LL Cool J was one of eight winners this year of the Hutchins Center’s W.E.B. Dubois Medal, Harvard University’s highest honor in the field of African and African America studies. It is awarded to individuals “in recognition of their contribution to African American culture and the life of the mind.”
We notice that many expected names are missing from the list of 165 winners since the medal was first bestowed in 2000. Thomas Sowell, a clear overachiever and perhaps the best-known African American scholar, has never won. Neither have noted black scholars Shelby Steele, Walter Williams or John McWhorter. Former Attorney General Eric Holder won a DuBois medal, but not Condoleezza Rice or Colin Powell, both former secretaries of state. Talking head Donna Brazile won, but not talking head Michael Steele. Oprah won, as has Harry Belafonte, but not James Earl Jones. Harvey Weinstein won in 2014, presumably for his fund-raising skill, rather than for his contributions to the life of the mind, but that award was rescinded this year.
What can explain all those omissions? Our current theory is that the medal goes only to the left and that most moderates and all conservatives just don’t qualify as contributors to black culture. LL Cool J supported President Obama, but he also backed NY Republican Governor George Pataki for a third term. “Nobody should assume that I’m a Democrat either. I’m an Independent, you know,” he said. Clear enough, but one more rightward lurch and he may have to be rescinded.