BY DAVID YANDA
St. Norbert College has failed in facilitating critical dialogue between multicultural and Caucasian students. In our quest for racial sensitivity, we have squashed cultural curiosity and planted seeds of fear in its wake. Events such as “SNC Through Our Eyes,” and “Take Back the Knight,” although powerful and insightful, have inadvertently created an anxious atmosphere where we now hesitate asking a Black peer about her hair, a Latino student his language repertoire or a Native American friend about her heritage.
Even worse, by doing so, we have also implicitly taught our multicultural body to interpret these cultural inquiries as inherently racist and as just causes for offense. We have reduced multicultural appreciation to the likeness of a zoo; we now dare only to approach multicultural interactions from a safe distance, robbing ourselves of diverse perspectives, friendships and true cultural appreciation.
Because we have placed the dangers of cross-cultural interactions in the limelight while neglecting their value, we have unfortunately succeeded in creating a barrier between Caucasian students and multicultural students. This results in either Caucasian students avoiding cross-cultural interactions altogether or over-hesitantly approaching cross-cultural students.
In the first case, we do our multicultural body a grave injustice and have fostered a lesser form of social segregation. In the second case, we still do our multicultural body injustice by forcing a rigidity onto Caucasian students which causes cross-cultural interactions to become in-genuine as we fall into our politically correct molds of behavior. Additionally, this second case possibly pushes racist thought patterns into a private sphere from a public sphere, stealing an opportunity to actually address and critically reflect on racist thoughts.
We must begin to remold our understanding of racial sensitivity. We have failed to recognize the inevitable discomforts that arise from getting to know one another. Humans incessantly stereotype. It is biologically natural to try to create patterns and schemas to make sense of the world around us, and social matters are no exception. Many of us would like to think that we do not stereotype when approaching other people, but the fact is that we do and that many times it is socially constructive. If I approach a well-built peer and try to start a conversation about working out and it leads to a fluid discussion between us, stereotyping has successfully strengthened a bond between us.
It is also possible, of course, that stereotypes lead to an uncomfortable interaction and reduce social bonds, as in the case of a racially insensitive comment. In context of race, it is of course healthy to fight against negative stereotypes, but we must relinquish the idea that stereotypes are categorically unhealthy. By this we must realize that there will most likely be an experience of discomfort between cross-cultural relations that arise from stereotypes, but it is not the answer to battle against all stereotypes, and it is critical to show patience and understanding when these experiences occur.
When racially insensitive comments or questions arise, we need to ask ourselves, was there racist intent? If not, is the speaker ignorant of the racial impact? Can it lead to a critical discourse on racial understanding? Can we facilitate that discourse in a non-aggressive manner? If we react with aggression, chances are we shove racist tendencies into a private sphere instead of excising them completely.
As a note for campus programming, we also need to show the value of diversity. Our programs continue to educate on racial sensitivity, but they fall short on showing the value of diverse perspectives and friendships. If you do not think this is a problem on campus, I ask that you just observe the student body. Outside of sports cliques, multicultural students are typically only associating with other multicultural students and Caucasian students with Caucasian students.