Sunday, November 22, 2015

"Something's Happening Here"- Understanding Divisions Among Whites About "Race" At Fordham and Elsewhere

One of the most gratifying things about the response to the latest racial incident at Fordham- which featured students shouting "White Power" and even more disturbing racial slurs for 20 straight minutes at a party- has been the incredible support given by so many Fordham students of every background to the "Zero Tolerance for Racism" campaign which my Affirmative Action Seminar started.
This support has crossed all racial lines, has mobilized athletes as much as student activists, and has reached students who consider themselves conservative or moderate as well as students on the left.
The students who were at that party may be shocked at how many white students were outraged by their words, but they shouldn't be. At Fordham, as in the rest of the nation, a growing number of white students are not only part of interracial teams and friendship circles, they are part of multiracial extended families- families like mine where there is a wide spectrum of racial identities. This makes racially targeted acts of vandalism or verbal abuse directed at marginalized people- whether Blacks, Latinos, Muslims or Jews- seem very personal to a lot of students who fall into none of those categories. The people being insulted or threatened by expressions of racialized hatred are not just abstractions, they could be your cousin, your niece, your aunt or uncle, your step brother or step sister. This element of deep identification with people of color and marginalized religious groups should not be underestimated as a force in campus social movements
What I see happening in the US is this. There is a sizable group of whites in the US whose families and social circles are still entirely white. It is in those networks that deep resentment of Blacks, immigrants, Muslims find their most powerful echo, and in the most extreme instances can surface in outbursts of rage, verbal and otherwise. But they are increasingly challenged by the growing group of whites whose family lives as well as work and school environments are multiracial, and who fund those outbursts threatening to people they love as well as morally reprehensible.
I see this dynamic playing out at Fordham with my own students and it actually makes me optimistic about where the University is heading, at least in the long run.