Dear Monmouth: We need to talk about race
April 17, 2015
I actually wanted to go for a different title, but I figured “Dear White People” is a bit too obviously inspired by the movie of the same name.
But I’ve had this article brewing for quite a long time, and it’s the similarities between Monmouth College and the movie’s Winchester University that kicked the actual article into high gear.
Don’t worry, this isn’t some list of things white people shouldn’t do around black people, nor is it some parody or satire of the movie. It’s actually an open letter to Monmouth about race. Well, an open letter about privilege and race, really.
Monmouth has a serious race issue, and one that has to be addressed. White people on campus seem to be of the persuasion that if we don’t talk about race, it’ll just go away. (Which, quite frankly, is a racist assertion. I’ll get to why soon.) And this will likely fall upon deaf ears, but that’s problematic.
Race is something that needs to be talked about, particularly in terms of what’s here in a place that is home for a lot of non-white people. We need to stop being afraid of confronting privilege and acknowledge that we, as people, have a long way to go. (As I write this, a tab is open with a news story about a man being lynched near Port Gibson, Mississippi. My grandmother lives in Port Gibson. Racism isn’t dead, guys. Also a racist assumption.)
Now, it’s about time I explained that parenthetical. Yes, saying that race should just go away, or that you don’t see color is racist.
Racism isn’t the feeling of hating non-white people. Racism is the collection of political and personal powers colluding to make forward advancement more difficult for people because of their race as a result of prior oppression. (In other words, this is why black people can be prejudiced, but not racist. Black people can’t oppress anyone.)
Being a bystander to racism or denying its existence makes life more difficult for minorities on account of their race, and your reaction to it. Therefore, it is an inherently racist act to deny racism.
Seriously, though, we need to confront that idea head-on. We need to stop assuming that it is an insult to tell another person to “check their privilege” and acknowledge that being white means you don’t have to answer particular questions about yourself.
White people need to be comfortable watching “Dear White People,” and not ask questions like “Why can’t we have a movie called Dear Black People?” (You do. It’s called media. We know what America thinks of us.)
Most of all, though, we need to be able to talk about race and racism. Being a cause of racism isn’t something that only happens to bad people. Nor is privilege. Honestly, if there’s anything I want to establish here, it’s that I kind of wish it were exclusive to bad people.