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The unbearable whiteness of being

Published: November 16, 2007
Section: Opinions


Hey blackie, whats up?

This greeting (Che, negro;

como andas?) was as common a phrase as I heard during my semester in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The fact that Im as white as Conan OBrien or that there are almost no black people in Argentina didnt change things one bit. Negro was simply a term of greeting or endearment, as harmless as dude or man. For women, obviously, the feminine version negra was used, with the diminutive negrita if one wanted to be affectionate.

In light of which, the current fracas over Prof. Donald Hindley using this racist term in class seems not only ridiculous but almost surreal in its stupidity. Having taken Latin American Politics I with Hindley last year, it was abundantly clear in his lecture that his use of the term negrita was meant to illustrate Latin American views on race. Does talking about the subjugation of South Americas indigenous and African minorities make Hindley a bigot? The administration seems to think so.

The truth is that the problems of racial discourse have gotten deeper than a few supposedly insensitive remarks. Rather, we have entered a bizarre, upside-down world where it has become almost impossible to discuss the racism of others without being accused of racism oneself. Much like talking about class from the bottom up has become class warfare, what used to be the standard method of recognizing inequities in society has become an act of contentiousness, as if everything were perfect and discussing injustice was the main cause of it.

Witness the incident of TYP Senator Kamarin Lee. Lee was brought to task for calling racism on Class of 08 Senator Asher Tanenbaums declaration that the Black Student Organization and the African Club were identical and redundant. In her letter, Lee said that Tanenbaums comments were typical of a white, Jewish, middle-class conservative. Suddenly it is not Tanenbaum, who couldnt or wouldnt discern between Africans and African-Americans (and said as much in his fatuous comments on the issue), who is the racist. Instead it is Lee, who pointed out that his background might be a factor in Tanenbaums narrow viewpoint, who gets accused of racism and has to apologize.

There are over a dozen Jewish political, social, cultural, and religious organizations at Brandeis. Arent these redundant? I mean, theyre all Jews, right? Better to have just one of each, since all Jews are basically the same anyway. Of course I dont mean that, since Im not an anti-Semite. But talking about bigotry doesnt make me a bigot any more than it makes Hindley or Lee bigots. If we cannot discuss these things, how will they ever be resolved? Or does asking that question make me a racist?