Mellon story reinforces white privilege, ignores history

By Dan Balogh and Erik Forman

On October 19, The Mac Weekly ran its first full-length article on race this semester. It wasn’t about the “Politically Incorrect” party that polarized campus by insulting people of color, queers, women, Jews, and other oppressed groups last spring, or about the resignation of the Dean of Multicultural Life the spring before that because of a lack of institutional commitment to challenging oppression. It didn’t mention the fact that Macalester admitted a larger percentage of students of color in the early 1970s than it does now. It also didn’t touch on the repeated attempts of students of color to organize against institutional racism we have witnessed in the last four years.

Instead, the front page of the newspaper was devoted to investigating one white student’s complaint of ‘reverse racism’ at not being allowed into a class that provides “safe space” for students of color and allies. While this claim merits critical discussion on its own account, we also need to think about the culture that inflated one white student’s sense of entitlement to front-page news, while remaining silent on the persistence of systemic oppression of non-white peoples. Most Macalester students recognize and condemn racism when we see it in New Orleans or Jena; but are reluctant to acknowledge racism right in front of our noses. The front-page story of October 19 perpetuates this miserable tradition. The decision to feature an article about ‘reverse racism’ is a de facto assertion that racism is either absent or relatively unimportant at Mac.This attack has threatened one of the few safe spaces for students of color on campus in addition to further fraying race relations. As white students, we feel it is now incumbent on us all to support Students for Protecting and Conserving Equality (SPACE) in their response to the article, then pick up the pieces and educate ourselves so that this doesn’t happen again.

Many white students are probably confused about allegations of racism on campus. After all, Macalester College has four stated core values: multiculturalism, internationalism, service to society, and academic excellence. The reality is that these “values” are not supported equally. We do not have the expertise or the space in this article to explain exactly how multiculturalism and space for non-white students at Macalester has been marginalized, so we will refer readers instead to the Multicultural Advisory Board Report issued in Spring 2005. It is available online at http://www.macalester.edu/provost/diversity/index.html. Use your email username and password to access it. It is illuminating that the Dean of Multicultural Life who contributed to this report resigned “as an act of resistance to the continued marginalization of multiculturalism as evidenced through institutional structures and minimal resources” in Spring 2006.

We are not sure that much has changed since Spring 2006. What we do know is that the systemic supremacy of whites in society has been so naturalized and normalized at Macalester that some white students think that the idea of ‘reverse racism’ is not only valid, but is more news-worthy than investigation of actual institutional racism. In such a climate of such utter disregard for the experiences of students of color, we believe that it is important for white students to educate ourselves and demonstrate solidarity with students of color by supporting Macalester’s few safe spaces of exchange and discussion such as the “Historians and Critical Race Theory” seminar.

To minimize the possibility of misrepresentation, we refer to arguments and points taken from SPACE’s widely distributed letter and The Mac Weekly’s article. Spaces such as this seminar provide an environment for marginalized students to lead their own discussions and exchanges of ideas free from the pressures of silence, intimidation, and tokenization felt in other classes. “Historians and Critical Race Theory” provides equalizing classroom experience in a higher education system that throughout history has been predominantly influenced and controlled by wealthy, straight white male opinion. In such a system, ‘reverse racism’ can only be a fallacy that is used to attack movements that challenge inequality.

As white students, we believe it is important for us to acknowledge and understand our personal complicity in the perpetuation of interpersonal and institutional racism. We have supported and will continue to support students in SPACE as they and others fight marginalization and oppression at Macalester. We will continue to educate ourselves about the racist legacy we as white people inherit in order to be better allies in the fight to stop it. We invite all white people interested in understanding and undermining racism to join us.

Dan Balogh ’10 can be contacted at [email protected], Erik Forman ’08 can be reached at [email protected] For more information, email [email protected], or attend the next meeting Sunday 8 p.m. in the Infoshop.