Racism is here

Being a campus DJ, I witness the raw behavior of Williams students when they feel no one is watching. When I worked a party this weekend, a white first-year female came up to my DJ table while I was flipping through CDs, punched me in the shoulder and demanded to request a song – note that this isn’t uncommon. When I didn’t comply she cursed me out and I did the same to her in return. This situation doesn’t reflect positively on that first-year girl or on me. What it does highlight is the lack of mutual respect for individuals here at Williams.

At the time, she only saw her desire to request a song and I only saw my desire to find the next. She didn’t take the time to understand that the next song was bigger than her request, and I didn’t take the time to understand that her request was important to her. Similarly, individuals at Williams haven’t taken the time to realize that their offensive words and actions are bigger than their constitutional right to say and execute them. And, still others haven’t taken steps towards realizing the power and obligation they have to listen to and educate their peers.

Last weekend someone among us scribbled the N-word on the walls and posters of one of our entries. I am offended. I am even more offended by those who feel that writing the word doesn’t mean anything or doesn’t offend anyone because of both its use in popular culture and its controversial yet continued use by historically marginalized peoples. Lastly, I’m offended by those who haven’t taken a stance and have brushed away the pain of their peers – who feel targeted by these actions – because of their own discomfort or lack of experience with matters of race, discrimination and prejudice.

There are racist, homophobic and sexist members of our community – from faculty and administrators to students and staff – and we have yet to truly acknowledge this because these individuals haven’t stepped forward. Instead, we write off instances of discrimination as rogue occurrences, just like you might write off the incidents at that party as something I should expect as a campus DJ. We, as a “community,” haven’t set specific standards of respect and conduct, especially in light of the frequency with which problems they occur. Students, faculty and staff tiptoe around political correctness instead of taking the time to ask questions and challenge each other on controversial viewpoints about our assumptions, our differences and our backgrounds. We haven’t actively engaged and respected the different populations at Williams because it feels like too much work; it’s uncomfortable. The issues of racism that we are confronting here and now go beyond blatant discrimination and into the realm of blatant disrespect. In its most raw form, like at that party this past weekend, the problem is based in selfishness, laziness, lack of awareness and lack of patience that build the individual’s unwillingness to budge from their self-righteous position.

Our loosely defined rules of respect and community standards allow us to be at odds with each other. In this regard, I am disappointed in members of the Williams community because our weak code of respect for ourselves hasn’t done much to change how we interact with each other or change the kind of language and actions that we tolerate. We haven’t created a community in which prejudicial actions and language are not tolerated. We haven’t created a community in which people step forward to defend their views. And we haven’t held ourselves accountable for our actions and words – particularly when those words or actions disrupt our community. The standards that we hope for don’t come from a divine being or even the administration. They come from us. They come from individuals that stand up and say, “I am not going to stand for this kind of disrespectful behavior,” from individuals that try and protect the valued identities of their peers and from self-respect, discipline, self-awareness and understanding.

Every week, the Record highlights the positive and unique qualities of one of the College’s 2000 students and shows how they make Williams that much more interesting. These instances in which individuals feel they can write or say the N-word highlight at least one in 2000 among us who reflects the nasty side of Williams. If the student body and the infrastructure that support it – administrators, faculty and staff – are to consider ourselves members of a worthwhile institution, we must move forward together. I’m not saying we have to do this while singing about rainbows and sunshine. I am saying, however, that we need to acknowledge that our differences provide us with an opportunity to educate and respect both one another and our varied opinions and positions. And, if we can’t do this, then at that party I should’ve kept playing my music and she should’ve kept her request to herself.

Kim Dacres ’08 is a political science and studio art major from Bronx, N.Y.