Posted on February 19, 2019

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, Dickinsonian, February 14, 2019


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.

{snip} 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.

{snip} 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. {snip}

{snip} 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.


{snip} 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.