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An Improbable ‘Fraternity’

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Posted on Mar 29, 2013
AP/Michael Dwyer

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas speaks at College of the Holy Cross after receiving an honorary degree last year.

By Shaun Randol

(Page 3)

Randol: Were there questions that went unanswered? Or subjects that were off-limits?

Brady: There was a lot of reminiscing about Thomas where it was hard to tell whether people were projecting in light of their current views of him: sexism, jokes, that sort of thing. I have a little bit of that in there, but not as much because it felt like sometimes there was an agenda to the person telling the story.

At the same time, Thomas has a life script that he has to fit Holy Cross into, because Holy Cross diverges significantly from that life script. In his own memoir, very little space is dedicated to Holy Cross, something like four pages, and yet it was such an important period in his life. He loves Holy Cross, hated Yale, and yet to give it four pages while spending dozens and dozens of pages on his grandfather and chores—there’s a kind of mythology that you create when something doesn’t quite fit.

Randol: In what ways were the men unprepared for Holy Cross and vice versa?

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Brady: There was a mixed degree of preparedness. For somebody like Wells, for example, he had been a winner in an all black community, so he was a high achiever in sports and academics. To go from that to a somewhat isolated campus with different, Irish, Polish kids from the Boston area would have been a culture shock, regardless of skin color.

I don’t think they were prepared for how isolated they would feel. Both the isolation of Worcester and the isolation of just having so few people you knew at the time when consciousness about being black was high.

What way was the college not prepared? I think it’s very similar to the biases people have today with women or blacks or any other way we slice and dice ourselves—the assumption that if they were black that they weren’t deserving to be there. One thing Wells hated in particular was that if you were there on an athletic scholarship or perceived to be, people would automatically knock IQ points off because they would assume you wouldn’t get in academically. So he felt a need to prove himself against that.

I think the college also wasn’t prepared, frankly, for the assertiveness of this group. Once you had 20 of them, you’ve got the entitlement of youth, camaraderie, the power of the civil rights movement, and the sense that they’re visibly different and have different needs, and they were open about expressing those needs.

Randol: That sense of responsibility and obligation may be transferring to Latino college students, because now they’re getting into universities in sizable numbers. They’re starting to find a voice, and they’re feeling somewhat empowered by some of the things President Obama is doing in terms of immigration reform.

Brady: What’s different today, relatively speaking, is that the societal responsibility that we have to each other—to have equal opportunities—is not there in the same degree that it was there in the late ’60s.

Now, again, you had MLK. There was a moment in time. I’m not saying it continued, necessarily, but one thing that is interesting with Ted Wells is that he feels that all the talk about diversity does, in a way, denude the unique nature of the black experience in this country, with slavery and the way African-Americans are viewed. He feels something has been lost in the conversation by having it become everything from somebody who has just arrived from China and they’ve got a million dollars in their pocket, versus somebody whose ancestors were brought over as slaves, and the mindset that creates. It’s not all the same and it all can’t fall under the same category of “you’re not a white man, ergo you’re a part of diversity.” He feels a bit of wistfulness that something is being lost.

Randol: There’s not a singular minority experience.

Brady: And there’s not a push to right a wrong.

Randol: In the black community as well, do you think?

Brady: I think the black community now talks about the battle being financial. There was a time when entrepreneurship was big in the black community because you couldn’t get served [because of segregation]. You had an entire ecosystem of black businesses serving black consumers the same way you do now for Latinos. That ecosystem doesn’t exist so much today, probably for a lot of reasons, access to capital, who knows what? African-Americans have one of the lowest rates of starting businesses; they have real disappointment not so much with African-American women but certainly with black men, that they’re not succeeding in college. I think there’s a bit of angst over how to address these problems because they’re happening on so many different levels.


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