What Do You Call a Black Man With a J.D.?

A "gangbanger," apparently, if you are the owner of the Boston club that expelled dozens of black Harvard and Yale students and alumni last weekend on suspicion of being criminals. Ask D. Omavi Harshaw, who was there.

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D. Omavi Harshaw

It was hard to tell if the several dozen black Harvard and Yale graduate students and alumni exiting Cure Lounge Saturday night were shivering from the unwelcoming Boston cold or trembling from anger after we were kicked out of our own private party quite literally because of the color of our skin.

Harvard-Yale football homecoming has a unique significance for black graduate students who gather to celebrate; it is a temporary moment of relief. The Ivy League postgraduate environment can be a very a hostile one for blacks, who are arguably made to feel more at home in America's prisons than in its top universities.

So it's no wonder that the hundreds of black graduate students and alumni who flocked to Cambridge, Mass., last weekend were extremely excited at the opportunity to mix, mingle and dance freely with their peers from across the nation. The culminating party was held at Cure Lounge, a private club. After a long wait in line, things began to warm up as the DJ dropped gems and we dropped money at the bar. Around 10:45 p.m., I had just achieved enough liquid courage to approach this girl when the music suddenly stopped.

The lights came on. Girls stopped dancing. Bartenders began to clean the bar. I then saw looks of confusion become looks of indignation as the bouncers told the crowd that everyone would have to leave.

Why? What they told the crowd: technical difficulties. What they told the promoters, according to an e-mail they later sent out to those who had been invited: The people in line outside [read: black women] would attract "local gangbangers." Yet anyone remotely familiar with Boston knows that local gangbangers in the Theater District look more like Colin Sullivan from The Departed than Omar Little from The Wire.

We were kicked out because apparently the promoters did not tell the owner that the Harvard and Yale graduates and alumni in attendance that night would be black. Quite simply, on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2010, a group of overprivileged blacks were kicked out of a private venue because of the color of our skin.

The owner of the club wanted to teach us a lesson: We are not above the law. What law, you might ask? Clearly, to him and many like him, the law of the land is that blacks are to behave according to the will of whites, be it through zoning laws, admissions letters or nightclub entries. We may enter, we may even prosper, but we must never control. We must never set the rules of the game. The white owner once again proved the fallacy of a post-racial America. In a sad twist of irony, the group that organized the party is named Triumph, and the club is named Cure.

I encourage those of us who were there that night to remember that if it feels like racism and smells like racism, then it's probably racism. No person screaming that we're "paranoid" should get in the way of the common sense imparted to us by the family and friends who sent us to these institutions. Our common sense will prove to be more useful than any $200,000 piece of paper we might gain upon our departure from these intellectual plantations.  

Finally, I would like to encourage African Americans to redefine our vision of success. Access is not success. It is not enough to gain access to these institutions, corporations or even exclusive nightclubs. We should never forget that we were sent here by teachers, community leaders and families to transform these entities, not to conform to the bigotry and callousness that are their hallmarks.

Now we must create and control. That is success: Creating a situation where we don't have to give toxic loans to our brothers and sisters in low-income areas, where we don't have to temper our language to satisfy white department heads and detached academics, where we don't have to listen to bouncers lie to our brothers and sisters as they are being kicked out of a nightclub because of the color of their skin.

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