The ‘Introduce Race’ initiative: Fostering multiracial understanding

During snacks in a frosh-quad entry, a discussion grows ugly between entrymates when some people accuse others of not participating enough in entry activities, while the accused respond by arguing that the entry excludes them from decisions concerning the activities and therefore they are usually less interested. The majority of the entry is white, and the students in question are minorities.

In a social science course, a professor asks his class a question concerning the condition of a particular ethnic group, let’s say…African-Americans. There is one African-American in the class, and it is obvious that she does not wish to respond to the question. The professor, noticing her silence and disposition, addresses her and solicits her opinion. The professor, too, is African-American.

College Council approves a budget plan. A social group composed mostly of whites requests upwards of $1,000 for its semester-long activities, as does a dance group composed mostly of racial minorities. The first group receives their request in full, while the second group receives a small fraction of their request. Some members of minority communities see this as discriminatory or preferential treatment, while officers of the council claim the decisions were made in a completely fair manner.

These situations, although hypothetical, are not at all unfounded or hallucinatory. They represent the genuine experiences of many students on this campus, be they white, black, red, yellow or all the colors and mixes in between.

These are common situations made uncommon, ordinary events that become uniquely distinguished by the introduction of race. The issues and controversies of all these situations become exponentially more tense and complex by the very presence of race and acknowledgement of racial identity.

After all, these anecdotes could really be about a shy kid at a lunch table, a regular entry with regular problems, a student who does not want to participate because she didn’t read for class and one in a hundred budgetary decisions for College Council.

But that is not what we have; those racially indifferent characterizations above are not adequate descriptions of what goes on every day and every year at Williams. Given, then, that we all might potentially experience race when it is not particularly invited or expected, how can we change our own misconceptions about our identity and the identity of others?

How would these situations change if these individuals knew beforehand that…

The rationale behind the spending differential between various organizations is that this dance group has a history of acquiring additional resources from various sources, giving priority to those organizations that have more difficulty raising money…Suspicion is still present amongst some that argue that there is a pattern of prioritizing organizations – majority over minority, whites over black…In fact the additional support that the dance group receives comes from minority student organizations, which would not be so critically necessary if similar groups were fully respected in CC…Shifting financial responsibility to minority organizations imposes an undue burden to support groups within budgets that have never been designed to meet their needs…

The African-American professor is merely looking for insight into this student’s experiences so that other students might learn something from an additional source…The student has been asked or pressured to “represent” her race in so many conversations that she is no longer inclined to speak on the issue…She is also insecure about her experiences and whether they might speak as an accurate or profound contribution given her own lack of interaction within her own race…

Some students in the entry had little previous experience with people of different racial backgrounds, and not knowing what to expect in new situations, gravitate towards familiar ground…Many racial minorities, while holding no malice against the majority, find extra comfort in strong minority communities, sharing common experiences, and finding support advice in situations where entry mates might not be able to understand…Many majority students honestly want to forge new friendships and take advantage of the diversity that exists at the school, only to find obstacles like misconceptions and unfamiliarity standing in the way…

Patterns of racial and ethnic separation are so common that sometimes one group of students assumes that others only associate within their group…These pr 9u08nt some people from bothering to ask if an onlooker is interested (he’s not interested because he isn’t one of us), and prevent others from expressing their interest, (I’m not welcome because the event is just for them)…

What if these white students were white-Cubans and white-Puerto Ricans who are constantly dealing with issues of identity and membership, just like this Latino…What if they never noticed he was Latino…

The concept of race is different for every human being, because each of us has different social influences and personal experiences dealing or not dealing with race. Our perceptions, prejudices, emotions, sense of membership and self-identity are heavily influenced by key life experiences and learned behavior – they provide the lens through which we see, evaluate, and judge situations concerning race.

Introduce Race asks you to examine your lens, reflect upon the experiences in your life that have molded your vision and understanding of racial identity, and contribute to the community’s anthology by sending it to introducerace@hotmail.com.

Your stories and your reflections of your own self-identity will provide a wealth of answers as to how race is introduced into our lives. At the same time, they will raise a multitude of questions as to how we as a community should consider, characterize and respond to diverse and enlightening experiences with race.

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