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White people should not teach about black history, Harvard newspaper editor opines

‘Why would a class about stories integral to Black culture be taught by someone with no lived experience in that culture?’

A Harvard University newspaper editor recently argued that the university should prohibit white professors from teaching about black culture and history.

Ian Svetkey (pictured) recounted a recent experience that unsettled him.

“When I was looking through courses this semester, I noticed that the professor of a class about narratives of individuals who were enslaved was a white man,” he wrote in an op-ed published Monday morning.

“That didn’t sit right with me. Why would a class about stories integral to Black culture be taught by someone with no lived experience in that culture?” the editor for The Harvard Crimson wrote.

Before explaining his reasoning further, Svetkey delves into the ways he is and is not privileged.

“As a straight, cisgender, white man from an upper-middle-class family, I come from an awful lot of privilege,” Svetky wrote. Though he said he has “felt the effects of discrimination through my friends and my mom, who works as a lawyer, while my dad stays home…but that’s not remotely the same.”

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“This lack of lived experience means I have to be careful when talking about injustice,” he wrote. “I can, and should, educate myself on the topic — oppressed people shouldn’t bear the sole responsibility of teaching others about their trauma.”

He then returns to his main point that white professors should not be teaching about the experiences of racial minorities.

Svetkey wrote:

So regardless of how qualified white professors are, I really don’t think they should be teaching classes explicitly focused on the experiences of other racial or ethnic groups. Of course, these topics need to be taught, and at a less-well-funded school, a white teacher might be the only person available. 

After again acknowledging his own privilege, the newspaper editor returns to his argument.

“I’m sure the white professors teaching about Black history are knowledgeable. But that doesn’t mean they should be the ones teaching those classes,” he wrote.

“As someone who’s never faced discrimination, I ask those in my position to understand our shared lack of experience, and therefore to be more cognizant of when to talk and when to shut up — even when it’s easy to keep talking,” he wrote.

“Because the only people who can truly understand prejudice are those who have been on the wrong side of it,” Svetkey wrote. “There are many things I can and should do with the platform my privilege affords me. Telling someone else’s story for them is not one of those things.”

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IMAGE: Ian Svetkey/LinkedIn

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