On Wednesday, March 11, the Record published an op-ed by Sam Hine ’15 titled “On being white at Williams.” I quote the piece’s final paragraph:
Yes, it’s hard to be called out. It’s hard to be criticized. It’s hard to be told that your voice just doesn’t really have a place in these arguments. And it’s certainly hard to make the effort to understand the lived experience of a group of people whose lived experience is so vastly different than yours. But it’s even harder to actually live these experiences and then be told by a white man that everything is fine: Please lower your voice, and just be happy that you go to Williams.
This sentiment found approval, at least from what I saw on Facebook, heard around campus, and noted in the Record website’s comments section. “Kevin” wrote, “As an alumnus, this makes me proud to say I went to Williams.” “realworldeph” wrote, “Nice job on the article.” “Bly257” wrote, “This piece was exactly what I needed to see right now.”
I have no personal beef with Sam Hine or with the quality of his writing. Rather, I feel it’s important to push back on the easy placations to which his op-ed stoops. Should we accept his position as a productive response to the controversial events the campus has witnessed and the difficult conversations they have spawned, or should we question its shushing. Where do we draw the line between respectful conduct between conflicting parties and pandering to social pressure?
I’ll say emphatically that I’m not criticizing everything in the piece. Mr. Hine gestures toward the difficulty and implicitly the value of empathy, of making “the effort to understand the lived experience of a group of people whose lived experience is so vastly different than yours.” Agreed. I guess my point of departure is at the policing of what forms empathy might take. Is silence the only respectful, empathetic way of participating in a charged public sphere?—that might not be what this op-ed is saying outright, but it’s getting dangerously close.
I submitted the following response to the comment section of the op-ed’s page on the Record site, which informed me that it had been flagged for moderation. I’m unsure who moderates those comments and by what standard, and so I can’t say whether my response will go through. In any case, I’m interested in what other people think about this so I figured I’d pass it along to a place it might find more visibility.
[Editor’s note: what follows is the text of the original comment, posted per the request of the submitter of this article. The author of the original op-ed, Sam Hine ’15, has responded on the Record‘s website here.]
Hello Sam Hine,
I can’t begrudge you trying to remove yourself from the line of fire, but I’m unsure what exactly your piece is doing besides that. Are you specifically addressing the most extreme of the “white apologists” (for lack of a better term), the ones who might step in to the straw man you erect via rhetorical questions?
But why do we claim the decibel level of a cry mitigates its reason? Why do we tell our peers of color that they should sack up and prepare for the “real world,” where nobody will care, we say, about cultural appropriation? Where nobody will give mind to micro-aggressions? Why do we tell our peers of color to just be thankful that they’re here at the College? Why do we keep relevatizing* everything and telling our peers of color to calm down because we’re “nice guys”?
Maybe the existence of some people at Williams who would unironically engage in one or more of these activities—which I unfortunately don’t doubt is the case—justifies your call for white students at large to shut up and sit down. But I’m unconvinced that this is reasonable, responsible advice to give or take. “Please lower your voice, and just be happy that you go to Williams.” Is that the right thing to do (or advise), or just another way of doing the easy thing alongside giving into ignorance, condescension, or interpersonal anger?
Is there room in your prescription for those who aren’t interested in assuring all parties involved in the recent controversies that they’re overreacting and that “everything is fine,” and who are also repulsed by the venomous and at times incoherent hate-speech issuing from people cloaking themselves in the armor of all-validating “lived experience” (what often but not always seems to me a thin veil for weaponized cultural relativism).
I certainly wouldn’t presume to push back against the lived experience of your enlightenment re: white male privilege, but I would be interested in your advice for those of us who don’t agree that the loudness of the cry subverts its reason, but who might ask that the decibel level—or claimed oppression quotient—not excuse a disregard for reason, empathy, or human decency. I’m not interested in defending the wearing of a taco or mariachi costume for Halloweens past, but in questioning how we react to the conversation that hopefully ensues, which I’ve seen begun and in several instances promptly shot down. Should we tell those trying to initiate it or join in to be silent and satisfied with what they already have? Should we tolerate slurs and forms of vitriol being slung at someone because that person has more privilege, or because the person doing the slinging has less?
Moving beyond the claim that being “nice” is enough, what should we expect of ourselves as a would-be community? For a start, we should be wary of people from any race, ethnicity, social position, etc. who ask us to shut up and sit down.
* P.S. Record copy editors might want to have a look at this.