Students host discussion on white privilege
Nov 3, 2015
As a part of its month-long series of events on race and attempting to explore white privilege in the United States, the NYU Center for Multicultural Education and Programs hosted “Unpacking Whiteness” Tuesday night. Steinhardt graduate student Matthew Banks and Steinhardt sophomore Rachael Metcalf organized the event, with the topic for this week’s discussion being racism in politics.
Students in attendance spoke about Donald Trump’s recent controversial comments on immigration. Students also discussed Hillary Clinton’s attempts to attract Latino voters, debating whether her campaign is shifting due to newfound sympathy for struggling minorities or if it’s a strategic shift to cater to a wider demographic. Phoebe Allen, a graduate student in the Silver School of Social Work, commented on the liberal attitude about attracting minorities.
“At least we know Trump is a racist and he’s unapologetic about it,” Allen said. “What’s more alarming is how the liberal side, especially Clinton, uses race as a strategy.”
Allen, who also leads a group of students in discussion on these issues, said she has often noticed people of color are perceived much differently in politics and other areas than white people.
“I think this issue is important because racism really destroys innovation,” Allen said. “These oppressive or exclusionary practices we live with inhibit innovation and social evolution.”
On top of discussing individual presidential campaigns, Banks and Metcalf broadened the conversation by considering the Black Lives Matter campaign. Banks asked the same question posed at the Democratic Debate this past month: do black lives matter, or do all lives matter?
Students were quick to criticize how many white people have made the movement about themselves by asserting that “all lives matter,” rather than addressing the recent injustice of police brutality against people of color.
“White people are asking, ‘How can this involve me’?” Metcalf said. “We need to take a minute to step outside of ourselves and realize that this issue is bigger than people of white privilege. This issue isn’t about all lives, these injustices are happening to black people.”
Banks also pointed to the imbalance of race related issues amongst politicians and how policies about race, sexuality and gender often take a backseat to traditionally “white” issues.
“Most politicians are thinking, ‘We shouldn’t be talking about Black Lives Matter because we have to fix the economy first,” Banks said. “‘We’ll get to that eventually, but we have to help the white people first.’”
Many students concluded that race is becoming a big part of the political conversation during this election cycle, but they also agreed that this is mainly because white people are beginning to become involved in race issues. Even so, a few noted it will be interesting to see how the role of race affects the upcoming election in both the Democratic and Republican primaries and if economic issues will take a back seat to the race conversation.
Stern faculty Mariana Villanueva emphasized the need for complicated race-related dialogue on campus.
“This is an important conversation to be having and I’m glad that NYU recognizes that and allows us to have group discussions like this,” Villanueva said.
Metcalf concluded the discussion by reminding the attendees to think critically about issues of race beyond the meeting.
“People need to be aware of this issue,” Metcalf said. “This discussion needs to take place, and we need to take time to step outside of ourselves and examine situations of white privilege more closely.”
Contact Kati Garrity at [email protected]