Kemper: Revisiting content and color

Kemper Fi

On Friday I wrote a column (“Content over color,” Feb. 18) that was arrogant, insensitive and offensive. I drew straight lines through a nuanced issue, vainly hoping to employ humor to ride across the deeply personal and emotional aspects of race.

I will not abandon all the ideas I introduced or retreat from a conversation worth having, but I do want to apologize for that which I did not mean and clarify what I did.

I was wrong to bring humor to this discussion. In my attempt to maintain levity I was dismissive and flippant. But it worries me that some others brought acrimony to their responses. My words were not just treated as an argument or opinion, but as a reflection upon the color of my skin, my character and my upbringing. I was called names I have never been called before by people I have never met. I fear such rhetoric creates an atmosphere of fear and hostility that is deleterious to a free and reasonable discourse among peers.

I now realize that the “Blackness at Yale” project promotes a healthy and open discussion of racial issues. But I think it would be unfortunate to foster a standard for campus dialogue where opinions about complex issues may only be expressed anonymously.

I will be the first to say I have no special knowledge or insight on blackness. My column was read by some to question the validity of being black — not as a physical reality, but as an identity. That would be wrong. There is a proud, robust and meaningful tradition of black culture and identity in this country and at this college, and we can all celebrate that.

I find nothing wrong, false or shallow about embracing an identity that has such deep cultural and historical roots and plays such a positive role on campus. I am deeply sorry if I implied otherwise.

However, I still think there are a series of questions worth considering:

Do we live in a society where one is identified not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character? Do we want to live in such a society? When do we want to live in that society? How do we make that happen?

Personally, I do want to live in such a society. I think there have been, are and always will be evil instincts in this world, and I think we need to band together to fight them — not as white people, not as black people, not as any color people, but as decent human beings.

I think when we bind our support for victims and our common fight against jerks to skin color, we run the risk of creating assumptions. We run the risk of assuming that everyone of a given color is a victim, and that everyone of the other is a jerk.

There are many who believe that issues of bigotry, hatred and oppression are necessarily functions of skin color. There is an argument that the quest for justice, equality and liberty cannot be colorblind. I respect that argument, but I am not persuaded. I fear that focusing on the question of color breeds acrimony and division and ultimately distracts from the projects we want to pursue and the principles we need to promote.

Those are my answers and my answers alone, free of wit and levity. I do not provide them on behalf of white people or any person or group or ideology that extends beyond me. On Friday I presented my answers as The Answer. That would be wrong. These are questions that we each struggle to answer, and even if there were one Answer, I have neither the authority nor the relevant experience to tell others what that is.

There are more questions. How and why does skin color lead to people associating together? What does the notion of Blackness mean to one who can in no way be considered black?

I do not have answers to these questions, but given the results from the Black Student Alliance at Yale’s blog project, they clearly merit consideration and open discussion. The forum BSAY will host Tuesday at 7 p.m. on the “State of Black Yale” at 211 Park St. is a perfect place for this conversation.

I am truly very sorry for the offense I gave others. I still hold my own opinions, but the response to them certainly has been and will be a learning experience for me.

Nicolas Kemper is a senior in Pierson College.