Stuff Park wrote: sweeping generalizations

By Matt Won

Once again, I am compelled to address the callous and easy arrogance of privilege that is the only dialect that many journalists can speak in the journalist’s tongue. Compelled, but for what?The same arrogance that speaks through the two-page spread on what whiteness (and Macalester?) likes already views its own writing as incomplete without some partial, self-interested or “tribalist” response-so why should I or anyone otherized by this conflicted drivel even respond? What could be gained from filling this role, stepping into the chalk already drawn out for me? No matter what its content, my response will simply be met with “disdain” by this overwhelmingly white campus.

Maybe.

One’s first response to Park’s “Personal reflection on whiteness” might be that there’s nothing “personal” about it, but unsolicited expositions on whiteness are always personal.

Too bad Park is utterly incapable or unwilling to interrogate his own place in the world-to be specific, his own whiteness-apart from the unmarked, omniscient, unraced (um, what color is unraced anyway?) journalist/academic voice. To be entirely and barbarically simplistic, I’ll go where Park wouldn’t: I’m speaking from the position of a straight, middle class, mixed race white/Asian male born in the United States who studies issues of difference based in, among other things, racial hierarchies.

The “personal” in Park’s writings only seems absent: in reality it’s written all over. In that all-knowing voice and, most tellingly, in the pronoun trouble that crops up even in Park’s finishing flourish. When I see the profound confusion embodied in a sentence like “As white people, we [sic?] have stepped outside our [sic?] timid boxes to meet their [sic?] peers and help raise a hero greater than ourselves [sic?] to the nation’s highest office.” I don’t feel disdain; I feel pity.

Pronoun confusion-that ever-so-innocent slip of the tongue-haunts every invocation of Macalester and its identity. Are white people “our” people? Are they Park’s people? Are they Macalester’s people?

Case in point: the winning student video for the Step Forward fundraising extravaganza really just let the cat out of the bag. The journey of the Macalester experience is the white man’s. The rest of us are just along for the ride.

Nevertheless, I’m writing this because I really don’t believe that most Macalester students would buy into this if they gave it any real thought in conjunction with sustained interactions with groups of people not important enough to be represented in the Step Forward video (as more than dark hands reaching up to a white savior). Also helpful: reading one of those books or articles on whiteness that Park mentions but seems not to have read, or a blog. Better yet, wipe that smug look off your or anyone else’s face who’s (LOL) just taking an American Studies or WGSS course for the “Domestic Diversity” credit.

We should think about who we’re naming when we say “our,” and who’s included in “we” and to what degree.

We students at Macalester were born after the amnesias of the Reagan era, after every critique from the civil rights era had been smashed and resold as “political correctness,” whose goal wasn’t the end of ghettoes or equal education for all, but rather to put you through diversity training.

My use of the term “unbleached” during the Q & A at Spike Lee’s visit has been held on to as something of a fetish by those unable or unwilling to come to terms with their own status in the racial order in this country. But “unbleached” and its aftermath are what those in education might call a “teachable moment.”

If you felt singled out, otherized, attacked, powerless to respond and define yourself while others presumed to do that for you, hold on to that feeling. That’s how a lot of people at this school feel every day, from queer students of color to the janitors who clean up vomit when that “we” comes out.

Can those with some white privilege and a “racial” majority status in this country built on genocide reimagine that, for once whiteness might be the deviation from the norm, might be “diversity?” Could we imagine, as a starting point, whiteness not as the norm from which humans begin and then are “colored” but some other hue that is then “bleached?” Then we would see whiteness as itself a race, as unnatural, as abnormal.

It’s not like there’s a Women’s History Month because there was SO much women’s history being taught that they just had to cut that down to one month. If some of us occasionally seem combative or “offensive,” it’s because so many others refuse to acknowledge or even see their own offensiveness, and because we’ve always had to fight for every gain, from the Expanding Educational Opportunities program bringing in local poor students of color to the right for non-whites to become naturalized U.S. citizens.

I write this for us, for the memory of the EEO and for your offended white friends. And I’m hopeful for all of us.

Matt Won ’09 can be contacted at [email protected]