As a former managing editor of the News, I have an enormous amount of respect for the student-writers and editors involved in making this paper. And as the only black woman to ever serve in that role, I’m always thrilled to see the YDN writing about race, and publishing more pieces written by students of color. That being said, I’m incredibly disappointed in the News’ decision to publish a column by Isis Davis-Marks ’19 entitled “Evil is banal,” which, in its attempts to condemn racism and sexism on the Yale campus, slips into casual racism and sexism itself.
The column reads like a fever dream. “Everyone knows a white boy with shiny brown hair and a saccharine smile that conceals his great ambitions,” Davis-Marks begins. She then goes on to imagine this same person ending up in a position of power, because she saw the movie “Vice” (a terrible film, by the way) and is haunted by the fact that Dick Cheney once attended Yale. When the white boy with shiny brown hair, who also happens to be a racist, sexist pig, ends up on CNN, “I’ll think that I could have stopped it,” Davis-Marks writes.
The vitriol that Davis-Marks has been subjected to is abhorrent and inexcusable. But it should be asked why this op-ed was published in the first place. When evaluating whether an op-ed is fit for publication, there are a few questions worth thinking about: What is the point of the op-ed? What is the writer trying to say, and what does the writer want people to do once they’ve finished reading?
I’m still trying to figure out what Davis-Marks actually wants. Does she want more people to share her values? (If so, her article seems counterproductive.) Or does she simply want people to feel threatened? (“I’m watching you, white boy,” she writes, in the penultimate sentence of her column, making a strong case for the latter.)
Davis-Marks writes that it’s not enough to call people out for sexual assault. We need to do more, she argues, but from there, she’s out of ideas. “To be honest, I’m not sure what the solution is,” she writes, which, to me, is a basic admission that her op-ed has no point.
Her column outlines a frightening vision of the world. It’s a world in which the point of social justice isn’t to balance the scales; it’s to mete out punishment. In this world, it makes perfect sense to screenshot other people’s text messages, or to write screeds in a student newspaper alienating every white male student who’s ever attended Yale.
The good news is that most of us don’t live in that world. In a rare moment of nuance, Davis-Marks writes that, “No, not everyone at Yale is evil. Not everyone is out to get you, and not every request to get a meal has an ulterior motive.” This is true, and I think the editors of the YDN know this. So why publish the op-ed? My guess is that they felt as though they couldn’t say no to a black woman writing about race. I know what it’s like to be one of the few women of color on an overwhelmingly white staff, and to become the de facto race expert simply because of this. But sometimes, we get things wrong. And when we do, our ideas deserve to be challenged with the same intellectual rigor afforded to others.
Tyler Foggatt ’17 is a former managing editor of the News.