Vest Acted Irrationally in Recalling Freshman Picture Book
There is a picture of a monkey on the back page of the August 26 issue of The Tech. The picture was printed without racist intent and cannot be reasonably considered racist in nature. Yet the same picture was banned from appearing on the Freshman Picture Book by MIT President Charles M. Vest because the "symbolism of a monkey-type creature has traditionally been used in a racist manner."
Yes, there is a possibility that some individual could misinterpret this picture as being racist. Surely, if such an individual exists at MIT, the administration should be trying to educate him about the nature of true racism and the dangers of crying wolf, not catering to their misguided perceptions.
I would prefer that President Vest allocate MIT resources to fostering debate about racism and to providing a diverse multicultural environment at MIT, not to running off new covers of a Freshman Picture Book which may potentially have offended one in ten thousand members of the MIT community.
By recalling the book, President Vest lends credence to a witch-hunt culture of blame and false accusation. When Khomeini banned Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses because it was genuinely offensive to millions of people, it was transformed from an unheard-of book to a notorious novel atop the best seller list.
This picture and the monkey business surrounding it, is likely to travel a similar road, as evidenced by The Tech article ["Picture Book Called Offensive, Will Be Replaced"], this letter, and its likely appearance on the Rush Limbaugh show in the near future.
President Vest has lost sight of his role as president of this university. He should be ensuring freedom of the press and of expression and providing an atmosphere conducive to an excellent education. Instead, he has caved in to a specious perceived threat from an apparently nonexistent person and begun irrational banning of innocuous pictures.
Students cannot be educated about racism by removing even the slightest possibility of conflict from their lives. If President Vest, or anyone else, disagrees with or takes offense at this letter, I hope that the response will not be to label it racist and ban it. Rather, I look forward to being entertained by some of the scholarly debate that belongs at an institution of higher learning.
Keith D. Alverson G