Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Open Dialogue about Race Will Allow All Individuals to Develop Further Understanding

Illustration by Lya Hernandez.

Last semester was tough. The school I loved turned into a place that caused me to feel anxious when talking about a topic that resonates with me the most: the topic of race.

After the events that took place last semester, a much needed discussion about race needed to be had, but it wasn’t going to happen that easily. I’ve heard people say they were uncomfortable talking about race. Since there are a lot of people on this campus who have never had to talk about race before, the vocabulary and understanding of how to talk about race just wasn’t there. I understand the fear some people have when it comes to talking about race––that they might offend a person of color or that their opinion might not be valued––but the more time we spend talking about how to talk about race, the less time we spend on actually having  important conversations about race.

Last semester, the staff and faculty made an attempt to have a conversation about the infamous WhitmanEncounters site and how the site has become a cesspool of hatred and intolerance. The event was advertised as a safe place for Whitman students to engage in discussion about topics regarding race, but it seemed that the intention of the event was not equal to the outcome. When I left the event, it felt like my evening was spent talking to people about why it’s important to talk about race and how there needs to be a discussion about how to talk about race, but to me that’s not enough.

The tense racial climate that I have experienced on campus is nothing new to me in my junior year at Whitman. The microaggressions I experience daily have been present since I stepped foot on this campus, and I feel that by dancing around the issue, the tense racial climate will not be alleviated any time soon. By spending the majority of our time talking about how to talk about race, the problems that exist on campus will continue to be present. As young children, we learned how to do many things, such as tying our shoes, riding our bikes and reading. We didn’t spend time agonizing about how to go about these tasks; we eased our way into them and with practice were able to master these tasks. The same approach needs to be taken when talking about race.

I understand that race and racism are difficult topics, and since it is so difficult to have these discussions, it is likely that people involved may feel some sort of guilt, anger or defensiveness––but being afraid will not allow any of us to grow as individuals. It will not allow us to understand how to live in a world and work with people who are different. If you don’t know how to talk about race, just start talking about it, and eventually you will get the hang of it. Ask questions, express your opinion but be respectful, and you’ll be okay. You might make mistakes, but like tying shoes, riding bikes and learning to read, the mistakes you make will help you learn.

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    SteveFeb 17, 2014 at 1:29 am

    As I write this, I am entertaining a tremendous craving for a toasted bagel, and while I entertain this craving, I have also been perusing the Whitman Encounters site, finding, primarily, sexual frustration, a lot of tension release, but not much racism.

    Allow me to subdivide the notion of racism into categories, of which there are at least two: There is unintentional racism, and there is deliberate racism. I won’t bother to address the latter due to the obviousness, but the unintentional kind of racism is troubling because:
    1. It was probably unintended.
    2. It was probably not mean spirited.
    3. The social awkwardness cuts both ways, like when congratulating a woman on her pregancy when she is not actually pregnant.

    There is also a fourth property that wears down patience. Let’s say you forgot to show up for your Chemistry final, like I did. Your mom might lock in on that event like a heat-seeking missile on Charlie Sheen’s crotch, and remind you over and over how you would not want to miss a deadline like you did “The Chemistry Final”. Then imagine everyone in school knows you primarily for that event and refers constantly to “The Chemistry Final” when seeing you, even if they don’t know you.

    “Hey, don’t forget to show up. Don’t make it “another Chemistry Final”.”

    “You’re that guy with the Chemistry Final, right? That musta been something.”

    “Hey, Chemistry Final guy. How’s it go-in’?”

    After a few weeks, mention of the Chemistry Final can become unusually irritating. Now extend this situation over a lifetime.

    Inadvertent racism does sort of the same thing. I won’t extend my personal experiences to others, but I will briefly recount my experience as an Asian guy in a predominantly Polish neighborhood in Chicago. By age 10, I was know as the guy who knew Kung Fu. I didn’t know Kung Fu, I didn’t practice it. My parents were a) a dentist and b) a realtor. Neither of them knew Kung Fu, although my Mom hit pretty hard when I dragged my sandy sneakers into the bathroom. I was actually born in Elmhurst, but people kept asking me what part of China I was from. I am actually ethnically Korean. When I met some older people on the bus, they would tell me about their time in Japan during the war, and if I had been there recently. I would usually go along with the charade because, you know, no harm intended, no harm done. When I went to college in very white Vermont, my frat bros didn’t make much of my ethnicity — they only bothered me about the fact I didn’t drink or 420 blaze it. Now, I see clients in their 70s and 80s and they tell me about their excellent experiences at the Chinese restaurant, or the Chinese laundromat, while I test them for cardiomyopathy. I can see that they are trying to relate to me, so I go along with the conversation. They can’t yet see me as some dude from Chicago because my facial features present as some kind of mask, and I am in a stage play that never ends. I suppose I could freak out, but I don’t see much point in it. God, these people are OLD. I’m not going to change their habits. As for me, I was talking with a physician who was dark skinned, and I inadvertently asked him if he liked fried chicken and watermelon, because, they were my favorites (they are, but I was reacting on a stereotype). He gave me a look of “Are you kidding me?” So, yeah, I called an airstrike on my own position. Karma, or something, except in reverse.. or … or something. Everybody plays the fool, sometime. Maybe we shouldn’t kill each other over it. Anyway, did you actually read this whole thing? You are tough.

    My niece is due to matriculate at Whitman this fall. I was reading some of the articles on discussion of race and I was concerned for her experience there (here), because she will be very far from her East Coast, which has its own problems. But looking at the dudes on the Sigma Chi composite photo, and reading through the Encounters website, I get some assurance that you people are normal, and normally deranged. Perhaps not so culturally aware, perhaps too laid back and baked, perhaps too focused on the D, but not racist. And, uh… Hey, do you all wear cowboy boots with spurs out there?