In hopes of spurring a conversation concerning race and general difference on our campus that I think needs to be less focused on political correctness and more focused on the issues at hand, I am writing this article. It will clarify and correct my comments in the Carletonian three weeks ago on the “Carleton Microaggressions” blog and discrimination at Carleton. My piece made logical errors and faulty assumptions for which I take full responsibility, but it also presented essential ideas and viewpoints that I will elucidate and tighten up here.
To start, a distinction needs to be drawn that I did not make sufficiently clear in my previous article: in terms of cultural difference and how it is treated, Carleton is quite unusual. It is a highly intellectual institution, and what follows from this is a lack of discrimination relative to the rest of the United States and the world.
This is not to deem these issues irrelevant here, only to say that incidents of overt discrimination are rare. The aggressively liberal culture forbids it, and that is obviously desirable. Racism, classicism, and sexism are treated more as academic concepts than as the harsh realities they become when we step outside of the Carleton bubble. This school is not by any means a post-racial society – a few of the posts on the microaggressions blog display this quite well – but it is also not the Deep South.
This makes conversations about things like race, gender, class, and other important social issues necessarily different at Carleton. There are adjustments that must be made in order for a discussion on such matters to hold any ground here, and too often they are ignored.
The white gaze is a good example of this. Griffin Johnson, in his response to my article, writes correctly that the white gaze is not a fringe concept – it was one of the important underlying ideas of the tragic Trayvon Martin case. But this does not deem it universally applicable. Carleton is not central Florida, where the Trayvon Martin shooting took place, and throwing around the term “white gaze” in reference to a well-lit area on a liberal arts campus where hate crimes are all but unthinkable undermines the meaning and force of the concept. This takes away from the discussion. Johnson’s comparison of Carleton to Sanford, Florida is unacceptable, as is the microaggression blog’s posting of a black student’s claim that the white gaze is applicable to the protected student center of our small school.
The blog’s moderators have a tendency to post content like this, and it would be helpful in aiding the campus dialogue if they would at the very least be more careful with what they choose to publish and how they choose to present it. Undoubtedly, terms like racism and sexism are unavoidably equivocal; one can call something implicitly discriminatory uttered by a Carleton student racist and call the Trayvon Martin shooting (or the KKK, for that matter) racist in the same sentence without being wrong. But if the blog recognized these differences (which are admittedly, as I mentioned, not quite so large here) and didn’t clump them together under the same Twitter hashtag, this would help us all understand what it is we’re really talking about: cross burning, or comments overheard in English class.
Johnson does something similar with the term “moral.” He writes that my piece becomes “troubling, morally and logically, as the column continually asserts an unsubstantiated dichotomy between ‘real racism’ and microaggressions.” He goes on to accuse me of implicitly claiming the authority to draw the distinction between real and false racism.
Morality has no place here. Surely, racism is an intensely moral issue – but Johnson is not claiming that I am being racist. He’s claiming that I am not backing up my own argument and that I am appealing to some kind of clout to see the matter at hand in a superior way. I fail to see where morality plays into this. This is partly because Johnson does not substantiate his claim that my writing is morally troubling, which happens to be precisely what he’s criticizing me for. That he drops a term as significant and dubious as morality without offering any kind of explanation is misleading and inappropriate. Excluding my commentary for being morally troubling, pretty much the worst thing a commentary (or anything else) can be, without substantiation does exactly what Johnson’s defense of the white gaze does: detracts the attention of the reader to an area that has nothing to do with the discussion at hand. Anti-intellectualism indeed.
As I said, my previous article had its share of troubles: it was unreasonably headstrong and claimed falsely that some individuals are “part of the problem” while some are not. But I hold fast to my allegation that no Carl wants to be put under the tag of “racism,” “sexism,” or other isms on the microaggressions blog or anywhere else, and to many people of privilege, the blog just seems like yet another way to further their guilt. As I wrote earlier, the reaction to this is much more often to detract, rather than add to, any discourse on difference or discrimination.
Finally, because this method oddly worked the last time I tried it in the Viewpoint and because it’s particularly important here: I encourage those reading this to make their voices heard. Write in this section – anyone can (of note is Jacob Hoerger’s recent Viewpoint line that a vast majority of content in Carleton publications is submitted by white students). Start a conversation. Only then will this discussion emerge from the suffocating purgatory of excessive political correctness into the light of mutual understanding.