By David Cahn / Western student
Apparently it’s time for Western Democrats (among many others on our campus) to do the math again: In 1964 and 1965 the Civil and Voting Rights Acts were passed by Congress as concessions to a massive grassroots movement for social and economic justice led by African Americans. Up until the very hour that first bill was enacted in 1964, ALL white Americans were overtly and explicitly privileged in society. If we only begin with the formal founding of this country in 1776 (excluding the prior two centuries of British colonialism), that is 188 years of legal apartheid in a country that is 230 years old.
The generations of discrimination against people of color in schools, unions, public transportation, hospitals, military services, real estate, the workforce and more was, and continues to be, about privileging white America. Period. White people of this generation stand to inherit over one trillion dollars in property and wealth in our lifetime. This is wealth accumulated during generations of overt institutional racism. From the 1790 Naturalization Act that limited citizenship to Western Europeans to the G.I. Bill that paved the way for many white American’s flight to the suburbs in the 1950s to the daily fact of racial profiling in communities of color across this country: the past and current legacy of this reality is what we call white privilege.
This of course does not mean that being white equals rich or that being white equals happy, far from it. Above all, it means that white people have above all the privilege of not having to think about the true history of this country and what this really means for today. When individuals, events or circumstances push us into considering these hard truths—we in white society are now more than eager to start calling for a superficial “color blindness.” There are indeed many amazing individual students, staff and faculty at Western who work hard to make this community be all that it can. I still maintain that it is in spite of Western’s policies. Without getting into the technicalities of CGMs and budgeting, the undeniable fact is that every year we graduate hundreds of “future leaders,” who have no basic understandings of some very basic aspects of American life.
I give all respect and credit due to Chiho Lai and Brandon Adams for taking the time to share their opinions on these issues. I think we can all agree that there are some serious issues facing Western, and I don’t think simply adding more CGM requirements will necessarily fix it (though it could help). Nor is the solution to be found in a dialogue of letters where we nitpick each other’s words to death.
Living in a society where we all have been taught lies about each other, ourselves and our history it is vital we begin to open more spaces for real dialogue where all students can bring their whole experiences and personal truths to the table. This is something no institution can help us with, we must do it ourselves. Our White Privilege Awareness Week last month was a baby step forward in that direction. I hope Adams wrote his letter as another step forward, not shutting the discussion down before it has even gotten started.