THE SANTA CLARA
February 25, 2016
Last Thursday, I upset a man I admire.
On Facebook, alumni Drew Kemp blasted an opinion piece containing this thesis: Affirmative Action is racist against white people.
The Santa Clara prints articles like this with a disclaimer, but the asterisk didn’t appear online. So these thoughts appeared to represent the views of our staff and school rather than the author, Andy Hudlow.
I dashed off a clumsy comment. I said we didn’t endorse the opinion and published it to get “a response.” I paid for my carelessness. Drew slammed the sleazy excuse—the piece embarrassed him to be affiliated with Santa Clara. He questioned whether he would encourage prospective students of color to come here. He told me to do better.
Others liked and echoed his stance. I agreed, apologized and opened my section to those with something to say.
Let me rephrase: The Santa Clara published Andy’s piece because we know he is not the only one who thinks these thoughts. His ideas lack nuance and hard facts, but their cousins bubble up on Yik Yak, between beers in living rooms and through minds that haven’t been properly stretched. Millions of Americans agree with Andy—including a few leading presidential candidates. He represents a relevant ideology. We must acknowledge and answer him.
I stand by our choice to publish, but I should not have been so cavalier in my response to Drew. I failed to consider the article’s full, hurtful potential because, well, I’m white.
And I’m not just white, but also upper-middle-class, privately-educated, not-bald-yet, male and loved by still-married parents. I won a million dollar scholarship the day I was born. My mother read to me for hours each night. My teachers lavished me with support and attention. My father’s friends gave me internships that bolstered my resume.
America is not like this for everyone else. The playing field is tilted and I’m sprinting downhill. Students from less privileged backgrounds deserve whatever helps them catch up to my unlimited allotment of back pats and helping hands. If they succeed despite greater obstacles, their accomplishments mean more than mine.
Throughout history, my Mayflower-descended family accumulated and passed down wealth. But many minorities inherit a legacy of perseverance through disgrace and dispossession. Since coming ashore, American whites have treated other races heinously, then justified it as the cost of civilization—brutality deserved by human beings denigrated as thugs, savages or beasts.
We forced Native Americans off their land. We whipped slaves as they built our early economy. We executive-ordered Japanese citizens into concentration camps during WWII. We scapegoat undocumented Mexican workers for the failures of Wall Street.
The examples repeat endlessly, reincarnating into ever-sneakier forms. Obviously, not all white people are responsible, but that’s beside the point. Whites never got robbed, denied or imprisoned by “legitimate” institutions because of their race.
If you’re white, you don’t have to be ashamed, just recognize that our race has profited from a whole lot of human suffering. Affirmative Action makes a tiny deposit into an unpayable debt.
I am a hypocrite. I blast my people’s past, then luxuriate in the countless comforts provided by my skin. I can slip occasionally into ignorance as I only fully know what it is like to be me—a comfortable white man in an overtly, then tacitly white supremacist patriarchy.
I missed Drew’s issue with the article because I do not know what it is like to be black and see my alma mater’s paper run an opinion that demeans my identity. I neglected to consider his viewpoint. I needed to hear it.
And the mirror to that is why we need Andy. Devotees to his argument fear they will struggle to succeed in our increasingly diverse future. This could be dog-whistle racism, false entitlement or ignorance. It could be all three or none. But these thoughts exist. They must be considered, then countered with facts. Again and again and again, gently.
The opinion section reflects the minimally filtered ideas of our school’s population. We offer these thoughts not to stir up controversy, but to inspire empathy.
We need to understand why people think what they do, then respond to them without force, malice or guilt-tripping. Amens from the choir feel good, but they’re empty if non-believers don’t convert.
As the imperfect, recently passed Harper Lee put it: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…Until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
When we try on another person’s skin, we may not like the fit, but we learn something. We don’t have to agree, but we must digest each other’s beliefs. If we don’t wrangle with viewpoints that fill us with fear, anger or confusion, our truths are incomplete.
John Flynn is the editor of the Scene section and a senior English and sociology major.
Articles in the opinion section represent the views of the individual authors only and not the views of The Santa Clara or Santa Clara University.