At issue: No one wants to be called a racist.
Our take: The majority of those at Emerson are.
No one enjoys getting food stuck between their teeth. It’s even worse to walk around all day, completely unaware of it, only to notice the rogue crumb or leaf when looking in the mirror later. Although it can be a bit embarrassing, most people would prefer if someone did them a favor and pointed it out to them earlier so they could fix it. Sure, no one wants to have food stuck in their teeth, but it happens to everyone, and ignoring it or pretending it isn’t there won’t make it go away.
The same can be said about racism. Denying its existence won’t make it disappear.
During the “Who Has the Right to Speak?” event, hosted by The Office of Intercultural Student Affairs last week, students said conservatives shouldn’t take “racist” as an attack on their personal character. The sentiment was repeated at award-winning playwright Claudia Rankine's event on Friday.
They’re right. And this doesn’t just apply to conservatives.
We all want to be good people, so being associated with something as horrible as racism isn’t enjoyable, to say the least. Still, regardless of how unpleasant it may be, racism exists everywhere in white society, and isn’t nearly as unpleasant as actually being a victim of racism. Your morals don’t undo centuries of institutionalized oppression, nor offset how this social construct has influenced your own privilege and innate biases.
We see this in everyone, including liberals, especially those who think trying hard excuses them from the tough conversations surrounding race. We see this in white people who only swipe right on other white people on Tinder, insisting they just “have a type”. And we see it in the 2015 Emerson Climate survey where only 42 percent of black students said they felt a sense of belonging.
The first African-American student ever in the U.S. to attend a desegregated school, Ruby Bridges, is only 62 years old. Segregation is not something far in the past, and it affected the lives and educations of our grandparents and even our parents. White students had more opportunities to succeed, because the school system favored them. With those opportunities, and similar preferential treatment in the workforce, many white people were able to excel beyond school and in their careers. Emerson is disproportionately white—67 percent of the student body is— because the systems put in place decades ago make it easier for white people to afford private higher education.
When someone calls white people out for being racist, take it as constructive criticism rather than an attack on your character. It is inevitable that all white people are racist at some point, whether they are aware of it or not. If you’re white, take the comment as an opportunity to evaluate your place in the system and how it provides more advantages to you than others. Moving forward, your responsibility as a white person is to listen to people of color, understand their calls to action, and support them.
We want to hear from you! Next week’s paper will feature student responses regarding allyship and the value of allies, if any. If you have any personal experiences or thoughts on this issue, please send your short submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please note that submissions for print must be shorter than 500 words, and may be edited for grammar and clarity.