Trying to personally grapple with issues of race relations on this campus has been an emotionally exhausting experience. Trying to articulate my thoughts in a coherent, rational, and well-balanced argument? Seemingly impossible.
Often times when I try to express myself on issues of race, gender and sexuality I become tongue-tied and hot-headed because I feel so passionately about these topics. I get blinded by my emotions and distracted by my personal agenda. It's easy to ignore any information that does not agree with our own position and to dismiss those who we believe just don't understand us because they seem to be in an opposing position.
What is most challenging is to try and find a balance between our distinct, often conflicting identities that dictate who we are and what we feel. Sometimes the only way to find common ground is to strip away those identities and to work towards creating discourse that is easily accessible no matter what backgrounds we are coming from.
Recently, we have been bombarded with occurrences and instances that are related to or affect race relations on this campus (the Jena 6 incident in Jena, Louisiana, FARI's visibility and activism, professor Maria Lima's Lamron article and professor Gene Stelzig's response, and most recently, news of a few students' choice of some controversial Halloween costumes) that have fueled the discussion of racism on our campus in several of my classes.
These discussions are intense and heated, there is never an answer, and no matter what, someone gets defensive. While it is easy to become defensive and shut down when a group we identify with is questioned (while dominant groups have been accused of holding racist or prejudicial beliefs or acting in discriminatory ways, minority groups are accused of being too sensitive, looking for problems, or being unrealistically politically correct), it may be worthwhile to take a step back and honestly give the other side a fair chance to offer insight without dismissing them simply because they are not us.
It is extremely important to recognize both everyone else's and our own positions within such a raced, classed and gendered society. Racism is a stigmatized word: No one enjoys accusing someone of being blatantly racist. At the same time, using ignorance as a way to excuse one's actions or dismissing consequences on the grounds that the action was not meant to be intentionally harmful is just not going to cut it. While we may not be responsible for every single person's well-being, we owe it to ourselves to create the safest, most inclusive atmosphere we can. In the same way we want to reject institutionalized racism and recognize white privilege, we need to also understand that criminalizing, ostracizing and silencing someone in a dominant position is just as unacceptable.
In discussions on race relations on this campus in particular, Stelzig is right; it is not a simple issue of black versus white. There is more at stake than whether or not we agree or disagree, whether a distinct problem of racism or white supremacy exists at Geneseo. What we also need to be aware of is the possibly accusatory and hostile environment that we are creating and perpetuating in the meantime.