The Writing’s on the Wall

Jaime Coyne

At this point, we’ve all heard about the racist remarks written on a bathroom wall and the racial slurs yelled out of a window. Several of my classes have discussed these issues, as I hope everyone’s classes have. It is unfortunate and disheartening that these events were coordinated with the election of the United States’ first African American president, which was undoubtedly a step in the right direction for race relations in this country. But while the comments seem to have been made in response to the possibility of an African American president, their sentiments were not spontaneously created in the hearts of those people as Obama’s victory approached. The conversation on that wall was an outpouring of deep-seated, long established hatred that was not unique to this moment in history, this college campus or those particular people.

I have heard quite often, in my classes’ and peers’ discussions of this occurrence, what should be done to ‘them.’ We need to find out who ‘they’ are and take serious action against ‘them.’ ‘They’ are the ones who need these events that have been planned in response to their actions, but ‘they’ are the type of people who would never attend these events. ‘They’ are the people who have probably heard everything we could say to ‘them’ before and will not listen.

All these things are probably true, in regard to the people responsible for these hate crimes. But I think that in focusing so much on ‘them,’ we miss the point. We forget about ‘us.’ Yes, let’s have solidarity. Let’s ostracize the perpetrators of hate crimes. But let’s not use overt racism as a crutch to keep us from acknowledging our own intrinsic racism.

You don’t have to yell racist slurs out of windows to be a part of the problem. Whether we admit to or realize it, we’re all at least a little racist. It’s in that moment where you lock the car door as you enter a certain neighborhood, or cross the street when you see a certain person coming, or make assumptions about someone before they’ve said a word or gravitate toward someone who looks like you when you have to meet new people. It’s in the way you distrust an entire group of people based on an idea that’s been instilled in you throughout your life, whether that idea is that ‘all black people are dangerous and violent’ or ‘all white people hate black people.’

If we are going to really take on the issue of racism at Colgate — or anywhere — we need to take the responsibility of calling it our problem. Not our problem in the sense that we should find all self-proclaimed white supremacists and create our own torture devices for them, but in the sense that we all discriminate, and we have all seen discrimination and done nothing. Admitting this is the first step. If we can all be aware of our words and actions, acknowledge when they hint of prejudice and make a concerted effort to stop this behavior, then we are truly committing ourselves to positive change. If we can find the courage to speak up when we see other people acting in racist ways, maybe there will be a ripple effect. We cannot pretend that extrinsic racism, the loud proclamation of racist ideas, is the only problem in the fight against racism. We need to face ourselves, realize that ‘we’ are ‘them’ and do something about it.