To the extent that historians in 50 years comment on Adam Falk’s tenure, their discussion will focus on his decision to ban John Derbyshire from Williams and the larger debate over free speech on campus. (Key previous threads start here, here and here.) Let’s spend two three weeks going through Falk’s two main discussions of this decision: his extended defense last year as published in the Chronicle of Higher Education and his Washington Post swan song. Day 13.

Falk’s main argument is that one article by Derbyshire, “The Talk: Non-Black Version,” makes his presence at Williams unacceptable. Falk does not so much argue against the substance of Derbshire’s views as point-and-sputter in their general direction. Falk (accurately) quotes Derbyshire:

(10a) Avoid concentrations of blacks not all known to you personally.

(10b) Stay out of heavily black neighborhoods.

First, we should always be interested in what other people tell their own children. Recall that the context is “The Talk” that African-American parents give their children about the dangers inherent in interactions with the police. Derbyshire writes:

There is a talk that nonblack Americans have with their kids, too. My own kids, now 19 and 16, have had it in bits and pieces as subtopics have arisen. If I were to assemble it into a single talk, it would look something like the following.

I certainly believe that Derbyshire is telling the truth. I also doubt that he is some weird outlier. You really think that he is the only parent in America who tells their children to stay out of certain neighborhoods? Most of us, of course, don’t put it so crudely. We tell our children to be wary of “bad” neighborhoods and “poor” neighborhoods. But, in the vast majority of US cities, the exact terminology does not change the recommended action. If you stay out of “poor” neighborhoods, you will also stay out of “black neighborhoods.”

Second, even if Derbshire is the only racist in America, it sure seems like the rest of the country is following his advice. Go to the black neighborhood in your city. How many white/Asian teenagers do you see? How many from outside the neighborhood? How many middle class or richer? Very few non-poor, non-black teenagers spend any unsupervised time in “heavily black neighborhoods.” You may decry this fact, but you can hardly blame Derbyshire for it.

Third, note Falk’s hypocrisy. You can be certain that his teenage children have almost never spent any unsupervised time in a heavily black neighborhood. And that is OK! My children haven’t either. Have your children? Of course, Falk never says the words to his children that Derbyshire said his, but the actual reality of their lived experience is probably identical.

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