not in our stars, but in ourselves
There’s a line from Fawlty Towers that resonates with me, on a deep and spiritual level. The eternally frustrated Basil Fawlty is attempting to explain something to Manuel, the Spanish page/bellhop/whipping post, and Manuel – as usual – is having a hard time following what his boss means. Basil pauses briefly, and says through clenched teeth, “Look, try to understand before one of us DIES.”
I offer this preamble as a way of explaining, in a telescoped way, my disbelief and anger surrounding a new hire at Boston University. Dr. Saida Grundy will begin in the Department of Sociology on July 1st. Some little twerp found out that she said some things on Twitter that hurt his white-man feelings, sent them to the tried-and-true muckrakers at Fox News, and the story exploded. BU President Robert Brown issued a statement, essentially saying that Dr. Grundy was being racist, and – well, you can read the comments there to see what the lilywhite BU community has to say about the entire ordeal. Dr. Grundy has apologized, but that hasn’t stopped the torches and pitchforks.
Assuming you don’t want to follow all those links, I’ll summarize for you:
– Dr. Grundy said things on Twitter about white male college students being a problem population; she said that she always tries to patronize stores owned by non-white people on MLK Day (but often finds it nearly impossible); basically, she used her Twitter feed as most of us do: to make pithy observations about her day-to-day life. Her day-to-day life is necessarily informed by being both black and female. She’s an educated woman, who’s studied sociology and history and statistics, and most of what she said (according to what I’ve seen reported secondhand; her Twitter account is now, understandably, locked) seems to be rooted in either personal experience or in her extensive academic career.
– White people don’t like to be told that they’ve ever done anything wrong, ever, even if the evidence is completely overwhelming. White men especially hate this. The usual responses: I can’t be held responsible for my ancestors’ actions; I was a child of immigrants myself, so how could I have done such a thing; I’m not a racist, but blah blah blah; if a WHITE person had said this about BLACK people, she’d have been fired immediately; everything she says is WRONG; white men don’t rape people, I’m a white man and I would never rape someone; etc., etc., etc.
– President Brown, rather than use his power and position to support BU’s new hire, made the usual fallacious argument that Dr. Grundy’s remarks count as “racist” – even though it’s not really possible to be racist against white people. Prejudiced against? Sure. Distrustful of? Absolutely. But not racist. However, President Brown knows who butters his bread: the dusty white parents and alumni with deep pockets. He told them what they wanted to hear, and I’m sure he feels quite pleased with himself.
Now, I hate to admit it, but it’s true: I myself am a dusty white person. I came from a boring, almost-entirely-white suburban town. I went to a mostly-white college. I’ve lived and worked, off and on, in Boston since graduation; and as much as I love my city, I can’t say it’s the most diverse place in the world. (Certain parts are much more colorful, literally and figuratively, than others. I very much appreciate Mayor Walsh’s efforts to start working on the ridiculous lack of opportunities for black and Latino men, and I hope this will lead to far more diversity and more evenly-distributed success in the city.) During one of the off-Boston periods, I was in Australia – which used to feature whiteness as a government policy. I’ve lived a privileged life: the only way in which I’m disadvantaged is by being female. And even that isn’t something I think of as a barrier or an obstacle – such is my luck and my privilege.
So, you know, I’m not the best person to weigh in on this particular issue. Michelle Huxtable, who is black and female and a BU alumna, is much better suited. In this seething post, she blasts BU’s hypocrisy in particular. Some choice excerpts:
The article oddly boasts that Boston University now has a 4.6% rate of Black students incoming next year (!!!). And this is when we get to read an incredibly offensive and racist quote:
“‘The data shows important progress,’ said Jean Morrison, BU’s provost and chief academic officer. The challenge, Morrison and other administrators say, is that the pool of academically qualified black students is slim…”
You: Ummm… how is that racist?!
Well, Timmy, when a man and a woman hate each other, and also have the power to systematically keep their children from progressing, that’s racism. So racism is hate + power. Jean over here is chief academic officer and she thinks there aren’t enough qualified Black students. That’s… kind of an issue, to say the least.
[…] Let’s talk about how deeply engrained the proclivity to protect white fragility is at Boston University. First, a (make believe) student makes this statement about a professor:
“You have to teach college-aged white males eventually, no?… this seems like you are unqualified to grade their work as you clearly demonstrate some kind of special bias against them”
Again. Who. Are. You? Your main concern is the fragility of the college-aged white male ego? Are you kidding me? Her opinion makes her unqualified to grade their work? So the other 99% non-Black professors at Boston University, are they grading Black students’ work inaccurately? Are they unqualified? This is QUITE the scandal you’ve uncovered, Nick.
[…] A few white students becoming upset because Professor Grundy accurately expressed that white masculinity is a problem in America’s colleges and that white men are a problem population is quite possibly the most appropriate example of irony. A few white students are upset that their bubbles were crushed and for five seconds they were forced to think about their race and privilege, and Boston University instantly condemns a Black woman’s statements? Come on. This is #AllLivesMatter-style rhetoric.
Boston University representative Colin Riley said, “The University does not condone racism or bigotry in any form and we are deeply saddened when anyone makes such offensive statements”. Which, for those playing at home, is hilarious if you scroll up a little. Didn’t Boston University’s Provost just make some racist, bigoted, offensive statements? Oh. She’s not a Black woman. Cool. As you were.
[…] Tell me how this isn’t about race and gender. Please do that. A Black woman professor is being attacked 100% because of her words. Nothing else. Not because she, I don’t know, killed an unarmed Black person. Not because she refuses to grow with the times and admit more qualified Black people. But because she expressed a truth about racism. And while she fights for her constitutional right of free speech, (anonymous) white men are threatening to withdraw financial support of the University if she is not fired. That is racism. And also proves her point. White men be trippin’.
My final plea: hold Boston University accountable or make them tear down every Dr. King statue and close the Howard Thurman Center. Don’t parade my Black heroes around while actively allowing racist practices to continue at my beloved alma mater. We push back because we care.
Emphasis mine. Read the whole thing. She’s right about everything.
[If you read the BU Today piece all the way through the comments, you’ll notice a lot of white numbskulls appropriating Dr. King to support their bullshit. I guess they missed some of these quotes.]
Anyway, I’m just angry, and tired. There’s no way to reason with these people. There’s no way to get them to think for half a second about how literally every system in the Western world favors them, encourages them, coddles them, assists them. There are some unlucky white people out there, for sure. There are some seriously disadvantaged white people. By and large, however, we are aided by all kinds of invisible safety nets and safety harnesses and padding and so on and so forth. There’s no such safety net for black people. Remember the idiotic #CrimingWhileWhite thing on Twitter? And the response: #AliveWhileBlack? Yeah. That’s about the size of it. White people (myself included, I’m sure, even though I try to remain conscious of not doing that) always find some way to make it about themselves, some way to pout and stamp their little feet; all while people of color are trying desperately to get them to listen to how fucking hard it is for them just to get by – let alone approach any kind of equal footing. What is this prejudice against listening? Against sympathy – or, better yet, empathy? Why is it so difficult for a white frat boy to pause and reflect on what a black woman tells him about how problematic his peers are, and for him then to think, “Well, you know, that is pretty fucked up. I should do something to stop them from drugging girls’ drinks/coercing girls into sex/ruining girls’ reputations after they do or don’t have sex with my shithead buddies.” I honestly can’t understand it. I can’t understand how that’s not a fundamentally human response to hearing something like this. If I had said it, would their response be different? Or would they all be scurrying to the dank cellar that is the comments section, protected by their veil of anonymity, and vowing to rape me? That seems to be the usual response to a white woman calling out white men. A black woman gets the racists all riled up; a white woman gets the MRAs. Lucky us.
I guess all I have to say, ultimately, is this: if you’re a white dude, and you’re not a racist, and you’re not a sexist (and no one thinks they’re racist or sexist), make sure your friends aren’t either. Think about what they say about other people – women and people of color, especially. Think about whether they’re reacting against a perceived threat to their comfy little status quo. Think about whether they’re just reacting in the lady-doth-protest-too-much vein. Consider whether you would say such a thing. Consider whether you would say that thing to the person if they were in the room with you. Consider whether you would say that thing to the person if they were your coworker or family member. Just think about how your place in the world as you relate to others, please. Try to understand before all of us die.