I attended the vigil on Wednesday, because I’m a conscientious member of the Yale and New Haven community; I wanted to stand in solidarity with those who had been hurt or made to feel unwelcome in any way, at any time. I was not involved in planning the vigil or the rally, nor am I involved in any cultural organizations. My opinion is not endorsed by anyone or anything but my own conscience. Like Funmi Showole ’08, I disagreed with the foundations on which the News’ based its opinions regarding the rally and the vigil. I write now to do more than second her sentiment by providing a community member’s perspective on the opinion published as the News’ View. Moreover, the official line of the Yale Daily News reflects a wider ignorance of the dynamics of racism.
The need for dialogue cannot just occur in response to incidents of racism. That attitude assumes that racism has been eliminated from American society. As if the only action needed to ensure that prejudice has no place on campus is the now-and-then efforts to redress flares of bigoted sentiment. Like an imagined peace treaty, everything is calm until someone just decides to spray paint racist comments, or use racist epithets at a stand-up comedy show, or make a comment that reflects a bigoted sentiment.
But racism is deeper in America than graffiti on walls. From the statistical evidence of imbalanced educational opportunities for people of different backgrounds, to the psychological surveys that prove correlation between people’s perceived race and their perceived employability, racism exists. People still think along racial lines, even if they don’t harbor overt hatred or violence. Perhaps even worse, our systems of education, governance and administration enforce and aggravate the standing inequality. Since racism exists, systemically and personally, the dialogue cannot just be a response. We only see racism when it is manifested overtly in our lives. But it’s still there, waiting, whether we acknowledge it or not. The only appropriate way of continuing to advance our society is to seek out opportunities for education and dialogue.
I grew up in a city — San Diego — where many of my peers were convinced there was no problem with racism anymore. Yet, at a race unity day unrelated to my school, I learned that just four years before my enrollment in La Jolla High, someone had put pamphlets containing racist slurs against people of Mexican descent in Latino student’s lockers. I didn’t know about it because the school had hushed it up and we as a community had forgotten. Though the perpetrators of this hate crime were anonymous, they nevertheless made their targets feel unwelcome in the school and assaulted their sense of security in the classroom.
The News’ View said that “racial tension on campus cannot be alleviated with a day of protest organized from the top down;” of course a day of protest is not enough, much more is needed. But ignoring racism doesn’t do any good either. And disparaging people’s efforts at building community and dialogue is counterproductive.
When it comes to the graffiti, the intent or actor does not matter. What does matter is that it assaults the victims’ feelings of being part of a unified community, and that of being welcome on campus. No matter what their race, ethnicity or sexual orientation, all people deserve to feel safe in the places where they work and study. The vigil and the rally were ways for us to show that we want all community members to be just that — members of a larger community that cares for its own. Vigils are about community solidarity, not necessarily about commemoration of mass death.
The vigil and the rally have served their purpose. Before and after them, the simple fact that I had planned to attend the vigil initiated conversation amongst my friends and acquaintances. Thus, it surprises me that the News’ View didn’t acknowledge that an event can spark dialogue by its very existence. The column reinforces the assumption that racism does not exist, on campus or elsewhere. Hiding behind the name of the “Oldest College Daily” gives the sentiment a sense of authority.
For myself, I am proud to have gone to the vigil, and was profoundly touched by the words I heard strangers and friends speak. I hope that if any of you shared the sentiment of the News, you ask your friends, neighbors or colleagues about the vigil. Be ready to listen. This is an ongoing conversation.
Dariush Nothaft is a senior in Saybrook College. His column usually runs on alternate Tuesdays.