Don’t stop apologizing
Published: Thursday, April 12, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, April 11, 2012 13:04
We found the article “Please stop apologizing!: Why overreacting is not always a good thing” from the April 4th edition of The Wellesley News problematic. The author purported that speech is insignificant, that confronting demeaning and ignorant comments is somehow incompatible with addressing the oppression of marginalized groups on campus. The author referred to a WelleseyFML post asking why there are no cultural groups for white people on campus as “careless” and “silly.” But this is no isolated incident—similar occurrences happen every few years. The FML comment was not careless; that suggests that it’s okay to think these things, just not to say them. Nor was it silly; it was reflective of larger systems of inequality pervasive on this campus. By failing to address these sorts of comments, we fail to acknowledge that these systems are perpetrated and maintained by individuals.
These comments also serve as rare moments when the members of the student body are reminded that these issues exist. Discussions about institutionalized oppression on campus, whether about racism, transvisibility, religion, class or other issues, are often isolated occurrences involving few already concerned individuals and groups. Those discussions aren’t happening among those, such as the FML poster, who need to have them most. While reactions to comments such as the WellesleyFML post or the WCTV Boobtube dismissal of Black History Month alone aren’t going to end marginalization on campus, they are essential to acknowledging that these problems exist and starting conversations about them. Additional action is important, but these online conversations aren’t trivial. Speech is powerful. We agree with the author that people need to feel comfortable on this campus speaking their mind. But the real problem isn’t that privileged people are no longer comfortable making oppressive jokes, but that they don’t realize how those jokes marginalize others. We all have a responsibility to speak out when we understand such comments to be offensive. Labeling those who speak out as “overreacting” trivializes the power of words to perpetrate oppression. Challenging offensive comments, as evidenced by Dominique Hazzard’s eloquent response to Boobtube, is often an opportunity to start essential dialogue addressing the larger problems of which such comments are symptomatic. The author misses the point entirely. We don’t need apologies; we need dialogue and we need to think critically about the productive relationship between privilege and speech.
Instead of bemoaning political correctness, we need to be talking more about things like institutionalized racism on campus and the administration’s hiding and erasure of our trans siblings. Instead of bemoaning privilege-checking, we need to be having more hard conversations about our privilege and how we actively and passively participate in the marginalization of others. These conversations are already happening, but they are too isolated to cultural- and faith-based organizations and a few academic departments. The challenge is how to engage those comfortable in their privilege outside of glib comments on online forums.