To the editors:
Issues Day arrived in a time of particular volatility and division. When Ms. Childress challenged us with the notion that all whites are inherently racist because they are a majority and they hold a position of power, many struggled to swallow this new pill. Their definition of racism was more explicit and overt: you are being racist if you actively discriminate against a specific, tangible, person.
Despite calmly voicing concerns and disagreements in the homeroom discussion about Ms. Childress’s definition, some students lamented dismissively afterward to their friends about the “extremity” of her view.
Regardless of your own view, you must not simply dismiss the opposing viewpoint.This disagreement stems from a fundamentally different definition of racism. Some of us agree with Ms. Childress’s subtler definition of racism and others favor the more overt definition of racism. I will not ask you to favor either, but instead to think about the issue.
Whether or not you agree with Ms. Childress, we must continue to reflect on the importance of race in our society. Racism of both definitions is an ongoing issue, and we must work together to combat it. When we quickly dismiss a viewpoint of racism, we put this issue out of mind and endanger ourselves to act in racist ways unconsciously. Constant reflection about race is necessary to sharpen our observation and combat racism. Furthermore, we often dismiss the people holding the opposing view as ignorant or stupid. We must be willing to work with and listen to those with whom we disagree; we must teach them and learn from them. No matter our view, it is not perfect.
Instead of just writing off the people we disagree with, we must dialogue with them to create a stronger, more informed, united front. Struggling against racism itself should be our focus, not debating who has the better definition of racism. As far as I know, most people who subscribe to the overt, person-to-person definition of racism also believe that systemic discrimination exists. Among those who follow the implicit definition of racism—that whites, as the powerful majority, are inherently racist—this person-to-person discrimination is certainly included. There is importance in our definition of racism, but given how large the overlap is between the beliefs of those who do care about racism, I believe that our time is better spent united in the primary goal of reducing racism to, ideally, nonexistence, than it is in the secondary goal of defining racism.
-Edward Gartner, ’17