Again, you are blinded by your white privilege

15 04 2009

In his column in the Tufts Daily yesterday, Will Ehrenfeld wonders what exactly makes last week’s bias incident involving the KSA and a drunk freshman in Lewis a “bias incident.” He asks:

Was it a bias incident because of what the kid said? He allegedly employed racial slurs to verbally abuse the dancers after the physical altercation had ended, calling them names and telling them to “go back to China.” I suppose this makes what up until then would have been considered merely a fight or, depending on which side you fall, assault, into an incident of racial bias. I know what you’re thinking: Well, duh. But think — what do the kid’s words after a fight have to do with the apparent motivations for the fight?

Well, Will, a bias incident is of harassment (abusive conduct that is persistent, severe, or pervasive and threatens or limits an individual’s ability to go participate in his/her activities) that is motivated by prejudice against people based on their race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation. Tufts defines a bias incident as:

any act directed against a person or property that includes the use of slurs or epithets expressing bias on the basis of race, color, national or ethnic origin, age, religion, disability, gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity and expression.

In this case it was clearly motivated by racism (remember, racism = power/privilege + prejudice).  I find it insulting that Will belittles the bias incident and writes it off as “merely a fight or, depending on which side you fall, assault, into an incident of racial bias.”  It is a very ignorant comment that demonstrates that because he has never had any experiences with neither covert nor overt racism that he cannot even fathom what it’s like for those who experience racism on a daily basis.

He further says:

According to the Daily, the freshman allegedly called the dance “gay,” but most of us have been in groups where using that word as a placeholder for “stupid” or “bad” is common. That doesn’t make it acceptable, but it happens all the time, and the student body doesn’t get up in arms over something like that. In any event, no epithets were uttered, and no racial threats or comments were made before the violence began.

Okay so he says that calling the dance “gay” is synonymous to calling it “stupid” or “bad” but doesn’t problematize that. Instead he says that even though this is unacceptable, “it happens all the time and the student body doesn’t get up in arms over something like that” therefore further normalizing the insensitive misuse of the word “gay”. He doesn’t seem to take much of an issue of that for someone who finds it unacceptable. “Gay” is not a synonym for “stupid” or “bad” and it is inappropriate and unacceptable to continue using it as a derogatory term. Saying that “the student body doesn’t get up in arms over about something like that” is not entirely true – there are many students who are offended by the misuse of the word “gay”. Also, just because it’s not something the makes the masses “get up in arms” does not mean that we shouldn’t question, challenge, and try to end the misuse of “gay”. Perhaps he is too blinded by his heterosexual male privilege as well to see that throwing around the word “gay” in a derogatory manner can indeed be offensive and hurtful to the LGBTQ community.

He concludes by saying:

The real issue here isn’t racial insensitivity. It’s not “bias,” no matter how you define the word. We should be talking about violence and resorting to violence as a solution to our problems. My biggest worry is not a stupid comment that was obviously hurtful enough to raise a ridiculous furor at Tufts. Tufts people love an uproar, but apparently we also like overlooking the real issue. There’s no evidence the attack was motivated by racial anger or “bias,” but it’s obvious that both the freshman student and the five KSA members thought it totally acceptable to use violence to solve their dispute. I don’t want to discount the danger and perniciousness of racism, but it’s more worrisome to me that violence has so pervaded our school and our society that we find a racial slur more notable than a serious violent conflict.

“It is not ‘bias’, however you define the word”? Okay, maybe he is a little right there.  The issue isn’t bias, bias is too euphemistic.  It’s racism.   And people like Will who cannot see past their white privilege to realize that perhaps racism really is an issue on this supposedly oh-so-liberal campus. Clearly Will does not understand how racism is so deeply institutionalized and normalized in society.

This isn’t about “a stupid comment that was obviously hurtful enough to raise a ridiculous furor” and it’s infuriating that you are so condescending as to dismiss it as such.  Saying “Fuck you all, you fucking chinks, go back to China! Go back to your fucking country, you don’t belong in this country” is racist.  “Chinks” is a derogatory term.  And “Go back to your fucking country, you don’t belong in this country” is a testament to racist beliefs that otherize people of color and discount them as not “real” Americans.

Besides, racism is a form of violence.  As a Peace and Justice Studies major, you should know better than this Will.  Violence is not just physical bodily harm, but it is also includes structural or institutionalized violence (like the various forms of oppression that that are embedded in our social structure and systematically strip away people’s rights and humanity by preventing them from meeting their basic needs and disenfranchising them from basic rights that should be guaranteed to them by citizenship), and behavioral violence (which can manifest as harassment, emotional abuse, physical abuse, etc.)  Racism does not seem like it is violent because it manages to mask itself as “natural” and “normal”, or “just the way it is” as institutionalized violence.  Therefore, when it manifests as behavioral violence people fail to question it because it’s often so invisible and successful when it masquerades as what is just a part of “normal” life.

And it’s not us who like overlooking the real issue, it’s you Will.  Stop evading the real issue: racism.  It’s been said before, but learn how to see past your white privilege.



One response

15 04 2009

well said. Honestly, if Tufts students aren’t allowed to care deeply about this, what can we care about? It’s not ridiculous to be alarmed at something going on at our school. Also, if this isn’t an example of racism, what is?

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