How Do We Save the World from the White Man? (A response to the response to “Should White boys still be allowed to talk?”)

Kevin Ssonko ’20  , Guest Writer

In his autobiography Malcolm X described racism as a psychosis in the white psyche. White people, he said, were able to function in all other ways as human beings should, but on the question of race white people lost all ability to reason rationally and instead deferred to insanity. As a result Malcolm asserted that for the non-white peoples of this nation, there was never an American dream but rather an American nightmare. Malcolm would never live to see the horrors of mass incarceration, he never lived to witness the massive wars of imperialism in non-white nations that the U.S. would wage overtly and covertly in the 21st century, he never came to know for himself the absurdity of the neo-fascist government that we have in our current administration. Yet in our current racial climate Malcolm’s diagnosis reads just as true now as it did then.

The backlash from last weeks op-ed “Should White Boys Still Be Allowed To Talk?” points once again to the unfortunate reality that Dickinson College, from its alumni, to its student body, to even its sitting president, have failed to mature beyond a remedial understanding of the racial question. For those of us who have experienced the brutality of a nation that declares people of color expendable, the article read not as an offense but a declaration of an emotion many of us feel every day. But for those who have come to believe themselves to be white, the article provoked an anger and an immaturity that reveals to all of us that we still have a long way to go in seeing each other as human beings. 

Of course the history of human liberation in the United States is littered with similar forms of backlash. If there is one thing an individual can learn from the history of this nation, it’s that on the question of the liberation of human beings, white people, and white men more specifically, will not respond rationally. Peaceful and rational requests for just treatment have time and time again been met with nothing but extreme violence and repression. For some reason, white men have chosen to respond to calls for equal justice as being an existential threat to their existence. As a result of this, the conversation continues to be stifled as oppressed people are forced to continue to make the same arguments for their humanity as white men continue to refuse to understand.

The reality remains that the marginalization of human beings is a reality in this world, and as a result of it people die every day. Whether white men want to face it or not, many of their words and assumptions about the world are pushed through a prism that only allows for them to be understood as fully human. As a result, many of their contributions tend to reassert structures of oppression and inequality that have a physical effect on the lives of human beings. 

From racism, to sexism, to heteronormativity, to even climate change, the need for white men to have their narratives be central to all conversations poses a threat to human beings everywhere. So when a woman of color writes an article suggesting that this group of individuals, who have yet to demonstrate any collective competence in treating people as human beings, take a step back and shut their mouths for once in history, it might be in the interest of everyone.

So the question then must be asked, if white men and their ideas post such an existential threat to progress,  how do we save the world from the white man? We save the world from the white man by understanding that the idea of the white man has become obsolete, and it is in the interest of the humanity that challenge and dismantle it wherever it tries to manifest itself. We must never forget that race is a constructed identity, that serves the function of perpetuating a status quo of inequality. 

The idea of the white man is one that asserts that the lives and stories of one group of individuals is normative over all others. Where do we see the idea of the white man at Dickinson College? We see it in comments that suggest that a challenge to whiteness as being reverse racist. We see it when people assert that the intersectional injustices that exist in the world are not present on our campus. We see it when people’s material experience of racism is written off as an over-reaction. We see it in admissions pamphlets that treat diversity as a selling point, rather than a commitment which has life-long ramifications for those who are labeled “minority.” We see it in an email from President Ensign, that sides with the backlash of angry white men who don’t understand the humanity of others, rather than the historic lived experiences of marginalized people who do and have attended Dickinson College.

If there is any hope for real progress at Dickinson College, it will be in our ability to save ourselves from the idea of the white man. If we do not dare everything in this pursuit.

 Then we will continue down the nihilistic path of gradual change through conversation which cannot produce real change. Humanity and whiteness cannot exist in the same space without conflict. The challenge to all of humanity will be which side of the conflict we will choose to stand on.