Campus needs discourse on race

I woke up around noon. After showering I met a friend for lunch. We went for a walk in Hopkins Forest. I spent the rest of the day until dinner cleaning my room and going through my e-mail. I went to lacrosse practice after dinner, then to a meeting, then to the snack bar, and then I sat on a couch in Dodd living room watching the fire and talking to friends. Because it’s Winter Study, everyday is pretty much laid back like this, no special thing. I didn’t realize it was Martin Luther King Jr. Day until 11:15pm.

I turned on a red light in my room and sat down to think. My eyes closed, I focused and reflected: Martin Luther King was killed for believing completely and passionately in the equality of man. He spoke his truth and demanded of his fellow men rightness. With a conviction that in its own right commands respect, he faced the white power decrying their segregation, condemning their injustice and demanding fairness. What struck me most dramatically, what made me cower there while drowned in red light, was that he has been speaking to me all along. He had and has been demanding that I, guided by compassion, integrity and care, try first to understand and then refuse to accept what is incorrect. And I have failed. I am guilty of not caring and my apathy is the problem.

I immediately knocked on my neighbor’s door and reminded him what day it was. With an uncommon conviction, I told him what that meant to me, and how painfully negligent I have been in allowing prejudice to perpetuate by my apathy.

I moved on to the next door, and explained that I intended to live up to the challenge by myself caring, by increasing my own awareness and changing the way I lived my life. “But Todd Rogers’ caring really isn’t enough, is it? I mean of course, idealistically, if you care and everyone else at Williams cares then the campus will be changed, but the campus really doesn’t seem to care and so how does your caring silently make any meaningful difference?”

Maybe he was right, maybe my caring silently doesn’t really make any meaningful difference. So that left me confused; what could one student do? Racism exists, but no longer institutionally. Prejudice persists, but no longer overtly (or even consciously). I can try to dissolve my apathy in care by recognizing the unnecessary difficulty and hardship that prejudices create, then work to recognize and overcome them in myself, but more needs to be done. It occurred to me then to write this statement, to share that my apathy will not continue and to throw down once more MLK’s challenge to us, a challenge to seek to understand.

The only way to understand our differences is to pay attention. Although comfort may make it easier for me to interact principally with people of a similar background to my own, in order for me to overcome my prejudices I must make an effort to understand racial differences, even if that means discomfort. That means talking about it, here in the Record and in the dining halls. It means not skirting the topic of race because it is uncomfortable. If I don’t take this opportunity here and now to understand our differences, to reach out and talk about racial issues, then when will I? Will I wait to talk about race relations until later in life when I have a career and family and different worlds have evolved as increasingly exclusionary? Here at Williams I have an opportunity to explore difference in an environment that encourages this pursuit of mutual understanding. All I first have to do is care.

How often do we make an effort to understand where we each have come from? Apathy perpetuates the subtle and insidious problems of prejudice and racism. Do not be lulled by the facade of equality, we need to talk about it ourselves. If we don’t continually re-evaluate then how can we understand what’s wrong? Check out the Record on any given week and you’ll probably read an editorial that at base is pleading for us just to make an effort to understand.

MLK haunts us now, begging each of us to make that effort. He pleads for us not to accept apathetically the fallacy that everything is better now, but to examine, consider and care together. It is my belief, and this is my personal statement, that problems of race and prejudicial discrimination spring from a lack of understanding and the only solution stems in a care rooted in integrity and compassion. Let’s confront race and difference instead of avoiding it in the name of apathy.