Protecting Black People

Having been invited to be the inaugural speaker for Valencia Community College's Millennium Lecture Series, I looked forward with considerable anticipation to my trip to Orlando, Florida. But in route to the airport, my secretary relayed a telephone message, from Allen Byrd, a reporter for the Orlando Business Journal, that dampened some of my enthusiasm. The reporter, having just learned of my September 29th lecture the previous day, was wondering why the College had not sent out its usual plethora of press releases and media faxes, especially considering that the lecture was the first of a major lecture series.

According to Allen Byrd's interviews, reported in the October 4th edition of the Orlando Business Journal, there were two explanations: The first, from the college's public relations department said that "Williams is so popular that to have publicized the visit would have created and overflow crowd." That led Mr. Byrd to conclude, "Indeed, the college was so concerned it did not even tell its own public relations department that Williams was coming. Orlando Business Journal did."

Mr. Byrd says, "The second, entirely unofficial and completely off-the-record reason came to our attention by way of a quote: 'We do not want to give the appearance that Valencia shares his (Williams) views and that we believe this is the way African-Americans should act.'"

Valencia College staffers were acting under the instructions of the President Paul C. Gianini to keep a lid on my appearance. The President's response to his faculty electing me as guest lecturer is just another example of today's deceit, dishonesty and cowardice that has become part and parcel of America's institutions of higher learning. As such it's more evidence that colleges and universities are undeserving of American trust and generosity.

The public relations story about overflow crowd was a bald-faced lie. The lecture was held in the college's gymnasium. There were about 700 students and faculty in attendance. The gymnasium's capacity is about 2,000. The true reason for the President's actions was that he feared angering Central Florida's black community with my libertarian ideas.

But look at it. Conservative William Buckley has ideas that anger white people. I seriously doubt that, had Buckley been the speaker, President Gianini would have kept his visit secret out of fear of offending Central Florida's white community. He probably sees white people as mature enough to accept differences of opinion whereas for blacks it's a different matter - we need the sheltering and protection from ole massa.

President Gianini was out of the country during my visit but I couldn't have been treated more courteously and warmly by Valencia's faculty, students and the administrative staff. There were many black faculty and students in the audience, many of whom stopped to chat and ask questions after my lecture. Black and white students lined up for me to autograph their program guides both before and after the lecture.

President Gianini's actions, though possibly well-intentioned, is a wholesale affront and insult to the black residents of the Orlando community. It constitutes one of the more debilitating forms of racism. Black people succeeded well in weathering the malevolent racism of the Bilbos, Wallaces and the Klan. It is the demeaning, condescending, benevolent protective racism of people such as President Gianini that's so destructive today. Gianini's message to Orlando's black community doesn't differ from one that says: whites are mature enough to handle controversy but for blacks I know what you want and need to hear. That's a message that blacks ought to reject out of hand. But to give President Gianini the benefit of the doubt, there's a possibility that he could have been mau-maued into in his decision by Geraldine Thompson, Valencia College's affirmative action lady.

Walter E. Williams


October 15, 1999