Interview with Luke Harris
QUESTION 7
JACKIE SHEARER:





LUKE HARRIS:

By the time I was in 10th grade, ah, I was restricted to taking what were called industrial arts classes. I've never really been able to figure out quite what they were all about. And I was only only allowed to take a very marginal number of, of college prep classes. Ah, but you have to remember, ah, what the '60's was like in, in America what the late '60s was like, I mean, a lot of things were going on in America and despite the things and the message that I was being given in high school, I, I really think that, ah, a lot of things came together to make me think that there was no reason for me to any pay attention to what people were telling me in the high school. I would say basically, you know, you have to look first of all at what was going on in the, in the, in the society. There had been urban riots throughout the sixties. Ah, there was a riot in Newark. There was a riot in, in, ah, in, in Detroit, the riot in, ah, L.A., ah, Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy were killed in the year that, ah, I graduated from high school. The, the civil rights movement was still a potent force in terms of the consciousness of America. There was a Black Power, Black consciousness movement going on. And all these things, ah, in combination with three other things, I would say, made a big difference for me. The first thing is that, ah, the one gift that my parents were able to give me that I, I think is really more important than anything else was they gave me the gift of self confidence. Ah, they always taught me that I was no better than anyone else. But I was taught to believe and I always have believed, that, ah, I was as good as anyone, anyplace, anytime on the face of this planet. And that gave me the ego strength to ignore the kinds of things that I was hearing in the high school. And, ah, I knew that, ah, it was possible for me to focus my energies and work hard. But my feeling is, ah, looking back--

JACKIE SHEARER:

Yeah, pick it up again.

LUKE HARRIS:

But my feeling is looking back at, ah. Can I stop for a second?


LUKE HARRIS:

Yeah, I knew that I was going to be willing to work hard in college because I had decided because of all the things that were going on in society that I wanted to somehow make a contribution and that I wanted to do something, that I wanted to make something out of my life. But the way I look at, ah, at the way, the way I looked at American life then, it seemed to me that, ah, that there had always been people of color, Blacks in particular, who had been willing to work hard. But working hard had never been enough to allow them, ah, entrance into mainstream institutions, ah, throughout American society. And that's why I had felt at the time that I was, ah, really, ah, lucky to be part of the generation, ah, that was going to be able to be the recipients of these programs that they were calling Affirmative Action. For me, the whole era of Affirmative Action was something that I saw as representing hope, as representing encouragement, and as representing, ah, a chance, ah, that American society was giving, at least in, in some kind of a way, for the first time in its history, to allow people of color to be in a position where their individual capabilities, their human promise could flower and blossom in ways that had never been the case over the centuries and it was in that respect that I think, ah, my feelings about what was going on in that era, dove-tailed with this new range of social programs that opened up, ah, for the first time higher education to people of color. And, ah, without Affirmative Action, there is no doubt, that, ah, I would not have been able to go to St. Joe's. But I got to St. Joe's. Ah, I worked very hard and I wound up graduating number one in my department and that's when I wound up with the opportunity to go to Yale Law School. And, ah, so I went to Yale Law School, ah, feeling that, ah, I was on the crest, part of the crest, of a, of a social movement. And that American society was finally opening up in some limited ways, ah, to allow people of color and Blacks in particular to participate in all aspects of American life. And this was a first time kind of thing. It had never happened before in America. And, I felt proud and I still do feel proud to be a part of that process. And, that's why, in part, I found it so disturbing to find that those of us who had worked so hard against even greater obstacles to go to college, to go to professional school, when we got there found that we were stigmatized and I, I want to make one addendum, you have to remember, ah, what it feels like to be stigmatized in an environment and then sort of edit back to other experiences you've had in life. I can remember being a sophomore and junior at St. Joseph's--

JACKIE SHEARER:

Excuse me. I'm sorry. We're rolling out of tape.



LUKE HARRIS:

You have to remember that it's very disturbing, ah, to be in an environment like Yale Law School and find that people feel that, ah, there's some question about whether or not you belong, ah, there because you're a person of color. I mean I would edit back in my own mind to, ah, the all White dormitory house that I lived in at, ah, at St. Joes, where, ah, you know I would work night in and night out and the White kids would come into my room and say, "Hey man, you know, you don't have to work that hard to get through this college." You know what I mean? You know, "We have the test, you can do this. You can do that." Now a lot of those kids went on to law schools and, ah, they weren't stigmatized at St. Joe's, they weren't stigmatized at law school. And, ah, you know, I went, came, the number one student in my department and I go to Yale and I'm stigmatized, you know, that to me is disturbing and that to me pisses me off. Because I know it has nothing to do with who I am as a person, anymore than it has to do with who the other students of color are in these environments. It has everything to do with how we're perceived in American society and the seeds of those perceptions are rooted--in my--feeling both in societal racism and in institutional racism but they have little or nothing to do with the, the human province of people of color in these environments.