I take great offense at the opinions expressed in the letter by the Board of Students Organized Against Racism regarding the workshop they led on racism for members of our Student Union (Letter to the Editor, Jan. 25).
Though I was not present at the workshop, I have heard accounts contradicting SOAR’s version of events, though I must write solely based on the letter itself. The writers state that they presented a definition of the term ‘racism’ to be used in facilitating discussions at the workshop. According to them, racism is defined as “a practice of prejudice or discrimination that is reinforced or upheld by the dominant power structures in society; racial prejudice as exercised by whites.”
Not only do I find it utterly ridiculous that the group presenting supplied a definition to be used (rather than allow participants to discuss and thus form a definition collectively), but I find the definition itself contemptible. Racism, or persecution or discrimination based on racial factors, is in fact not relegated to certain racial or socio-economic groups (i.e., the “white” or so-called “dominant power structures”). The absolute character of this definition makes it (conveniently?) logically impossible to contradict, but I will present some counterexamples and hope that readers will agree with me that they are indeed instances of racism.
Firstly, racism can be expressed by racial groups that are not “white” or “dominant.” Take the example of the New Black Panther Party for Self-Defense (not to be confused with the original Black Panther Party), whose members the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights organization, calls “black supremacists”; their leader, Khalil Abdul Muhammad has launched tirades against “white devil crackers,” “bloodsucking Jews,” and “faggots.” Of course, according to the SOAR definition this would not count as racism, coming from the mouth of an African-American. Furthermore, racism by racial minorities is not just a phenomenon of extremist groups, but can be committed by anyone.
Secondly, racism can occur between two groups of different racial minorities. For instance, a Latino-supremacist ideology known as ‘La Raza’ has been mentioned in connection to murders of African-Americans in Los Angeles by Latino gang members; African-Americans were murdered whether or not they were affiliated with a gang.
Thirdly, racism can occur between members of the same racial group. As an avid fan of the talk show ‘Maury Povich,’ I have seen African-American women talk about hating themselves and their race. If you don’t believe talk shows, there are plenty of other examples out there.
I believe in the words of Avenue Q, namely “everyone’s a little bit racist.” I know I have been, sometimes. Having definitions involving absolute statements is dangerous; if members of the SOAR Board who consider themselves as belonging to a racial minority truly believe in the validity of their own definition of “racism” as only being committed by whites, they must then believe that they have never in their lives committed a racist act, or even had a racist thought. I doubt they can match their own strict standards.
– Sam Ackerman ‘08
In regards to my experience with the Study Abroad office (“Study abroad under investigation by NY Attorney General,” Jan. 25), I would just like to say that I was so lucky to have been able to go abroad the entire year last year.
I feel that I was given the best and most professional advice about which programs to choose. I am sure that the results of the investigation will demonstrate that our Study Abroad office is nothing but truly committed to the students.
– Laura Wolfe ‘08