Racism Ain’t Over Just Yet

Illustration by Eduardo Vazquez
Illustration by Eduardo Vazquez

This column was contributed by Mcebo Maziya ‘15

After much blood, sweat and tears from many Whitman student leaders, on March 27 the Power and Privilege Symposium kicked off with a smashing start. The thought-provoking workshops and compelling panels I attended made me realize that there are many students who care about issues of race and ethnicity on campus.

After Whitman’s 2006 blackface incident, many students realized that there needed to be a space where issues of race were discussed in constructive ways. Consequently, shortly after the infamous incident, there was a symposium held, suspending classes for that day.

However, after the symposium in 2006 there was a general attitude that racism on campus had been “solved.” Unfortunately, racism and other social “isms” are not mathematical equations that can be simply solved in a few days. We often fall into the trap of thinking that issues like racism can be eradicated by single actions, such as the USA’s first black president and the success of people of color like Oprah Winfrey. These single actions raise a red herring because they disrupt us from the arduous and critical processes needed to effect actual equality for everyone and not just for some people.

This is why ASWC and various student leaders have advocated that this symposium be held each year so that the conversations can continue on a yearly basis. Through increased exposure and continuous learning, I firmly believe that we can be able to embark on the journey of mental re-education and decolonization. I’m glad that the Power and Privilege Symposium is a space that can allow this process to take place for our community.

As a black African male at Whitman, I’ve found that many of my white peers have ceased to speak about race because there is a fear that they may offend non-white students. Firstly, racist and colonial actions remain whether or not I’m personally “offended.” For instance, even though I may not necessarily be offended if a white person gropes my afro, the socio-historical narrative displayed is still extremely problematic.

Second, although the fear of offending someone else is important, the silence about people’s identities creates more harm than good. This is one reason why the “colorblind” movement is so damaging. The fact that folks are willing to “look past” race implies that the color of our skin should be made irrelevant because of some underlying wrongness about it. Essentially, the phrase translates as “I’m willing to look past your alien skin to look beneath the surface.” While this seems noble on a superficial level, under scrutiny it implies that skin color, even if it looks green and disgusting, should be overlooked because people’s colors are not important.

In many workshops and panels I attended, such issues came to light and were discussed in complex ways. But because these workshops were only 45 minutes to an hour in length, we couldn’t arrive at more insightful social meanings or discuss the ways we all subconsciously reaffirm white supremacy. This is another reason why a dialogue should be continuous: Meaningful social change doesn’t occur overnight.

We are always subject to prejudice and quite often we are even more prone to exercising and articulating this prejudice in racist/sexist/homophobic/xenophobic ways that could ultimately oppress and disenfranchise various peoples. In other words, racism exists without racists. This reinforces that the conversations must continue so we can begin to obtain deeper and more nuanced perspectives about how we relate to and learn about one another’s multifaceted identities.

Even though this symposium is over, we must continue to speak about and debate these issues amongst ourselves in ways that can create a larger consciousness about the way race functions in society, but most importantly, about the ways other identities function in accordance with race to create various matrices of oppression. I have bad news: Oppression is definitely not over yet. So we should all hang in there and challenge it because it matters so much more than we could ever imagine.