Over the past year I have closely monitored The Chronicle’s editorials. Sexuality (from Duke’s hook-up culture to gay rights) and race relations (from party themes to “thugs’ ladies”) are undeniably two of the most-discussed issues on this campus. More than once I have become infuriated by discussions of the latter; it seems to me that despite an overwhelming enthusiasm for expressing personal opinion, there is little interest in real debates that could open any doors for change. I am suggesting an obvious—though possibly overlooked—explanation for this and what could possibly be done to really eliminate racial tensions.
Can you look at my name and guess the texture of my hair? Would your opinion of this column change if I told you I was half African-American? Or that last year, I had a crush on a Korean?
No one can be totally objective during a race-related discussion because despite the idea of equality, everyone is classifiable and will identify with a certain race (or races). Thus, it is virtually impossible to view race relations without some sort of reference point, or bias. It is difficult to improve race relations because it’s impossible to alter one’s reference point. Changes in viewpoints can only occur through life experiences and one’s openness to their implications. And stereotypes—the mother of racism—have nothing to do with real, individual exchanges or what you learn from your own experiences.
Not all Asian men are brilliant, and not all of them are demure in the bedroom. Every Latina cannot inherently know how to shake her hips, and at least one of them is a better engineer than the white boy who sits beside her in Teer. It is philosophically and logically impossible to pick-and-choose some stereotypes while not accepting all of them. The picking-and-choosing becomes entirely subjective and therefore loses all basis of credibility. For this reason, one must either accept all stereotypes or discard all of them. Because many stereotypes hinder race relations in general, the best solution is to reject them all, whether they refer to your own ethnicity or to someone else’s. Even if one argues that stereotypes are based on some level of truth, for the sake of positive and functional relationships, it becomes necessary to discard all of them.
I would like to stress that I am not suggesting you give up ideas of your heritage, background, culture or self-identity. I realize that a probable response to my argument is, “My heritage is important to me; you can’t expect me to disregard it because I do feel a connection to other people based on my background.” Rejecting ideas of heritage is an impossible solution. What I am suggesting, however, is that you use your background to relate to individuals. Think of a group not as one organic being, one mass with the same feelings, but as a collection of solitary members, with whom you may or may not identify for various reasons. By thinking in terms of individuals, you eliminate the problem of making assumptions about groups based on one, two, or even a few people.
While this may seem painfully obvious, it’s a way of thinking that relies on reality instead of social constructs. In the same vein, I would also argue that student groups based solely on race instead of a common interest—such as a certain style of dance, religion, etc.—do nothing but perpetuate racial divides.
It’s my hope that readers will seriously consider my ideas without rejecting them as “easy ramblings” from a white girl. You may be wondering, “Why does she have a right to say anything?” But the white girl can be stereotyped just like everyone else: apathetic, naïve, rich, asexual, innocent, spoiled or even boring… for everyone, the list goes on and on. My parents and grandparents may lack a turbulent social history, but that does not mean that I don’t take racial issues to heart or that I don’t have something worthwhile to contribute for all of us.
Lauren Salisbury is a Trinity senior.
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