In 1920, Lydia C. Chamberlain, a woman from Des Moines who moved to Manhattan, donated her $500,000 estate to create a fellowship at Columbia University. The fellowship had a few restrictions. Notably, recipients were not allowed to study “law, medicine, dentistry, veterinary surgery or theology.” Ha. Seems reasonable. Oh, and the recipients had to be from Iowa and had to move back to Iowa after completing their studies.
This kind of dead-hand control should really not be allowed in our modern, global society, but that’s not why the “Lydia C. Roberts graduate and traveling fellowships” is making news today. It’s making news because the other restriction is that recipients of the fellowship have to be white. “Of the Caucasian race” is the exact formulation.
This isn’t just a story about racism, it’s a story about institutional advantages white people have that some of them pretend to not even be aware of…
Just because I know that this story will inspire all the racists against affirmative action, let me point out the difference between having race as one factor among many versus making something available only to white people. For instance, I’m sure the force and effect of this scholarship would be substantially the same if it simply restricted access to people from Iowa. There aren’t a lot of brothers in Iowa, if you know what I’m saying.
But no, Chamberlain felt the need to specify “of the Caucasian race,” and it appears that Columbia just now figured out that this is illegal. From the New York Daily News:
The Ivy League school is asking a judge to change some requirements of the Lydia C. Roberts graduate and traveling fellowships – which limit recipients to people born in Iowa who are “of the Caucasian race.”
Lucy Drotning, the university’s associate provost, filed an affidavit in Manhattan Supreme Court last week to support a prior action made by the fund’s administrator, JPMorgan Chase Bank, claiming the racist provisions set in 1920 are grossly outdated.
“Circumstances have so changed from the time when the Trust was established” that complying with the restrictions are “impossible,” the filing says.
“Columbia University is now prohibited by law and University policy from discriminating on the basis of race.”
Again, there are other ways to skin this cat if this is what you want. With scholarships “intended” for black people, they use euphemisms like “urban.” Yay urban achievers! I’m sure the fellowship for “rural Iowans” wouldn’t have gone to a black person for a thousand years.
But it seems like they really wanted to stick it to black people. Not just this old lady from the 20s. Also post-war Columbia University:
The university’s action to change some of the requirements sharply contradicted the support it once gave for the fellowship in 1949, when the NAACP called on the school to discontinue the discriminatory fund.
Grayson Kirk, then provost for the university, said in an Associated Press article at the time that “we do not feel we are justified in depriving some of our students of the benefits of restricted grants simply because they are not available to everyone.”
Grayson Kirk, you are probably dead now. Too bad you didn’t live long enough to see your name besmirched with your own thoughts. But here’s the quote that really gets me:
“I didn’t even know there were requirements of race,” said Douglass Gross, a Des Moines attorney who was awarded the fellowship in 1976 to study at the university’s School of International Affairs.
“All I knew is that you had to be from Iowa,” he said. “And, since I was from Iowa, it was pretty easy to do.”
You see, there are white people running around here who have been helped out in their lives just because they are white, and they don’t even know it. That’s the luxury of being white in America: good stuff happens to you and you don’t even have to question why.
I can’t get a job without some toothless yokel somewhere INCORRECTLY telling me that I only got my job “because I’m black.” Every day I’ve got people who couldn’t standardize-test themselves out of a paper bag telling me that I got into school “because I’m black,” despite having zero information on my academic credentials. Then there’s the one black Supreme Court justice who tries to tell me that the only way to stop idiot white people from making stupid assumptions is to discontinue helping black people to level the playing field. I swear to Christ, if somebody gave me a free freaking sandwich I’d have white people on one shoulder telling me that it’s not fair, black people telling me not to accept the white man’s charity, and a Korean bragging about how he got up at five in the morning to start making the damn sandwich.
MEANWHILE… Attorney Douglass Gross of Des Moines Iowa got free tuition and doesn’t even know why. Douglass Gross — the Iowa CHAIRMAN of Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign — got free tuition on a racist scholarship, yet has the luxury of never having to question how he got a leg up in this race. “All I knew is that you had to be from Iowa.” I’d bet ALL THE MONEY IN MY POCKET that at some point this guy has derisively referred to “takers” and doesn’t considered himself to have gotten “handouts” based on his race. Institutional racism isn’t some guy in a hood burning crap on your lawn. It’s guys like this who will look at you with a straight face and say “I’ve worked for every penny I’ve gotten,” oblivious to the fact that all the levers are pulled in their direction.
In any event, that’s the bitch of this scholarship. Not just that it exists: all kinds of racist stuff happened in the 20s. What, you think Jay Gatsby really listened to Jay-Z music?
No, the bitch of it is that in the time Columbia gave out this fellowship (they stopped in 1997), countless numbers of white people from Iowa have been helped out just ’cause they’re white people from Iowa, and they don’t even know it. They don’t consider themselves beneficiaries of racial injustice. And many of them don’t try to even the score.
Columbia University seeks to change ‘Caucasians only’ requirement for fellowship [New York Daily News]