard more today than two generations ago.
No one in the academic universe has promoted the use of “nigger” more effectively than Randall Kennedy.