White silence on campus

Kainat Ansari, Opinion Columnist

Illustration by Alicia Buchter.

Non-European conflicts and human rights violations in parts of the world where non-White people reside are hardly ever acknowledged on campus. Take, for example, the horrific killings of Palestinians, atrocious Indian vengeance against Kashmiris and human rights violations against Uyghur Muslims. When was the last time any of these topics were brought up in discussions on campus, aside from brief features on people’s social media or the issue-specific classes being offered at Whitman? Still, these classes are not taken by the majority of students and do nothing more than merely teach academic aspects of political conflicts. To be more specific, we have seen some protests for abortion rights by White Whitties among other forms of activism, which are more American and White-centric. This selective activism from White students is extremely unfair and hypocritical. On our campus, it is very rare to see Caucasian people raising their voices for things that do not concern their world.

Being one of the few international students or students of color in many of my classes has given me the unique opportunity to observe the patterns of performative activism that my classmates engage in. During the 2021 Power & Privilege symposium, I was dismayed to see mostly students of color participating in workshops to raise awareness on things that concern them. Even within The Wire, our campus student newspaper, the majority of the articles written on race-related issues or issues regarding discrimination and non-European issues are written by BIPOC students — even though this campus is occupied by a large majority of White American students. These students live with a hyper-individualistic mindset; if it does not relate to them, it simply does not matter. 

These students’ widely accepted belief that people coming from the affected groups are the ones who should be raising their voices against the atrocities of their people is very harmful and problematic. The problem is not that we need more people to initiate protests or new platforms; rather, we need people to advocate with us — to be our voices. Being a part of this campus should mean feeling a responsibility to help your fellow classmates. It should not be the responsibility of only BIPOC students to raise awareness about important issues. We should not feel burdened to step up every time our white peers are silent.

Activism can never be both selective and inclusive. Our issues are always intersectional. When it comes to activism, people like to pick and choose what they want to fight for. They want to talk about issues that directly affect them. However, just because something does not impact you, it does not mean that you should not protest against it or that it’s not a crucial issue. In the end, all issues of inequality are intrinsically connected to each other. Someone who is fighting to make the system more accessible for disabled people is, at the same time, indirectly advocating for other marginalized communities who are also negatively affected by systematic exclusion. 

Neglecting some issues and prioritizing certain issues over others is an act of purposeful silence. It does not actually support or give the platform to the people who need it the most. Choosing to prioritize an issue over another is actually choosing the side of the oppressor. We cannot achieve equality and equity if we continue to play this game of pick and choose. As Martin Luther King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”