Crying ‘racism’ is an easy way out

Like the boy who cries “wolf,” those who shout “Racist!” too often cheapen the idea. By putting opponents on the defensive against their misguided charge, people can sidetrack an argument and vilify those who disagree with them, casting them as bigots.
Consider the replies to the column I wrote in Tuesday’s Daily titled, “Student fees serve only certain groups,” in which I said students should have more decision on which student groups they fund. Most of the responses were well-worded and fair, and gave me some fodder for further thought.
Not so with several of the letters. One student, writing in support of the American Indian Student Cultural Center, explained the alienation felt by Native American students and the benefits of the cultural center as a safe place to congregate and learn about their culture.
But in the beginning of the letter, the writer states, “(Close’s) arguments are ignorant and blatantly racist; I cannot believe that The Minnesota Daily would print such trash.” While I took the rest of the letter at face value, I am always frustrated when somebody strays from the logical debate and begins spouting groundless charges of racism.
That was mild, however, compared with the hatred that awaited me further down in my e-mail. The letter’s vitriolic spewings would have been more appropriate for an attack on an nonrepentant Klansman than a columnist who tried to critique the University’s fees system.
From what I can discern, the writer is a student descended from the Dakota tribe, Native Americans who, as she points out, used to live in this very area before the land was taken from them and eventually given to the University.
She asks me to imagine I am from the Dakota tribe. She writes, “You are the only Indian in all your classes. So where do you go to see brown faces — to gain a sense of community, to feel like you actually BELONG here on this campus? Why, you go to your culture center!”
I can understand the need for an oasis at this University. Every student needs some place they can go to meet people, relax, study and receive tutoring. But if, as I proposed, we could each decide which groups to fund, those who use the American Indian Student Cultural Center, for example, could put all of their $25 toward that program. If even one in 50 students chose to fund the group in this way, they would have as much money as before. At least the funding would accurately reflect the desire for the center.
In my column, I wrote, “Those groups that fear fees cuts warn that the University would become a barren wasteland. But this is just talk; most of us would not even notice they had gone.” I referred, of course, to most University students. Although the biannual survey that I used for the column lacks these numbers, I believe most University students have very little, if any, interaction with the various cultural centers. That doesn’t mean that they are not extremely useful for some.
But the letter’s author chose to attack me with a barrage of presumptive statements about my callousness and racism: “Just who the hell is ‘we’? Apparently you are speaking about all of your white brothers and sister(s) who have no need for an anchor in this marvelous white world. You give white folks a bad name.”
If anyone is focusing on race, it is her, accusing me of speaking for some imaginary group of white brethren. I’ve got news for her: I don’t feel an intimate connection with white people, especially not enough to call them my brothers. What if I said to her, “You must be speaking for all the minorities on campus.” It’s ridiculous.
On another note, if she thinks that white people don’t need “anchors” because the world is our oyster, she better think again. Everybody finds this campus alienating without a group to belong to and a place to call their own. Perhaps she has spent too long assuming that the isolation she feels is because of her skin color, and not just normal life in a big world.
If that weren’t enough, she begins listing fees-receiving groups and what she presumes I think about them:
“Disabled people — You wouldn’t notice if they were gone, would ya? Then you wouldn’t have to worry about making all the buildings in the mall accessible.
“University Young Women — Women? What the hell do they matter?
“AISCC — Indians? Aren’t they extinct?
“Asian Pacific — All they have to worry about is making your fried rice lunch special.
“Africana — Well, uhmmm you’re kinda scared of them. Admit it. It’s that dark skin, huh?
“QSCC — Well, they are all going to hell anyway, aren’t they?”
Let’s follow the logic. Because I don’t believe we should all pay for these groups, I must be filled with foolish, bigoted opinions about their members.
Why does this student purport to represent all the individual minority students on campus? Does her darker skin make her so righteous that all who oppose her point of view must be misguided racists? If I had typed the column with a darker set of hands, would I be free from her stereotyping?
There is plenty of room for disagreement in the fees debate. I was writing about student services fees; it wasn’t a veiled argument to disband the cultural centers. This student chose to cast it as a race issue, but it isn’t surprising; she seems to be intensely focused on skin color. For me, whether the fees-receiving groups are cultural centers or chess clubs doesn’t change the debate over who should fund them.
Brian Close is the Daily’s opinions editor. He welcomes comments at [email protected] Send letters to the editor to [email protected]