Coming of Age in New Jersey: College and American Culture

By Michael Moffatt | Go to book overview

FOUR / Race and Individualism

How did undergraduates in the "white" majority at Rutgers, about eighty percent of the student body in the mid-1980s, think about and act toward their black peers? 1 The students often said they liked or thought they benefited from the diversity of Rutgers, from the fact that, as a public institution, it attracted youths from all the different social groups in the state of New Jersey (see chapter 2). Yet many of them found real cultural differences distressing and intolerable when they actually had to live with them, and racial differences often made them even more uncomfortable.

The white students almost all knew that American blacks had been treated badly in the past. They almost all knew that they themselves should not be racists any longer, that, as sociologist Gunnar Myrdal has stated in An American Dilemma, traditional American racism was a violation of the American "value premise" of equal opportunity for an ( 1944: 23-25). But in ways that will become clearer below, I hope, the students' fundamental individualism was also simply too nonhistorical and nonsociological to allow them to grasp interracial situations of any real complexity. Some white students lived with the ensuing quandary as uneasy liberals. Others entertained the only apparent alternative given their individualistic ways of thinking about much more complicated human realities: the illiberal sentiments of racism.

Race was only incidentally important on Hasbrouck Fourth in 1984- 1985. It was one possible subtext of Art and Carrie's fight, though Art was probably just as upset with Carrie as an assertive woman as he was with her as a black (see chapter 3). Otherwise the four blacks and the one Puerto Rican student on Hasbrouck Fourth--and the two Asian-Americans and the two or three Latins--lived reasonably amiably among their white peers all year long. 2 This was partly because they were swamped by the white majority on an "integrated" floor like Hasbrouck Fourth. It was also, unquestionably, because they lived on the floor on the terms of the white majority. None of them were "threatening." None of them made much of her or his black or Puerto Rican identity.

-141-

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Coming of Age in New Jersey: College and American Culture
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Contents ix
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Preface xv
  • One / Orientation 1
  • Further Comments 20
  • Two / "What College is Really Like" 25
  • Further Comments 62
  • Three / a Year on Hasbrouck Fourth 71
  • Further Comments 125
  • Four / Race and Individualism 141
  • Further Comments 168
  • Five / Sex 181
  • Further Comments 231
  • Six / Sex in College 247
  • Further Comments 266
  • Seven / the Life of the Mind 271
  • Further Comments 310
  • Appendix One on Method 327
  • Appendix Two on Typicality 331
  • Further Comments 336
  • References Cited 341
  • Index 347
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