We aren't all the same; get over it

By Tinbete Ermyas

They say that the clash of ideas is the sound of freedom. But I believe that it depends on whose ideas are clashing that determines whether or not freedom is even a possibility.

This semester I’ve been exposed a lot to the topic of citizenship and its affects on the way people react with one another. All the things I have been exposed to in my classes were solidified last week when I attended a play at the Walker Art Center entitled The 51st (Dream) State by acclaimed poet and activist Sekou Sundiata.

In the play, there was an interview with a Palestinian-American woman who noted that in America, when a white person critiques the actions of the United States, it is considered democracy in practice. However, when a person of color does so, it is considered complaining and un-American.

This made such a forcible impression on me that I brought it up to some friends who hadn’t attended the play with me. They said that they thought that was true for the greater United States population, but that here at Mac, we are all pretty much in the same boat as being considered un-American because we all criticize the United States’ actions.

Wow, I thought, that was a sweeping generalization, but it doesn’t mean that it needn’t be addressed.

Inherent in this statement was a lot of privileg—white privilege. One friend in particular (who happened to be white) completely missed the fact that the comment he critiqued was addressing the very fact that he is white. And the fact that he can even say what he says on a daily basis is linked to his identity as a white male in America.

And another problem that I had and still have with his generalization of the Macalester community is that we are different from the rest of the United States because of our political leanings. Give me a break.

Do you really think that because most Macalester students identify as left of center that we approach the topic of citizenship and its link to race and racism? I’ve come to learn that it doesn’t. Or rather, that political leanings really don’t have much to do with the ways in which people view race.

It’s been interesting writing this column as a student of color here at Mac. Some of the feedback that I have gotten from students has been positive. Other times, it hasn’t been so good.

Its interesting whenever I read the letters by people who don’t like the column. A lot of the negativity that people bring up has to deal with the fact that they think I am complaining and that my “complaints” aren’t warranted most of the time because here at Macalester “we are so different” from the rest of the country.

But really how different are we if students can honestly say that the experiences of some students of color are not warranted due to the fact we are so different? How different can we be if students at Macalester don’t want to accept the fact that we are products of the same messed-up political system that we critique so often?

I contend that we aren’t so different, that in order for there to be any real difference, most Mac students have to accept their positions when it comes to conversations about race and know that just because you are a registered Democrat does not mean that one doesn’t benefit from the systematic benefits given to whiteness.

In my opinion, when this dismissal exists, it is a slap in the face to those who have to constantly defend our citizenship because at the end of the day we aren’t the same and it would be nice if people could acknowledge that from time to time and work on fixing it.

It is only a true clash of ideas when the ideas are informed by our identities and are not masked by our aspirations to seem more “PC.”

It is only when people begin to acknowledge their true positions in society that we can begin to have conversations about how to make things better. Once that happens, I will only have one thing to say:

Clash on, my friends. Clash on.

Tinbete Ermyas ’08 is the main contributor to the “From the Margin to the Center” Column for The Mac Weekly Opinion Section. Contact him at [email protected]