I’m not allowed to be writing this. I should be keeping my head down, sticking to subjects I’m permitted to comment on. But there are things that need to be said that are kept quiet on this campus, and there will never be a right time until somebody does it.
Carleton has a diversity problem. The admissions office does a fine job of reaching out and pulling in students of many races, nationalities, economic classes, and sexualities, but these groups remain utterly divided on campus. International students hang around with international students, and rich white kids hang around with rich white kids. This is clearly a generalization, and obviously people of different ethnicities do mix, but not as much as they could, and certainly not as much as they clump. This brings up the question of whether Carleton can brag as much as it does about being “diverse” when really, people of different backgrounds tend to stay away from one another here.
There is a tension here that goes unspoken. As a whole, Carleton students do an abysmal job of mingling with each other, and this is symptomatic of an incredibly uncomfortable environment fueled by a lack of dialogue – differences between people, racial and otherwise, are, as a de facto rule, not allowed to be seriously discussed in a way that doesn’t imply that we’re all identical. Those who try to bring them to light in any meaningful way are condemned.
“Carleton Microaggressions” is a blog run by Carleton students attempting to ease this tension by raising awareness of issues like racism, sexism, and classicism that affect our community. Carls can submit short posts to the site detailing experiences they have had where a person of privilege did or said something that they interpreted as hurtful. The moderators define “microaggressions” as “subtle interactions that occur every day which reinforce positions of privilege.” Sometimes – many times – microaggressions are subconscious acts whereby the person of “privilege” does or says something discriminatory without intending to do so. Because of this, the blog claims to be speaking out against the phenomenon of racism, sexism, etc., and not the people who commit such acts. It is the system of discrimination that they fight, and individual incidents are symptomatic of this terrible system. All of this information and more can be found on the blog’s “Frequently Asked Questions” page.
As a straight, white male of the upper-middle class, the moderators of this blog are basically referring to people like me when they mention “positions of privilege.” To be clear, I am absolutely not making an argument about “reverse racism,” which is a pathetic defense white people hurl out when they feel bad about being white. Reverse racism, which I hesitate to even type out without quotation marks, does not deserve a place in the conversation, as its impact (if it exists) compared to that of actual racism is laughable. Racism created justification for slavery; reverse racism made a white person blush once. I have never experienced any kind of real discrimination, and I don’t claim to be experiencing it now.
But I do feel targeted, and that’s a bad thing. While the site claims that it is trying to solve the difficulties of a society and not an individual, it does target the individual, not the “system,” and this propagates an anxious culture of hyperawareness that disenfranchises those of us who feel like they cannot speak out because they are – apparently – part of the problem.
One post, for example, details a black student’s experience walking to her mailbox; three white students were standing in the area, and one of them turned around and looked at her “quizzically from head to toe.” The black student made the realization that he was looking at her so oddly because of her race, and proclaimed in her post that the boy should take his “white gaze” off of her.
This is completely absurd. I, for one, often look at people in Sayles, and my gaze in inevitably “white,” whatever that means. Does that make me racist? Maybe I should stop looking at people of other races. In fact, I should cut off all communication with people who aren’t white. That way, they’ll have no opportunity to call me racist.
This hypothetical reaction is not as much of an exaggeration as it might appear. Truly ludicrous posts like this are toxic, because they take the already-tense environment at Carleton and amp it up by excluding from the conversation everyone who can’t sit at their computers and hide behind a layer of isms. I, and I daresay most people who look like me, do not read something like that and say, “Wow. I should edit my behavior to be a better and more accepting citizen.” I say, “Wow. I should never talk about race again.” And, lo and behold, the issues go unspoken and unresolved.
Why wouldn’t that be the reaction? It is by far the easiest one. It is exponentially easier for white people, upon reading something like that, to throw their hands up into the air in defeat, walk away, and never speak a word about race ever again. The alternative is confronting the issue head-on, which people of privilege simply are not going to do if they know they will just be ridiculed and blamed for everything negative about human interaction.
To be fair, this post is one of the more extreme, and Carleton Microaggressions does publish some instances of very real and heinous racism, sexism, and classicism. But the argument stands that an online forum is never going to solve a problem this big. “People of privilege” are not encouraged to join the discussion. Instead, they stay in hiding, never talking about the differences between people because every time they do, some Carleton student takes it upon himself to blame them for being something-ist.
Nobody wants to be called racist or sexist, and few people at Carleton consciously are. So if you really care about diversity and acceptance at Carleton, stop coating the issue out of spite and do something real.