The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

Zeke’s Mystique: Don’t make the same mistake I did

Several months ago over Winter Break, I was back home in Boston. It was a Friday night, and one of my best friends asked me to go out to dinner with him and his girlfriend and some of her friends who were from a neighboring city. My friend and I took the T into the city and met his girlfriend and her friends at the restaurant where we were eating. I remember sizing up the group — I’d never met my friend’s girlfriend or her friends — and thinking that they were all typically suburban, white and closed minded. I was being judgmental and pretentious, but I figured from our conversations about school life that they were clearly not on the same level as the Macalester Community to which I had been exposed.

As the dinner went on, I focused more on the Bruins game on the television in the background and less on the people around me. I wasn’t interested in hearing about hook-up stories or case races. In fact, I got so cocky that I began trying to throw in words that I thought some of the friends wouldn’t be able to understand, just so I could internally laugh at their confusion and frustration.

But, finally, I became interested in the conversation. While discussing school, we began talking about majors and what we were studying. The guy sitting next to me said he was studying criminal justice. Intrigued, I said, “Being a police officer seems like a pretty complicated thing to do right now.” His response shocked me. He replied, “Someone needs to take care of all the ni$%ers.” I was so shocked that I didn’t say anything. I, the self-proclaimed intelligent, intellectual, humanitarian, young man, did not say a word. Instead, I just sort of looked away as if I didn’t really hear him. For the rest of dinner, I sat in a state of stillness and shock.

When I got home, I immediately called every person I knew and told them about this ridiculous guy and how racist and horrible he was for having said that. However, there was a part of me that knew there was a far truer and deeper place inside of me that had a different reaction to the events of the night.

This part of me asked why I chose to say nothing, to not stand up for what I thought was right. Maybe it was because this guy was entitled to his opinions? No. Rather, first and foremost, my lack of comment stemmed almost exclusively from this fact: I’ve said the n-word before too, and not just once. Not in this context, not in the same fashion, but rather, immaturely with friends as I tried to act cool or while singing along to lyrics. Also, being at Macalester in a community where this language is incredibly frowned upon, especially coming from someone like myself, a white person, I thought of myself as not deserving to voice my thoughts at the dinner. Thus, my logic told me that because I have said this word before and I am also white, I have no right to speak on behalf of someone who is black to whom the comment was targeted, and I am no better than the person who made the comment.

This logic of mine was and is ridiculous. Last week, in the article “Discussing tough topics: The concept of victim privilege,” the author talked about how members of marginalized groups are able to say things about the same topic as members of dominant groups, yet attract much more attention and assert opinions more freely. I agree that there is a difference in the way in which the thoughts of marginalized and dominant groups are received in the Macalester community. Essentially, I think there’s something to be said about the way that members of dominant groups, when they are truly trying their best to do and say the right thing, handle themselves in these conversations. Yet, when it comes down to it, I do not agree that this is a privilege for the victim, rather that there is more of a responsibility for us in the dominant groups.

I should have said something and disagreed at the dinner. Not because of privilege, victim or dominant. Not because I speak on behalf of the black community. Not because I feel guilty about saying the n-word. I should have said something because in the community where we live, we are generally like-minded. We represent a radical left minority in the political and social sphere of the United States.

Here, we can argue as much as we would like in the comments section of the Mac Weekly article which I was discussing. If you look at the comments, you will note that they are generally criticizing the author for his remarks, outlining political remedies for the author’s argument. or simply bashing it. This is an understandable but comfortable course of action. I know because I do it, too. Yet, when it comes down to it, I failed when I had the opportunity to do what was hard. I failed at confronting a different thought to which I was diametrically opposed. Thus, the heat is on me. I need to step up my game. If I am to actually use the knowledge I gain while at Macalester, I have to learn how to stand up for my beliefs against those who think exactly the opposite of me.

For the next person who has a situation like mine, listen and talk. Being silent only got me votes of support from those who already agreed. That will never be enough.

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