Op-Ed: Racism in our midst

Thursday, February 8, 2018 - 6:30pm

Earlier this semester, I discovered one of my classmates is a racist. While sitting in our shared discussion, she sent me messages that were simultaneously abhorrent and surprising. Furthermore, she did so by using a deeply offensive term. As she wrote to me in three separate, unexpected texts, “i’m also racist so that doesn’t help…not trynna get too dark over here but i don’t like n******…lol there’s a difference between blacks and n******.” She was an unambiguous, unapologetic racist.

Her appalling texts left me filled with disgust and led me to question my preconceived notions of what racism on campus looks like. Though I have witnessed racism before, this was the first time I had seen it directly expressed by a fellow University of Michigan student. The realization that one of my peers held racist views was a shocking reality check — I knew there had been racist incidents in Ann Arbor in the past, but I was comforted by the fact that no University students were ever caught committing them. “Maybe a visitor or a townie did it,” I would internally assure myself. As I continued to pore over the details of my chance encounter with such casual racism, the conversation’s full implications became apparent and the following questions emerged: If I had this one chance encounter with a single classmate of mine, how many other closeted (or in her case, non-closeted) bigots were there in my classes? In my majors? In my beloved University of Michigan?

I came to the University of Michigan because I believed it to be the greatest public university in the nation, if not the world. However, the discovery that at least one of my peers, and likely many more, seem to have such spectacularly repugnant views on the topic of race has rocked this opinion. Nevertheless, I possess great hope for what I believe to be a subset of the University community to change for the better.

To individuals who share similar sentiments regarding race as my classmate, I ask you this: Are the beliefs you hold worthy of someone who attends Michigan? Worthy of one of the historical centers of American activism, the alma mater of Gerald Ford (’35), a staunch supporter of civil rights, and Branch Rickey (JD 1911), who was instrumental in helping to break professional baseball’s color barrier?  A transformation in your thinking is needed.

To be clear, I’m not asking you to become an expert on social justice issues that are relevant today nor am I asking you to change your political leanings in any capacity. Instead, to paraphrase Martin Luther King Jr., I merely hope that you begin to judge people by their character, rather than their race. However, if you choose to continue discriminating against individuals on the basis of their skin color, I hope that you will at least have the wisdom to see what you are doing is inherently wrong.

While advocating for an end to racism among my peers is hardly the “hot take” that one would expect to find in the Opinion section of The Michigan Daily, I strongly feel that the broader topic of race at the University of Michigan has to be discussed further in the student body. University-sponsored classes, seminars or meetings are not the solution to fostering increased dialogue because too often in these discussions, people can be intimidated by the prospect of saying what is truly on their mind in the company of strangers. Rather, genuine, organic conversations between friends and classmates have to occur with more frequency so that as a community, we can move closer to permanently eradicating the kind of thinking and language that I witnessed in class. To my peers at Michigan, I implore you: Take the time to sit down with a friend, a classmate or even an acquaintance to reflect on racial issues, at our university and in our society, so that we are better equipped to solve problems relating to them together. These conversations will be difficult, but they are absolutely necessary.

The Michigan I know and love expects only the finest from its students. We are the “Leaders and the Best” for precisely that reason. It is up to us, and us alone, to ensure that this moniker stays accurate now and moving forward.

Sam Weinberger is an LSA Junior