Discourse / Editorials / March 6, 2008

Regarding racism at Knox

Having watched Merritt Rohlfing’s column of Feb. 21 rip this campus apart, I am struck by two things:

First the only two responses to have considered the column on its merits happen to be from professors at this august institution. To simply slap a label of ‘racist’ on the column and ignore what it has to say represents the worst of the continuing fallout from the civil rights movement. There are deeper issues outside the scope of the column itself that this backlash has evinced. The column from D’Angelo Smith on the subject was particularly emblematic. He said, “Hate against African-Americans has more spotlight within the media, education, and everyday life, but what about racism toward Africans, Asian-Americans, Middle-Eastern Americans, and others?” Notably, he completely ignored the other group upon which Mr. Rohlfing focused: Caucasian-Americans. Admittedly, discussions of racism in America rarely, if ever, leave the minority sector, and particularly not to travel to racism against whites. But racism is not a one-way street.

There is a pernicious undertone in American liberal political, academic, and scientific thought against whites, among other classifications. Look, for instance, at the continuing policies of Affirmative Action, which deny many whites the chance to succeed in this country in favor their less qualified minority counterparts (case in point: the admissions policies of the University of Michigan), or the nature of hate-crimes legislation which does not cover hate crimes against whites (and yes, such things do exist). We are not yet a meritocracy; the pendulum has swung the other way. Everywhere I go in this country, I, as a white heterosexual Christian male, have to swim upstream to get anything, while government policies and public perceptions hand minorities money and opportunity hand over fist. I would not deny that they have to work for it, but I would say there’s a grand gulf between what they have to do, and what I have to do. Such policies were necessary when they were first instituted at the height of the civil rights struggle; now, they merely engender and perpetuate what has been called ‘reverse racism’, something to which the response to Mr. Rohlfing’s column demonstrates the Knox community is blind. While I grant telling whites they can’t play sports because of their race does not approach much of what the black community endured over the years, I am curious how it’s not racist. The response to this column has been notably lacking in any mention of the fact that it could easily be read as insulting to aspiring white athletes. In the past two weeks I may be the only one to have made that point, and this is one of only three responses I know of not to exclusively castigate that column as racist and insulting.

Secondly, there is a further aspect of this whole brouhaha that’s been overlooked, which I have found pointed out by only one other person. Much as Drs. Allison and Wagner might wish to escape it, the ideas of social Darwinism which informed that column remain firmly entrenched in both academia and public thought. The Theory of Natural Selection still under girds much of evolutionary biology and anthropology. These are concepts strongly ingrained into the culture and into scientific thought, and oughtn’t be so blithely dismissed or overlooked. In Mr. Rohlfing’s case, given that this is a proudly liberal campus, perhaps we should be discussing and bemoaning the nature of his upbringing that brought him to write that column, rather than merely condemning him for doing so.

If he were black, I have very little doubt that this is precisely what would be happening, if anything at all. In that spirit, this college needs to take responsibility not only for Mr. Rohlfing’s column, but for Mr. Rohlfing himself, who is a product of the educational system to which Knox contributes. Where do you think he learned these things? In all likelihood, they were taught to him by teachers and professors in classrooms in schools as part of a standard squeaky-clean and God-free curriculum, devised by educators who were trained and who continue to teach at institutions just like this one all across America.

So one has to ask, why isn’t any of this being discussed, or even mentioned, by almost anyone? It is entirely possible I am fully out of step with the mainstream of thought about such issues on this campus; God knows it wouldn’t be the first time. But in this instance, I think it is symptomatic of a much deeper problem, one that warrants a serious course of introspection and self-evaluation on the part of this campus and its members. That it’s not going to happen is disappointing all on its own.

Chris Berger


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