Race: Take Two

In trying to find specific examples of Oberlin’s issues with race, we are constrained not by the lack of examples but rather by the great number of them. Last year’s sportsphobia fiasco, the anonymous signs that went up in a co-op claiming it was racist, ‘white people suck’ chalkings at Wilder, charges levied against various campus organizations of cultural appropriation: all are permutations of race relations that are endless and infinitely troubling. Despite having one of the most prestigious histories of any multi-racial institution, Oberlin is as segregated, maybe more so, than any college which started admitting minorities in the ’60s.
One of the more recent examples of the polarity which consistently threatens our campus was the attempt to form a Coalition Against Racism and War. The first meeting of this group was attended by at least a hundred people, many of them people of color. By the time the next few meetings rolled around, the number of people of color had dwindled into near non-existence, the group dogged by rumors of exclusivity.
Let’s be upfront and honest about the problem: there is an incredible amount of racial tension at Oberlin. We have a population of people of color that feels safe enough to make their voices heard, but they still feel called to explain themselves to the majority. They see a campus that contains a lot of white privilege that is unacknowledged, and a lot of unthinking racism that is denied. Some white students, on the other hand, are perplexed by these accusations. They are politically liberal or radical and don’t feel they have much more growing to do in the direction of anti-racism.
Both sides hide their positions, disclosing them only to people who are ‘safe.’ Some people of color try to keep bad feelings behind closed doors, but they have a way of exploding into the daylight. Most whites are afraid of seeming racist. The battlegrounds are cultural appropriation and safe space — things that make people angry. So students communicate in code, making sure they’re talking to someone who won’t misunderstand, of whatever race.
Cultural appropriation or cultural exchange, how do we know? How do we start to fix it? Can we get the anger out in the open? The last time there was an all-campus meeting on race, several hundred people crammed into Wilder Bowl. The fact that the meeting ended in disaster is even more incentive to keep trying. People clearly want to talk about this issue, but they’re afraid of being judged. It is unproductive to continue throwing accusations right and left from the safety of our own sides of campus. The name-calling must end. Race must be an ongoing discussion so that Oberlin can live up to its reputation.

November 9
November 16

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