Question: whether the frustration students of color feel is legitimate?
Objection 1: Isis, you’re writing this article stylized in the same way as “Summa Theologica,” a work by the theologian Thomas Aquinas. Aren’t you dismantling the master’s house with the master’s tools?
Objection 2: Most claims about racism made on campus recently are based on unfounded, anecdotal evidence.
Objection 3: Yale students are privileged and should not complain.
On the contrary, some argue that Yale can be tolerant of racial issues, although the current movement employs tactics that falls outside of respectable discourse.
I answer: Racism that students of color experience, both inside and outside of Yale, is institutionalized. When I provide examples of racism on campus, the goal isn’t to vilify every white person that I see. Writing off the grievances students of color experience only re-entrenches the idea that they should be treated as substandard. Systemic discrimination permeates every facet of our lives.
According to an NAACP fact sheet, 1 in 6 black men have been incarcerated since 2001; currently there are more black men in prison than there were slaves in 1850. Psychological studies have shown how unconscious racial bias harms people of color in employment, academics and medicine. Devah Pager, a professor of sociology at Harvard, conducted a study which found that white men with criminal backgrounds were just as likely as black men without records to be hired. Racism is alive and well in America; it is false to say that we have rid ourselves of discrimination in a country that was founded on the backs of slaves.
In his book “First as Tragedy, Then as Farce,” Slavoj Zizek writes about how U.S. free trade policies are used to monopolize agricultural industries worldwide, which mostly affect countries that are primarily inhabited by people of color. Black women experience the highest rates of domestic violence in the U.S. Although people make the claim that “ethnic studies” will deflect attention away from other forms of oppression, such as sexism and classism, the reality is that race is inextricable from these issues. bell hooks, a leading scholar in postmodern studies and black feminism, wrote that “‘cultural studies’ has made writing about nonwhite culture more acceptable, particularly in the humanities.” In other words, cultural studies are essential for integrating issues of race into more mainstream disciplines; every society has eventually had to deal with prejudice. The word “xenophobia” has a Greek etymology for a reason.
Reply to Objection 1: Though I promote an ethnic studies requirement, this does not mean all aspects of classical literature need to be rejected. While I appreciate Aristotle’s practical approach to philosophy, I cannot agree with his views on women or natural slaves. We can adopt some parts of moral theories that we admire, even if we don’t agree with the entirety of said theories. I’m not advancing the content of Aquinas’ argument simply because I adopt its form. Rather, in adopting this model for argumentation, I disprove the claim that classical studies have more merit than ethnic studies.
Reply to Objection 2: Oppressive structures do not merely dissipate simply because we enter Phelps Gate. Being a Yale student didn’t stop Charles Blow’s son from being detained by police on campus last year. According to a 2014 News article, only 13.4 percent of tenured faculty are nonwhite and many barriers continue to exist for faculty of color. Recent sexual assault survey results revealed that undergraduate females of “American Indian,” “Black/African-American,” and “Native Hawaiian” descent all experienced higher rates of sexual assault than their white counterparts. I could go on with empirical examples of where racism exists, but narratives of students of color are just as important as statistics. The perspectives of students are just as valuable, whether they employ Socratic dialogue or are spoken word. Narratives can often give a more personalized experience of racism that can help us understand oppression more than any statistic can. Praxis needs an amalgamation of embodied experience, theory and empirical evidence.
Reply to Objection 3: To those that call all Yale students “privileged,” I am extremely lucky and grateful to go to Yale because of its resources and phenomenal faculty. However, this does not mean that Yale is a perfect institution. Making the assumption that all Yale students are equally privileged is extremely essentialist and untrue. According to a recent News survey, 51 percent of the incoming freshman class had an annual combined household income of over $125,000. Questions of income and race cannot be separated when so many students of color live in households with average incomes significantly lower than those of white households. A study by the Pew Research Center found that white households had 13 times more wealth than black households and 10 times more wealth than Hispanic households. It isn’t helpful to call us all “privileged” when things like financial aid policies and campus culture affect students of color differently.
Quod Erat Demonstrandum.
Isis Davis-Marks is a freshman in Jonathan Edwards College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.