Letters to the Editor

Letters: September/October 2020

Readers talk back about racism and more.

We welcome readers’ letters, which should be emailed to yam@yale.edu; mailed to Letters Editor, Yale Alumni Magazine, PO Box 1905, New Haven, CT 06509-1905; or faxed to (203) 432-0651. Due to the volume of correspondence, we are unable to respond to or publish all mail received. Letters accepted for publication are subject to editing. Priority is given to letters of fewer than 300 words.

Thoughts on race in America

Note to readers:
The letters just below are an accurate cross-sample of those we received after publishing three essays on racism, written by Black professors at Yale for our July/August issue. Some of these letters are offensive, and the decision whether to print was a difficult one. We consulted the authors of the essays; they encouraged us to publish. In the end, we didn't want to leave readers thinking that Yalies have no flaws in this crucial area. We felt it was important for alumni to see that deep biases exist in our community.  


How ironic to have three incredibly privileged black Yale professors writing about racism in the country where they are working (“The Long Agony of Racism,” July/August). I would have been interested in having them name a country that is less racist than the United States. They might also, in the future, inform the Yale community when Canada or Mexico, or France or Germany, or Russia or China elect a black or minority president.
Raoul Benveniste ’67
Trappe, MD

Thanks to Professor Emily Greenwood (“Rewriting the end,” July/August) for her trenchant analysis of “race unspeakability.” As a 76-year-old white American, I remember the 1940s, when it was perilous for mixed-race couples to be seen on the street; driving through the American South in the ’50s, when chain gangs repaired the highways and apartheid was rife; spending three years in Brazil in the ’60s, where the blacker you were, the worse you were treated; and, recently, as a mentor-assessor at a cyber-university that enrolled a plethora of black women in its doctoral program in education but graduated very few, at great expense to all.
I agree with Greenwood and Professor Roderick Ferguson that black studies is more often “ornamental” than “actionable.” Toni Morrison said it best: “the proud but calcified language of the academy” and “language designed for the estrangement of minorities, hiding its racist plunder in its literary cheek . . . must be rejected, altered, and exposed.”
Peter Lownds ’66
Los Angeles, CA

I read with great interest the articles by three black faculty members. I empathize with them! It is difficult for me to imagine my having such experiences.

I agree we have systemic racism in many areas of public life. Much should be done to erase this. Perhaps your magazine could ask all three authors to write an article citing how each has overcome such racism allowing them to become privileged faculty members of Yale University. I would look forward to reading their stories!
I recall, while a student, discovering bigotry regarding my national background, my religion, and even my income disparity. Does this still exist on campus? How did I overcome?

Why is it at some institutions certain minority groups are allowed to live in separate dormitories, join certain sororities, fraternities? Isn’t this a return of “separate but equal”? I believe this is a return of segregation to the campus dictated by these groups. Obviously this official policy of the institution is an effort to avoid conflict. It is preferred rather than attempting to bring disparate groups together.

Finally, I refuse to be gulled or bullied by some groups whose beliefs and policies run counter to mine! I attended Yale to receive a great liberal arts education, and I intend to stand by what my education taught me—free inquiry, free exchange of conflicting ideas, the free market, free to live my life as a proud graduate!
Roland J. Garofalo ’53
Dewitt, MI

I agree with Emily Greenwood that “knowledge of African American literature, history, and culture [should be] part of every student’s Yale education.” My career in psychology included teaching at the college level. Soon after reading Greenwood’s essay, I was discussing her idea with a friend who taught English at Exeter for many years. Both of us grew up in the Jim Crow South. The longer we talked about this, the more excited we became. We concluded that our college educations would have been immeasurably deeper and more challenging if African American studies were integrated into the entire curriculum.

Imagine if every professor addressed lesson planning with the question “What needs to be part of this course to cover the relevant history of people of color and their intellectual contributions?” For example, what if freshman English included works by Toni Morrison and James Baldwin in addition to white authors? And then imagine acknowledgment of black contributions in classes on history, sociology, philosophy, music, law, psychology, art, drama—the whole curriculum. I wish my Yale education had been this complete.
David Shaw ’66
Portland, OR

Another article on “racism”? Surely there is another subject worth covering. The media are awash with articles on the subject, and everywhere one turns there is yet another piece on systemic racism, white racism, pernicious racism, historical racism, international racism.

The problem, however, is not only the profusion of articles on “racism,” but their predictable, unvarying approach: the focus on the presumed unremitting, illogical, and hysterical prejudice of white people and not on the actual, objective nature of social distinction.

White people are not suspicious of all people of color, but of those who are seen as outsiders, and unfortunately a large proportion of the black community is still isolated in dysfunctional inner-city communities with high rates of violent crime, single motherhood, poor educational attainment, unemployment, and incarceration. Most white people have willingly endorsed black people who are like them: Barack Obama, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, and many more. These black Americans have joined the mainstream and have endorsed well-known and well-established values of faith, family, integrity, discipline, hard work, and patriotism, among others. There is no persistent prejudice against them (in most but certainly not all quarters) because they are no longer “The Other,” the outlier, the socially marginal. Similarly, there is little prejudice against African scholars, artists, and historians—the elites of their countries who fit quickly into the intellectual echelons of American society.

“Racism” will not disappear until black people have willingly become part of the mainstream. This is human nature and the nature of human societies—conservative, suspicious, and self-interested since our earliest settlements. The issue, then, is not hectoring white people, hammering them with accusations of guilt, shame, moral lassitude, ignorance, and deep-seated, incorrigible prejudice; but acknowledging the fundamental reasons for negative attitudes and proposing measures to root out the causes.
Ronald Parlato ’64
Washington, DC

I have read the essays by Professors Gladney, Greenwood, and Jaynes three times trying to understand the black experience. I am 88 years old and have been retired for ten years since selling my small manufacturing business. I have been taking classes online with Coursera ever since. Presently I am enrolled in a Stanford class on Poverty and Inequality, which includes various forms of segregation.

Our family in North America started in 1634 when two brothers Boucher from Perche in Normandy, France, got off the boat in Tadoussac, Quebec. Both brothers chose wives from the local Algonquin tribe. My grandfather Joseph was the son of an Algonquin mother born in St. Fabian, Quebec. So, from a DNA perspective, we are a Norman, Celt, and Algonquin brew. Those two brothers from Normandy were carpenters, and so were my grandfather and my father. My brother and I worked at that trade starting at age 13, but only during summer school vacations.

During the summer of 1951, my brother and I were framing houses for my father’s construction firm in Willimantic, Connecticut. Exposed to the sun, we both acquired a very dark mahogany suntan. In mid-August, we drove to Kansas City to visit our uncle. When we tried to swim at the local public pool, we were informed that no blacks were allowed in the pool. We protested and stayed in the water. The lifeguard informed us, “Get your black asses out of that pool or I will call the police.” We climbed out of the pool, pulled down our swimming trunks, and showed him our white asses. That did not satisfy him one bit, and we were thrown out.
Robert J. Boucher ’55MEng
Los Angeles, CA

A mask for Yalies

Shouldn’t there be some kind—or many kinds—of protective Yale face mask for students and alumni to wear during the COVID-19 crisis? It seems a completely obvious idea, especially since several universities have done this.
Christopher Ogden ’66
Kalaheo, HI

Masks with a Yale “Y” and masks with the shields of each residential college are available at Campus Customs of New Haven at its online store (yalebulldogblue.com). The Yale Bookstore (yale.bncollege.com) was also planning to offer Yale masks this fall. —Eds.

Chester Bowles's legacy

I read with interest the article about Chester Bowles (“The Ad Man who Sold the War,” Old Yale, July/August), as it gave me additional background about the man who, along with fellow Yalie William Benton, founded the advertising agency where I started my career upon graduating from Yale’s first four-year class of women.
I joined Benton & Bowles two months after leaving Yale, thanks to some creative networking that landed me a coveted entry-level job. I was the first Yale college female hired at the agency, although I was initially unaware of the agency’s various Yale connections. My eight years at B&B taught me much, not only about the industry I would work in for 46 years, but also about the power of teamwork, strong leadership, and the positive impact of a caring and dynamic corporate culture.

The president and CEO during my B&B years, and beyond, was another Yalie, John S. (Jack) Bowen, Class of 1949. Jack was, and still is, a remarkable man, recognized for his leadership in the industry when he entered the Advertising Hall of Fame in 1992.

I’m happy to say that today Jack and I are good friends and still speak regularly. We both are very proud of having been a part of the venerable agency Chester Bowles and William Benton founded almost a century ago, even though it sadly no longer exists; B&B “died” in 2002, a victim of the drive to create larger and larger agency conglomerates. However, Jack and I are also proud of our times at Yale, and we often talk about our experiences from very different eras, memories that are still vivid to us today.
Victoria Morgan Amon ’73
Larchmont, NY
Your piece on Chester Bowles took me back in memory. After serving my two-year stint on active duty with the military, I came to New York and landed my first job with Benton & Bowles, one of the leading agencies of that day. The ’60s in New York was a storied time to have a job in the ad biz and a bachelor pad in the Village.

One of Bowles’s innovations was the advertising jingle, as you report. He is one of many people credited with this advice about when to employ a jingle: “When you’ve got nothing to say, sing it.”
Bowles and his partner surprised themselves with the personal fortunes they amassed so quickly, while still young. Asked by a colleague why he went into advertising, Bowles reportedly replied, “Well, I’m too nervous to steal.”
Jim Andrews ’60
Port Royal, SC


We put the wrong byline on a Findings article, “Don’t Blame it on the Medes,” in our January/February issue. It was written by Caroline Lester ’14, not by Bruce Fellman.

1 comment

  • Jonathan Freeman
    Jonathan Freeman, 11:05am September 27 2020 | Ico flag Flag as inappropriate

    Mr. Parlato opens his letter by lamenting “Another article on ‘racism’?”, then proceeds to show precisely why we must continue to work at these difficult conversations. The presumption of the virtue of the "mainstream," his insinuation that the virtues he lists as essential are lacking in those who fail or decline to thus conform, and most of all his ludicrous assertion that “there is little prejudice” against those who do so - all of these are the kind of casual, unexamined statements that a liberal arts institution ought to scrutinize and address.

    The responsibility for understanding and addressing the disparities that generate conflict and discord in our country is a shared one – here at least I agree with Mr. Parlato, to some extent – but it’s sad that in this letter at least, he demands so much of the marginalized without seeming to ask anything of himself.

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