November 6, 2003

Response to racist comment discouraged dialogue

A recent incident at Brandeis University has prompted an investigation about where our generation stands on race relations. A sportswriter for the Brandeis student newspaper The Justice used the "n" word in a piece published about Chicago Cubs manager Dusty Baker, a black baseball coach. The reference was extremely inexcusable, and he was appropriately dismissed. Fuming black student union members also made a list of demands for the newspaper—that the sports editor also be fired, and that there would be a printing of a front page apology from the newspaper and a front page response letter from the black student union. When the editor-in-chief refused, members of the black student union showed up at 1 a.m. to protest outside his office, banging on the windows and demanding his resignation. He later resigned.

That a vile racial epithet could so easily make it into a newspaper shows how little some have learned about American democracy. But the reaction of the black students was almost as inappropriate and ridiculous. By their intimidating tactics, they squandered an opportunity to open a constructive dialogue on race. In their response letter the protestors wrote: "Whether they agree or disagree with our cause, they cannot deny that we have a voice—a very powerful and undeniable voice…We are truly UNBREAKABLE."

That statement is an odd one, and also appears to be an actual attempt to avoid the real issues raised by the sportswriter's article. Since the black students saw the statement as a representation of institutional racism on campus, they should have simply discussed the presence of it on campus.

There was instead the commonly heard reference to "our cause." I am at a loss at explaining what the "cause" of these types of organizations is anymore. Is it not to try to assimilate blacks and other minorities into the university community as just students, and not as black students? Too often, the racism of a few lives on and expands because young black students refuse to pursue that assimilation, to be treated the same. How can the colorless society that we all want to live in exist when neither whites nor blacks want to, ahem, play ball?

I once had someone tell me "black people can't be racist because they don't have the institutional power to oppress." Whites and blacks alike should be outraged that this sort of idea still exists. White people who don't realize that the civil rights movement was a success need to wake up and smell the coffee. There is no place in our language anywhere for the "n" word. However, on the same vein, blacks need to realize that the civil rights movement has now given them the opportunity to seize equality in society. What does the recent event at Brandeis say about the state of this opportunity? I urge the black community to reject affirmative action and the constant struggle for "the cause," and to seize the opportunity that is there for the taking.

I'll leave you with this depressing statement: "I wanted to explain how sick it made me when 80 furious students felt they needed to scream, ‘We're not niggers!' on Monday night…I wanted to say Brandeisians should not attempt to rip apart The Justice for mistakenly printing reprehensible sentiments in our pages, but should demand to know from each other why such sentiments exist in our community…I genuinely wanted to do all of this, but I was busy putting together a newspaper." -Stephan Heyman, former Editor-in-Chief of The Justice.