Grace Manning ’21
We have all experienced, partaken in, or heard of discrimination in our society today. Unfortunately, it is something that still very much exists and is relevant to everyone, whether white, black or any other ethnicity. However, we aren’t as familiar with discrimination towards white people as we are with discrimination towards black people. Black people have a history of being institutionally discriminated against for nothing except the color of their skin. But I read an extremely controversial opinion piece that I was forwarded the other day that opened my eyes to generalization as a whole and to the fact that my understanding of what these issues are and who they refer to may be flawed and skewed. This article was a reaction to that of a college student who wrote a piece entitled “Should White Boys Still be Allowed to Talk?” and described the nature of the article in which the author strongly suggested that white males with names like “Jake, or Chad, or Alex” shouldn’t be allowed to express their opinions as they are too privileged and narrow-minded. While I can understand the author’s experiences feeling underrepresented and often unheard in her college classrooms, I found her argument to be poorly framed. I do believe we can learn from what she is trying to say, however, instead of learning, I was overwhelmed by her antagonistic language. She isn’t expressing a learned opinion based on research or many different perspectives, but taking her own experience and generalizing it as being true of everyone.
While I truly believe that prejudice and discrimination is still a huge problem in our society, and while the author may have had experiences with white men that provoked this kind of anger and hatred, I don’t believe the correct way to address it is through attacking groups of people generalized based on their names or the way in which they were raised. These generalizations are similar to making assumptions about people based on the color of their skin. Writing as a black woman but spewing stereotypes of white college men should be recognized and considered to be wrong, just as writing as a white man and generalizing black women as a whole should be considered wrong. Both are inherently bigoted, ill-informed perspectives and risk doing exactly what this college student did; turning many people away from her writing and failing to get her message across to everyone. By writing her perspective in a way that served to inform on her personal experience with certain individuals, and not to attack a group, she may have been able to avoid much of the backlash she received. However, there is a population that supports this college student’s opinion that she is not in fact racist, because “no institution has ever built a system around disenfranchising or marginalizing white men,” which is true. But isn’t this making discrimination a double standard? While it is a highly controversial issue, is the right way to address it not getting involved so as not to risk making anyone upset or angry? We should be upset and angry when it comes to any kind of negative generalization. So, in this way, we can learn from the author’s point of view and her personal approach to the issue. The opinion that this student expressed should make people as concerned and infuriated as it would have if a white man had been writing about black college students. The article condemns free speech when it comes to a certain group of people and is incredibly hypocritical. Critics who commented on the article posted online say her opinions are as unoriginal as she assumes white boys’ opinions are. If this article had been written by a white person essentially complaining about black men, my opinion and my feelings would remain exactly the same.
While I am in no way denying that the author of this article has experienced racism or has sat in class with white men who claim to understand the black American experience, these are personal encounters with individual men. We can’t take a race, a gender or a class of people and assume that they are all the same. That leads us into a very dangerous area. Everyone should have the right to be heard and everyone’s opinion has value no matter their gender, religion or any other distinguishing feature. There are white men and women who are thoughtful and educated and polite, just as there are black men and women who are. But by discriminating against a gender and skin color, all those people are lumped in with the disrespectful, inconsiderate, misinformed of the world. By writing about her own experience with discrimination or ignorance in college, this student could have opened her classmates’ eyes to the biases and stereotypes that still exist at school. But in my opinion, she went about it in entirely the wrong way and came off sounding as uninformed and xenophobic as she believes the “Chrises, Ryans, Olivers and Seans” out there are. Ultimately, our generation needs us to lead the rest of the world in solving this problem, so demonizing and placing blame on each other will only guarantee that we’ll never move past our differences. By unifying and focusing on the goal at hand which is equality of opportunity and personal responsibility, we can celebrate our differences in a way that unites, not divides.