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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Racism is a real problem

Published: February 15, 2008
Section: Opinions

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Okay, kids: I just read Jordan Rothman’s most recent column about racism in contemporary society and we need to talk. Admittedly, I’ve considered “response articles” to be a dirty trick since two other Hoot columnists took part of my article about the police out of context (let me set the record straight: just because I am listening to “Cop Killer” and wearing a shirt that says “POLICE=FASCISTS” does not mean I hate law enforcement officials), but I feel that I need to respond to Rothman’s offensive article.

Let me break it down for you: last week, Rothman published an installment of “One Tall Voice” that claimed racial minorities are “as racist” as white people, that Affirmative Action is unfair and that there is a “double standard” in society that’s harmful to white people. I thought the article displayed an astonishing amount of white, male privilege, but I guess I shouldn’t worry—Rothman also assured us that he is “the least racist person” he knows and that his beliefs are the same as Martin Luther King, Jr’s. Oof.

The best way I can think of expressing my own opinions (charges of “racism” are complicated by minorities’ status in society, Affirmative Action is good, white people have it—comparatively—easy) is by using an example from real life. Once, when I was walking down the street in Philadelphia, a black man yelled at me, “What’s up, Irish/Italian white girl?”

Now that’s funny, but it wouldn’t have been funny if I had yelled, “What’s up, black guy descended from slaves brought over on the Middle Passage?” It would have been racist. Here’s where Rothman would have argued that what the man yelled at me was also racist—he saw that I was white and “assumed” that I must be Irish or Italian. It is an assumption (a wrong one, I am neither Irish nor Italian), but it wasn’t racist. The reason why has nothing to do with an imaginary “double standard” that puts white people at a disadvantage and everything to do with the status of African-Americans in society.

Black people don’t have it so easy. They have been enslaved, persecuted or devalued for as long as they have been in this country. Their culture has been destroyed, their family structure torn apart and they’ve been ostracized from all aspects of the dominant, white culture. The reason there’s inequity between blacks and whites in our society isn’t because blacks are somehow “worse,” it’s because they have to overcome so much more than white people. If you are a thoughtful, intelligent person, you are supposed to know this.

And you are also supposed to know that this inequity complicates things. When a black man jokes about white people, he isn’t playing on hateful stereotypes about an oppressed minority, he’s mocking the dominant group in a culture that oppresses him. It’s the difference between publishing an editorial that says “George Miller of Marlboro, New Jersey, Sucks At Being an Accountant” and publishing one that says “George W. Bush Sucks At Being President.”

Furthermore, Affirmative Action—which Rothman “despises”—doesn’t operate on the “racist” principle that all black people are poor and need a government program to help them find work. It operates on the principle that white people will be given more advantages and we need something to level the playing field.

For all you terrified economics majors who are worried that some gosh-darn gangster from Englewood is going to take your spot come grad-school-applications time, think about this: nearly all colleges—including Brandeis—are “committed to diversity,” but I’ve never walked around campus and thought, “Wow, am I in Harlem? No, I guess it’s just the student center.” Mostly I just think, “Oh my God, everyone here looks like they listen to The Fray.”

So Rothman, while probably a nice guy, did publish a racist article, or at least an article that isn’t appropriately sensitive towards issues of race.

I hope that some opportunity for dialogue comes out of it, but it probably won’t—for a campus that’s so obsessed with sniffing out anti-Semitism (yeah, I went there), Brandeis has a long way to go when it comes to race. Listen to Bob Marley, am I right?