Something Offensive Is Found on the Internet, Determined to be “Bias-Related”

As students of the 5Cs, we have become uncomfortably accustomed to the “bias-related incident” e-mails that we receive on, it seems, a far too frequent basis. I think (don’t stop reading) that this whole business is silly at its best and irresponsible at its worst. Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not in favor of any kind of racist, sexist, or otherwise offensive remarks, but I think that it would behoove the administrations and related parties (i.e. everybody) at all the 5Cs to rethink their policy on bias-related incidents and, on a broader scale, identity politics at large. Of course, I can’t go into all of that here, since brevity is (apparently) a virtue.

A recent event, which involved “inappropriately tagged posted photos found on KGI students’ Facebook pages,” may serve as a good example. As per standard operating procedure, the e-mail ends with an invitation to “any student in need of support concerning this incident” to contact the appropriate organization (AAMP, OBSA, etc.), and an invitation to any student who “perceives a racist or sexist incident on campus” to report it to the appropriate authorities as soon as possible. First and foremost, we might ask ourselves whether it is the college’s responsibility (or right, for that matter) to monitor the goings-on of a web site such as Facebook. Even though social networking sites occupy a dubious position somewhere between public and private space, it is a tad frightening that a purported institution of higher learning finds it incumbent upon itself to police its students’ non-academic lives (and we’re not talking about Bob Jones here, this is a liberal institution). Remember that everyone, even chauvinists, have the right to free speech. If a student is offended by some remarks or incidents, then they should contact their local law enforcement agency, or in this case the Facebook administrators. If getting the law involved seems like an overreaction, then maybe the involved parties should reconsider how deeply they have been offended.

More broadly, if hypothetical Student A is offended by hypothetical Student B’s remarks, there is no reason to involve hypothetical Students C-Z in the whole affair. What exactly is our goal here? If, for instance, someone makes an offensive remark, then what good does it do to disseminate it by e-mailing the student bodies of all 5Cs? So that all of us can get offended? It’s the equivalent of putting a bullet in somebody’s knee to explain why getting shot at is no fun. It seems to me that the best solution would be to handle it on a case-by-case basis and not involve the rest of the student body and risk hurting more feelings.

Lastly, and I’m not just playing at polemics here, I believe that the whole idea of getting offended needs some serious rethinking. There are now, and probably always will be, more “–isms” than you can shake a stick at, and there is no way (except maybe through a good, humanist education) that we can ever really get rid of them. It makes more sense to me to just stop getting offended. This might sound ridiculous, but listen: everybody’s got feelings and sensitivities, and the fact is that there’s only one person any one person can control, and that is him or herself. The responsibility for “getting offended” is ultimately up to each individual.

For example, in the neighborhood where I grew up, I wasn’t just a minority, I was the minority. With the exception of my brothers and sister, I was the only white kid around, and I took some flak for it. I even got beaten up a couple of times just for being white. Granted, when we’re talking physical harm, it’s a totally different ball game, but the fact remains: I couldn’t stop the other kids from picking on me, so I decided to ignore it. That’s no fun, but after I stopped getting pissed off and learned to take myself a little less seriously and laugh along with the others, things got a whole lot better. I’m not saying it’s easy, or that it’s a cure-all, but by letting somebody get under your skin you’re giving them power over you. And that isn’t going to solve the problem.

Hopefully this has been brief and to the point; I’ve tried to provide a different viewpoint, one that we don’t hear from very often—I’m a white male, but I come from a lower socioeconomic class than most 5-C students, including those in minority groups, and I know what it’s like to be a minority myself and to be discriminated against. I know some people aren’t going to like what I’m saying, I know they’re going to say I want them to cover, or that I’m a closet whatever-ist, or that I just don’t understand. Maybe that’s true, but I’m speaking from experience, and I’m being honest, which is what I’d ask of everyone else as well. Do some soul-searching (or whatever) and avoid knee-jerk reactions, think about your response, think about whether you’re really offended or you’re offended on principle, and then act accordingly. Of course, discussions of biases and their ramifications are far from over, and I don’t think I have to worry about having the last word on the subject. But please remember that the events that I’m addressing are very specific—physical violence and threats of violence are a totally different matter than offensive actions and deserve a totally different approach.

The way we’re handling the situation right now doesn’t seem to be working very well. Over the two and a half years that I’ve been here, we’ve been getting more and more emails and having more and more “incidents.” Let’s at least think about changing our focus, and let’s at least be open-minded.

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