TESTIMONY OF BEVERLY ANN DEEPE KEEVER, MEMBER OF THE PRESIDENT'S COMMISSION ON DIVERSITY, PRESENTED TO THE PRESIDENT'S AD HOC COMMITTEE ON PORTEUS HALL

MARCH 4, 1998
CAMPUS CENTER BALLROOM

My name is Beverly Keever. I'm a member of the President's Commission on Diversity. In late November, in response to the President's call for comments, I submitted by E-mail a brief statement urging that the name of Porteus Hall be changed. I was early on persuaded by the scholarly testimony presented in 1974 to the Board of Regents by political science Professor Robert Cahill.

I'd like to offer this additional statement commenting on the recent letter of Elizabeth Porteus to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin [1] and also presenting these three brief points:

  • I thank the ASUH students for raising this issue initially and for sponsoring the insightful lecture yesterday by Dr. Barry Mehler, director of the Institute for the Study of Academic Racism at Ferris State University. These students have created a vibrant academic climate by fostering critical thinking about a significant issue not only on campus and in the community but also across the nation.

  • I thank the members of this ad hoc committee for serving and for making such a momentous decision in such a short time.

  • I urge this committee to recommend that UH procedures be established for more public notice and public input for the naming of future public buildings and spaces.

Turning to the letter of Elizabeth Porteus, I would like to address two of her main points. First, she mentions that Dr. Porteus was a pro-Hawaiian witness in the Massie case. I read the microfilmed transcripts of the Massie trial for the murder of Joseph Kahahawai and of the earlier case trying five young local men charged with raping Thalia Massie [2]. These transcripts of the trial and related indexing materials contain no evidence of testimony by Dr. Porteus.

Second, Elizabeth Porteus defines racist like this:

My idea of a racist is someone with such a strong hatred of other races that it permeates his whole life.

That is not the definition of racist that Stanley Porteus is accused of being. Instead the work of Dr. Porteus is criticized because it provided the supposedly scientific framework that justified and perpetuated the superiority of the white race at the top of a hierarchy of other races. Dr. Mehler's lecture yesterday--and testimony from my colleagues today--dispel the myth that all of his work that constructed such a framework was truly scientific.

Frameworks that rank races based on flawed scientific conclusions are tremendously important. These flawed conclusions of scientists are sometimes accepted and relied on by other elites--such as the courts. An example is the Korematsu case of 1944 [3]. In that case the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the wartime evacuation and incarceration of persons of Japanese ancestry.

The military justification for those evacuation and imprisonment orders rested mainly upon "questionable racial and sociological grounds" that wrongly assumed group disloyalty, Justice Murphy wrote in his dissenting opinion [4]. Such faulty reasoning, Murphy warned, was used "in support of the abhorrent and despicable treatment of minority groups by the dictatorial tyrannies which this nation is now pledged to destroy." [5]

The Korematsu case--which has not been overturned -- highlights the dangerous effects of some scientific overgeneralizations. It highlights the need for individuals and institutions today to expose scientists' flawed arguments.

And it highlights the need for individuals and institutions today to heed Justice Murphy's prophecy: that the constitutional sanction approved in Korematsu provides "one of the cruelest of the rationales used by our enemies to destroy the dignity of the individual and to encourage and open the door to discriminatory actions against other minority groups in the passions of tomorrow." [6]

With this prophecy reminding us what is at stake here, I urge this Committee to recommend:

  • that the name of Porteus Hall be changed and

  • that procedures be established to ensure more public notice about and public input into the future naming of public spaces.

NOTES

(1) See Attachment 1

(2) At the First Circuit Court, Docket Numbers 011782 and 011891, read March 2, 1998.

(3) Korematsu v. United States, 323 U.S. 214.

(4) 323 U.S. 236.

(5) 323 U.S. 240.

(6) Ibid.

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