D'Souza, Masters spar on racism: Students flock to hear conservative commentator and professor
Government Professor Roger Masters and conservative scholar Dinesh D'Souza '83 squared off in a debate last night on whether or not racism was still a big problem in America.
Speaking before a standing-room only crowd in 105 Dartmouth Hall, Masters argued that racism was still a big problem in this country, especially what he called "covert racism."
Defining racism as "anything which will harm members of a specific out-group on the grounds of their supposed innate or natural inferiority," Masters said, "racism is a recurring problem in human affairs, it will never end."
D'Souza -- a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think-tank in Washington, D.C., and the author of the recently released book "The End of Racism" -- contended that racism, although still a problem in America, was not the main reason behind unequal achievements of black Americans.
Instead, D'Souza said "black culture" was the main reason for the inequality in American society and, even if racism was ended today, this inequality would still exist.
In his 20-minute opening statement, Masters said, "We have to understand the problem of racism as a potential problem as more or less ubiquitous particularly in any complex society such as our own."
He outlined three types of racism that exist in American society today-- overt, covert, and intellectual racism.
Masters defined overt racism as conscious, explicit and emotionally committed hostility to "them." Masters said although the problem of overt racism has evolved, it still exists and D'Souza does not understand its new dynamics.
Masters gave the example of the reaction to the O.J. Simpson trial as an example of how serious the problem of racism is.
"The problem of overt racism is not what it does to blacks. The problem with overt racism is what it does to whites," he said. "It decays our capacity for civility."
Masters defined covert racism as "institutions and habits that have racist consequences without requiring overt acts of racism."
Masters described incidents of covert racism against Native Americans during the early years of the country and drew parallels between them and blacks in America today.
"In our cities, blacks are progressively being forced into a position of very uncomfortable resemblance to that of Native Americans," he said.
Masters concluded with his idea of intellectual racism. He said "the problem with conservative libertarians," such as Mr. D'Souza, is that they ignore the effects of structural racism and do not understand how things such as lead content in the air and water, and bottle feeding of babies can affect one's I.Q. and performance in society.
During his opening statement, D'Souza said there is a basic conflict between "equality of rights for individuals" and "equality of results for groups" in America.
He said equal rights do not necessarily lead to equal results, as most liberals and cultural relativists contend should happen. Even if we believe all cultures to be equal, he said, achievement in America may not reflect that view.
Using the recent affirmative action dispute at the University of California at Berkeley as an example, he said if the university abandoned its affirmative action policy, the school would be more than 90 percent white and Asian, clearly not representative of the society as a whole.
But he said racism is not to be blamed for this. Instead, he said affirmative-action policies paradoxically "fight discrimination by practicing it."
According to D'Souza, it is a mistake to legislate equality for groups at the expense of equality for individuals.
He said the root of the problem lies in the underachievement of black Americans, who consistently fall below whites and Asians in non-biased measures such as the math section of the Scholastic Assessment Test.
D'Souza said whites and Asians from families that make less than $20,000 a year score higher on the SAT math and verbal sections every year than blacks from families making more than $60,000.
He blamed this poor performance on "black culture" that "is characterized by a tremendous amount of racial paranoia, high reliance on the government, hostility to academic achievement because academic success is equitable to 'acting white,' the normalization of illegitimacy and an epidemic of crime."
"We have seen a cultural breakdown in our society, one that is in national in scope, but one whose impact is particularly harsh, particularly for blacks," he said.
To combat the problem, D'Souza said we should implement policies that serve to strengthen the black community and wean them from a dependence on the federal government, which has proved ineffective.
"We should work to strengthen cultures of decency and work to undermine and change cultures of irresponsibility," he said.
D'Souza concluded his statement by saying black Americans should work to raise cultural standards because cultural breakdown, rather than racism, is the main problem they face.
After their opening statements, Masters and D'Souza each had five-minute rebuttals and closing statements. The two also fielded questions from the audience.
In his rebuttal, Masters rejected the idea that the government never succeeds at solving problems. He said the "number of policeman per capita and the dollar per capita spent on welfare" reduces crime.
He stressed in his closing statement that there is a tendency to ignore structural problems of racism and to blame the victims of racism.
In D'Souza's rebuttal, he said "racism has become discredited in American life" and that practical solutions are available to the problems that face America. D'Souza closed by saying racism will end in America when blacks, as a group, are fully competitive with other groups.
Reaction to the debate was varied, although many thought D'Souza came out on top.
"Going into the debate, I thought D'Souza would be a closed-minded conservative, but I found that what he said made a surprising amount of sense," James Mok '98 said
Zach Holt '98 said, "I thought Masters would run away with it, but there was a surprising showing by D'Souza. It makes me want to read the book."
Kevin Colan '98 said, "Masters' style was poor. His arguments were emotionally appealing, but they were not as rationally strong as D'Souza's. D'Souza won as far as rhetoric was concerned."
D'Souza said after the debate that he "expected a harsher tone in the debate and I armed myself with humor to meet it."
"Surprisingly, it was a rational and civil exchange and there was a 50 percent area of agreement between us," he said. "The debate was unmarred by name calling."
The event was sponsored by the Ernest Martin Hopkins Institute, the Council on Student Organizations, the McSpadden Public Issues Forum, the Dartmouth Speakers Union and the Conservative Union at Dartmouth.
History Professor Charles Wood moderated the debate.