It is not the job of people of color to police racism; White students, we need to do better

White Students need to start talking about race

Kate Erickson, Staff Writer

When sophomore Bella Tollestrup-Wimbish walks around campus, she is greeted by mostly white faces and every day she is reminded that she is different. What makes her feel isolated is not the mere presence of white people, but rather the lack of diversity and the recurrence of inappropriate comments about race that she overhears and experiences.  

“As the frustration continues to build up, I keep on wondering to myself, why am I paying to be uncomfortable?”

White students on campus need to realize seemingly insignificant comments can be harmful to students of color. Although discussing racial issues on campus can be uncomfortable, it is not just the job of people of color to talk about them: everyone needs to participate in the conversation.

While it is an uncomfortable topic, many white students come up with various excuses to avoid talking about race. Senior Omni Lott described one of the many times he has experienced this blatant avoidance two years ago when two students of color wanted to apply for RA positions. The two were talking about how it would be exciting if they ended up on the same floor when one of their peers asked if incoming students would be uncomfortable having RAs of color on the same floor. 

Although there were no ill intentions, not meaning to say something racist does not change the fact that it is racist. Lott later brought up this incident to his fellow Student Ministry Coordinators and they responded that he should “pray about it” and then maybe he would get some clarity. 

“This is something that should not have been said from the get-go,” Lott said. “I don’t think God is going to give me the answer in a month’s time and tell me to think ‘okay, now I have to say something.’” 

These small comments and actions are called microaggressions.

“To me, microaggressions are when others highlight Asain aspects of myself when it is irrelevant to the conversation,” sophomore Charis Doi said. “I want to educate people when they say things that are not correct, but it gets exhausting to repeat myself over and over again.”

Last week, Doi, who is of Vietnamese and Japanese descent, coughed in one of her classes and the boy behind her decided to say “watch out she has the coronavirus.” Not only was this joke not funny, but if this boy was able to get into college, he is probably capable of processing the fact that not all Asian people are Chinese and not all Chinese people are sick.

People of color do not only have to confront classmates, but also friends about racist comments. For the most part, when Doi confronts her friends for saying something racist, they are compassionate, apologize and do not make those comments again. But for others, it is not that simple.

She shared that a friend once called her a racial slur and when she told them that it was not okay for them to say that, they got extremely defensive and argued that, because they were friends, it was okay for them to say that. 

“People of color always have to prove to white people why comments make them feel bad and, often, they get defensive and victimize themselves,” sophomore Doi said. “I am so sorry that I am the one that hurt you for calling you out. I should not feel bad for sticking up for myself.” 

The constant battle of trying to prove that racist comments are racist is exhausting. 

Sophomore Giao Nguyen also found that he knows many people of color who are tired of constantly talking about race. It is not something they want to do but, rather, a burden that they feel obligated to carry because if they do not, who else on campus will?

“They [students of color] don’t want to explain what white privilege is again,” Nguyen said. “This is an issue white people don’t face. They can choose if they want to talk about it or not. We don’t have a choice. We have to.”

Talking about race can be intimidating for white people, but it is crucial to push past the discomfort. It is like a muscle, Nguyen explained. The only way to make these conversations stronger is to be consistent and keep having them, even if they might not seem like much at first.

Standing on the sidelines is not an option for white people. Combating racial issues is not the sole responsibility of people of color, and everyone must take part in the conversation — especially white people. Students of color deserve to feel comfortable on their campus and, unless white students are actively trying to make a change, they are a part of the problem.