Letters to the Editor – White Male Whining? – 2

I was no doubt inspired to respond to Jesse Listernick’s article last week, titled “Making Assumptions: The White Male Bias.”

Firstly, with respect to the forum, “The Silent Killers amongst Minorities and Women: Diseases and Health Risks too Private to Discuss, but too Destructive to Ignore,” I suspect that it was one that Jesse did not attend. If he had, then he would have noticed that the audience was comprised of men and women of all races.

Second, I agree that Jewish people are a minority, which is precisely why Jesse and everyone else who identifies as a minority was welcome to attend the forum on the health of “Minorities and Women.” If, as Jesse noted, he was intimidated by the fact that his appearance is that of an “average white guy,” then I simply respond: all the more reason to have attended. The only way to eliminate the ignorance surrounding Jewish identity is to speak out. And that will never be accomplished by opting out of situations that make one feel different and uncomfortable. Perhaps Jesse should initiate a forum on the health of Jewish males, which would surely make him feel less uncomfortable about attending. But I guess that wouldn’t work either since if we apply his rationale equally, that forum would probably prevent all those who are not Jewish males from attending – the precise problem that he seemingly opposes. That seems like quite the contradiction to me.

Third, awareness of the particular does not undercut awareness of the universal. And history has proven that the universal is white males. Which leads me to Jesse’s question about the fairness of having to explain that he is a minority when “no one else has to.” The reality is that minorities, especially minorities of color, and women are constantly forced to explain — explain that they are just as smart, just as qualified, just as much of a person as a white male.

Fourth, the flyer that was used to publicize the event denoted that it was focused on “diseases and health risks too private to discuss.” That statement was not an issuance of the ALANA Cultural Center’s standpoint, but rather a highlight of the social reality surrounding health within minority populations. It is largely invisible because there are not enough spaces where minority groups can safely and comfortably speak out – away from the stigma, away from the universal and away from the need to explain. And that is precisely why more forums like the one held at ALANA are needed.

Fifth, Jesse’s assertion that creating a venue for minority groups to express themselves minimizes advancement opportunities for white males is highly problematic in that: a.) it presupposes that social justice is a zero sum game (reality: it is not.); and b.) it denies minorities and women the right to be autonomous. Change and improvement within those communities will always be stunted if it is reactionary, requiring the inclusion and permission of the already privileged. This goes to the heart of the problem of white male entitlement: it does not recognize minorities and women as independent in and of ourselves, or that we can exist outside the sphere of white males. But it is our right.

Sixth, no one is trying to minimize the experiences of white males, least of all the ALANA Cultural Center, which encourages coalition building across all areas of division. But if any progress is to be made in the elimination of ignorance and bigotry, then we all need to be willing to step out of the narrowness of our personal experiences and identity. To borrow a feminist adage, the personal is political, but it does not need to be the be all, end all. And that applies to everyone.

Now, I recognize the possible unfairness of having a senior write a rebuttal to a freshman, not because of any intellectual differentials or age-endowed wisdom, but simply because I have the benefit of being here longer, have attended more events and taken 20-something more credits of personal/interpersonal/social analysis. That being said, I applaud Jesse for being impassioned to the point of action, for I would not have had the courage to submit such a personal piece to The Maroon-News my freshman year. It shows promise, which I am sure Colgate’s dedication toward fostering open-minded and well-informed students will be able to refine. And lastly, I can only hope that this particular conversation will encourage more open dialogue on the importance of race, sexuality, gender, class and other important identity-constructs here on campus. We all have opinions. Now is the time to vocalize them, collectively and constructively.