Column: Rules, revenge wrong reaction to racism

By Brenda Kay Zylstra

A couple weeks ago Delta Delta Delta and Zeta Beta Tau set off a storm of controversy with their exchange dubbed “Tequilas and Tacos.” The now infamous exchange, which featured students dressed as illegal aliens and farmers, garnered much attention and it was not long before demands for apologies, sensitivity training, and even calls for the revoking of charters leapt forth.

This column is not aimed at vilifying the Greeks; I think they get it. And as my colleague Brian Pierce pointed out last week, this is “in reality a campus-wide and nation-wide problem.” That this exchange was racist is not in question; the question is how to address the underlying tensions and feelings – across our campus, nation and world – that led to it.

Yet so little of the response has dealt with or even mentioned looking beneath the surface. Instead people are calling for the offending houses’ charters to be revoked and harsh penalties for any racially-themed party in the future. Others react with small petty slights against Tri-Delts and make blanket statements like “What else can you expect from Greek kids?” These knee-jerk responses are counterproductive.

The simplest and thus most likely route for the University to take is to impose harsh sanctions and establish strict rules. That route is also completely useless at combating racism. Making more rules and doling out lots of punishment may deter future exchanges themed “Burritos and Border-jumping” but will it have any impact on what people feel and think? Of course not, and it is either naivety or a misunderstanding of human nature to think so. If affirmative action – a prime example of attempted institutionalized equality and tolerance – has taught us one thing, it is that doing so results in not less, but more, resentment, anger and problems. Instead of leading to equality and harmony, affirmative action in the minds of many has and is producing reverse racism and double standards, and is further perpetuating the idea that minorities are not as smart, qualified or deserving of “x” reward or placement – if they were they would not need affirmative action in the first place.

While avoiding becoming embroiled in that particular debate, it is indisputable that this sort of government imposition on actions – whether for overall good or bad – does little or nothing to alleviate what people actually think. Media, coworkers and classmates, and most of all family and friends, are what shape perceptions – not some university or government edict declaring we all live together in harmonious egalitarianism.

After reading Tri-Delt Lindsay Kordik’s letter to the editor last week, it is apparent some people prefer to react childishly and thoughtlessly, punishing all for the actions of a few. Is verbal harassment and tripping people any less hurtful or unfair than mocking another’s culture? No, and those who harass the Tri-Delts are no better than the ones they bully. Furthermore, these provokers could hardly do a better job of ensuring more racism. Responding in kind to prejudice begets more of the same; or, as Gandhi said, “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” I wonder if the people doing these acts, and those silently supporting them, have even given a thought to this or are just concerned with getting spiteful revenge.

Sometimes people who lack sound arguments decry anyone who disagrees with them as a racist, but those who use such tactics do more to drench possibilities of rational dialogue than enlighten. You are racist. Yes, you. Everyone, no matter their background or upbringing or how broadminded they are, everyone is still a little bit racist, including you and me. The difference is in the degree and how much each person allows that racism to foster within himself.

The solution to racism, so simple yet so challenging to execute, is one you already know. Honest communication, leaving past slights in the past and making a sincere effort at respecting and listening to those you neither understand nor agree with.

Bruce Fein of The Washington Times writes, “Ninety percent or more of what we believe comes from knowing why alternative claims are unconvincing.” Instead of throwing boorish parties or holding onto anger, get out there, meet people and change the racist status quo – on our campus, across our nation and around the world.