We must prevent, not treat, racial debacles

By Kei Hotoda

The rioting in Paris began nearly two weeks ago with the accidental deaths of two French teenagers of Arab and African descent who thought they were being chased by the police. But clearly, as time has shown, the riots have less to do with these deaths than it does with France’s general problem of integrating their immigrants and their French-born children. I think it is worth noting that in France, a relatively small event made way for attention to a much larger, deteriorated situation that will take time to ameliorate. Likewise, here at the U of C, the “Straight Thuggin’ It” party made us address larger issues that will also take time to flesh out: racism, stereotypes, and prestigious, private American universities’ problem with providing a comfortable environment for minority students. France and the U of C are both facing similar issues at almost the same time due to the reaction and explosion of smaller events.

Should a significant issue like integrating minorities be addressed after events like the death of two deprived teenagers or a “ghetto” themed party on campus? Why does it seem like minority-related issues are always addressed at the last minute? French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin seems to have made some diplomatic attempts to calm rioters – on the twelfth day of rioting. This is a nice try, but be serious: one man has died, dozens of police have been wounded, and it’s been twelve consecutive nights of burning cars, businesses, buildings, schools, and even an old, handicapped woman. And now he wants to start talking about paying attention to immigrants and their kids? Frustrated, angry teenagers rarely resort to reason anyway, so it is really “pas étonnant [not surprising],” as my French lecturer said of the whole string of events, that disillusioned French-Arab/African youth are destroying their own, already-disadvantaged neighborhoods.

As for the U of C, I think Fithawee Tzeggai offered the most insightful response to the “Ghetto Party” incident in the U of C student journal Diskord. His conclusion includes calls for the U of C administration to acknowledge problems of racism on campus and “to do something to encourage racial sensitivity and transform the campus cultural dynamic.” He suggests “recruiting more black students, hiring more black faculty, or even adjusting the core curriculum.” Unfortunately, his suggestions are probably not new; responses to such requests are long overdue on the part of prominent, private U.S. colleges and universities.

This is not to say that it is too late to resolve integration issues both at home and abroad. It just means the lost time must be made up, and of course, it will be far from easy. Governments and university administrations are not alone in the work; society is equally responsible for promoting integration and cross-cultural understanding. But to promote the integration we covet so much, we must first get rid of indifference and apathy towards these issues.

These two events, in addition to the U.S. government’s slow response to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, are some of the tragic consequences of historical errors we are faced with on a daily basis. Our past doesn’t literally repeat itself, but it is always so close. Do we have to go on constantly shaking our heads at the current state of affairs? There must be a way to prevent riots or parody-themed parties, which only represent a myriad of potential incidents, by addressing the larger, looming issues well beforehand.