CALIFORNIA —

Bonnie Kellman

Maybe you’ve seen them — the
blue leaflets that were sitting on the cafeteria tables the final
few weeks of last semester that advertise Psych 122, the Intergroup
Dialogues class. “Do you ever wonder…” they
asked, continuing on with such thought-provoking questions as,
“Why do all the white kids sit together in the
cafeteria?” and (my personal favorite), “Does racism
exist outside the United States?”

Doubtless, the Psychology Department has noble intentions. But
to me, there is something inherently wrong with a university that
needs to have a class to simulate real-world discussions between
groups.

The University has arguably been the leader in affirmative
action. During the last two years, I’ve watched the Coalition
to Defend Affirmative Action By Any Means Necessary protest in the
Diag. I’ve seen University President Mary Sue Coleman take
Grutter v. Bollinger to the Supreme Court. I’ve heard my
fellow students argue the merits of affirmative action over and
over again in class and on the streets. All the signs point to an
integrated university.

Now, I’m going to suggest something radical. Something
terrible. Something that will shock and horrify (but not surprise)
all who hear it: Despite the press and protests, the University
really isn’t integrated at all. Forgive the gross
oversimplification, but the white kids really do sit together in
the cafeteria. And the black kids and the Asians and all the other
racial groups. When is the last time you’ve been friends
— and I mean good friends — with someone of a different
race?

The problem is that affirmative action has become too political.
So much attention is focused on the legal aspects of integration
such as the Supreme Court cases and the Michigan Civil Rights
Initiative that people have forgotten about the most integral part
— actually associating with people of different cultures.

Don’t get me wrong. Politics are important. It’s
necessary to establish laws and social norms that will allow
integration to be possible in the first place. High-minded
egalitarian goals lay the groundwork for social realities to come
and can even inspire change for a short amount of time before
people become bored and move on to something else.

Like most students, I know the reasons why affirmative action is
great. I’ve listened to the speeches, heard the debates, read
the Supreme Court rulings. And none of them has ever impressed me.
After awhile, my mind starts wandering. I turn up the volume on my
Walkman as I walk across the Diag so I don’t have to hear the
protesters. I think about school and my social life and all the
things I have to do before the end of the day.

What has impressed me, though, is other people. It is living in
California, the most integrated place I know, and becoming friends
with people of all the colors of the rainbow. After endless
laughter and jokes and midnight conversations, it is simply knowing
that I love them and that it would be horrible to be denied their
friendship simply because of the color of our skin.

Now, to really make a difference, the student body needs to take
integration a step further than political protests, debates and
editorials. We need to make the fight personal. We need to go out
into the world and meet members of other groups on a personal
level. We need to talk about racism and prejudice in dorm rooms and
cafeterias and coffee shops, rather than in an Intergroup Dialogues
class.

And when the subject of race does come up, it needs to be
explored without squeamish avoidances. If we want to speak honestly
and explicitly, the things we say won’t always be politically
correct. Because of this, there needs to be a safe environment for
discussion — a place where minorities feel accepted, but also
a place where white people feel they can mention race without
automatically being labeled a racist.

Too often, politicians and activists treat racial tolerance as a
benevolent political favor white people bestow on minorities. But
really, racial relations aren’t political at all.
They’re very, very personal. And they’re not about
“tolerance;” they’re about love.

Kellman can be reached at
“mailto:bonkell@umich.edu”>bonkell@umich.edu.

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