Letter To The Editor: A Response to the OpEd 3/21

Before I get started, I recommend pulling up and reading Lennox Reeder’s OpEd on 3/21 side-by-side with my response to follow along.  

I would like to applaud Lennox for their exposition on the subject of individualism from the perspective of a Black student at Reed College. Lennox critiques the “progressively racist” environment students harbor by masking it in the language of “political correctness.” Obligatory preface: as a White person I cannot accurately speak on non-white issues; rather, it is my duty to continuously educate myself about issues pertinent to the Black community. I am aware I hold implicit biases and with this in mind, it is not my intent to disregard Lennox’s thoughts but to expand on them. 

Your observation of Reed’s student body is on-point; the type of person Reed College attracts is the ‘woke White liberal’ (I would describe as someone who creates a glorified humanitarian-based persona of themselves outwardly while internally holding technically conservative beliefs). I have observed that a majority of people on campus preach a community-based and ‘equal’ environment while secretly believing they are the only morally correct person here. I am saying this aware of also having once held similar opinions–which I am actively working on correcting and optimistically believe is on a positive linear track. 

The quote you have chosen from philosopher Slavoj Zizek is a perfect connection to the sense of “Othering” you describe that exists in sub-communities on campus. While at Reed there is a desire for individualism, there is an equal, if not greater desire to belong. These insecurities materialize through the persistent cycle of subtle bullying. This idea of an insecure-rooted sense of belonging goes beyond the topic of race, however, since your OpEd highlights race as a factor, this is what I will be focusing on as well. 

Your perspective on how people assume hostility towards themselves from others is understandable but is missing a key factor to go beyond the racial, and societal issue you raise; this being a post-Trump era. President Trump’s administration may have only lasted one term, but its effects are long-lasting. Political beliefs aside, it is apparent Trump’s America allowed Confederate pride to arise in a more apparent way than it has in the 21st century. As a White person, I believe it is reasonable for a person of color to be wary of the dominant White culture surrounding them. In Trump’s America, it seemed there was an encouragement to perpetuate the “internal oppressive larger regime” upon sub-communities in the country. So, what does it say of your character if you go throughout your day proclaiming any issue white people hold with you as being racially motivated? As an onlooker, there is no one answer to your question–there are individual factors that play into the larger discussion at hand. Claiming that each scrutinous issue a White person may have with you is solely due to your race, is what I would deem a form of self-victimization. 

Let me create a scenario: a math professor is grading an Asian student’s work more harshly than a White student’s due to the stereotype that “all Asians are good at math,” yet there is no apparent evidence of the professor doing this. There may be a thought in the back of one’s mind that their more strict evaluations were racially motivated; this is a valid concern to hold alongside the unknowing of the professor’s own implicit biases. Possibly an even better, more timely example is the information that has come to light about Professor Paul Currie’s racist and xenophobic behavior. Paul may not outwardly show bias toward his students, but it would be unreasonable to assume his bias was not an influence on his past gradings.

You mention the phrase “assuming everyone is out to get me.” Your previous point talked about assumptions coming from White people, and yet here you talk about everyone; and “everyone” is not only White people. The intent of my mentioning this is out of genuine confusion. Would the situation not also vary depending on the closeness and openness one has with you? Nevertheless, if clear boundaries are not made and/or recognized, it is once again reasonable to assume something has been enacted by the other with malicious intent. 

I enjoy your phrasing: “when we presume trauma we enact trauma onto ourselves, violating the basic principles of consent in communication.” I think this idea is incredibly important to keep in mind, however, when this is the main thought process in interactions, too much leeway may create unsafe circumstances. Moderation is imperative so one does not impose trauma onto themselves while also having the ability to keep up enough of a guard in case things go array. 

You touch slightly on the topic of you, as a mixed-race individual, having difficulty finding a safe space. I cannot offer the right advice to aid in the sense of “Othering” you may have, as I have no ‘obvious’ physical quality that would “Other” me. What I can say is, I think the realization you had after arguing with your partner is quite beautiful. It is also beautifully circular–this realization and new question you pose is almost the same point you made which I expanded on earlier.

Initially, I was surprised to learn that you are anti-anti-racist. I am pro-CRT teachings as they helped me broaden my understanding of persistent racial disparities that exist today. As a White person, I am the intended audience for implementing Critical Race Theory and so my viewpoint is inevitably going to be different from yours as a Black person. Upon reading my response and clarifying some points, Lennox explained the intent of the paragraph: “I don’t disagree with you there, CRT is good and absolutely necessary due to the violence of its “definition.” I dislike “antiracism” as in “the antiracist baby” or “how to be anti-racist;” racism is a conscious choice to me…so by perceiving it…a materially bad thing will bring it out into discussion.” Lennox continues by explaining how if we equate racism as bad, no one will want to identify as being racist, thus causing the race to further become an issue in society. “Antiracism […] [is] moralizing the issue and relying on people who already want to be better. This reduces its efficacy.” I had not heard this perspective before talking to Lennox, and it is enlightening; I still, however, have a question. Considering the systemically racist society we live in, it is inevitable for young children to interact with encouraging-racist ideologies; how do you suppose we progress from this if “the antiracist baby” or “how to be anti-racist” were not implemented? The way I view it, these concepts are imperative as the mediatory phase before obtaining the ideal societal thought you express above.

(I am not going to touch on the 1916 Project since I have not heard of it, but I wanted to shout it out anyway.)

What I can touch on is your invalidation of political correctness. Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly believe in holding views outside of what is considered “politically correct;” I also believe it is important to hold beliefs that do fall into a category of “political correctness.” How I understand this concurrency can be explained through the pro-choice versus pro-life debate: would “Unnamed Person” ever consider having an abortion? No. Does this mean “Unnamed Person” believes no one should be able to have an abortion? Also no. The separation between two ideas can coexist by being individually pro-life while being outwardly pro-choice. If this is what you were saying in this section, I apologize for misinterpreting.

I think the topic of individualism itself is tricky to discuss in general, and you did a good job considering–although it was rather dense and it took me a couple of reads to understand. It truly feels that Reed is a perfect environment for narcissists to materialize while simultaneously causing these narcissists to hate each thing about themselves the second they are alone in their rooms. This observation isn’t meant to call anyone out individually; it is merely exposing a harsh reality we all live in and yet all collectively don’t want, at least to some degree. I just hope people allow themselves to go beyond the words you wrote and perform a deeper, more internal analysis.
I also want to address the comments you received on the Quest website. Commenters “Recent Alum” and “Reed” make the most constructive comments rather than flat out criticism as “Student2” and “Guest” did. If Student2 and guests re-read the piece with more due diligence, they will find the theme is “the concept of individuality as a Black person” rather than “educating White people on Black issues is wrong.” Interpreting your OpEd in the former further proves how “progressive racism” is alive and well on Reed College’s campus.

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