a student-run publication that seeks to provide space for voices that are not being heard on our campus. we are grounded by politics that are radical, anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-classist, anti-homophobic, anti-ableist, and anti-transphobic (against all forms of oppression) and that reject the structural neo-liberal paradigm that characterizes middlebury college and its official publications
By Jeimy Ruiz
In response to Professor David Stoll’s article written on The Campus entitled “Racial Discourse at Middlebury”:
I am automatically wary of white North American anthropologists. I wonder, how many of them think about their white privilege when they walk into a community and begin attempting to piece together a cultural analysis without having grown up there? Perhaps without even speaking the language, if it is not English? Does a couple of years of studying Spanish automatically facilitate open and level-grounded discussion with your “subjects?”
Thus, I am not surprised that a tenured professor of anthropology at Middlebury College wrote an article as insensitive and misinformed as this one. Where to even begin? I have often found that the ability of a North American anthropologist to concisely analyze cultures abroad does not extend to their own nation. If they had, Stoll would have incorporated some much needed intersectional analysis in his discussion of why the absence of hateful rhetoric in Middlebury’s public sphere is inspiring a case of “lockjaw.” A multiplicity of political views does not inherently provide diversity. As a student whose particular identities are often outnumbered in a Middlebury classroom, I can personally attest that just because a physical body is present does not necessarily garner inclusive discourse (although existing in a certain space can be political resistance). Nor do two opposing political views have the same power in public spaces, as when Trump rhetoric is supported by historical and contemporary violence against everyone except rich, white men, the opposition to that rhetoric literally becomes a battle for survival.
To say that “Some of our working-class staffers have less privilege than any professor or student–regardless of your skin color, gender status or current social class,” is to invalidate the experiences of many poor and working class students of color at Middlebury and simplifies multiple forms of oppression that are particular to every context. I reject the notion that there is a hierarchy of marginalized identities. This is not a competition of who is most oppressed. No one can deny that attending Middlebury is a privilege- I acknowledge the endless opportunities a college like Middlebury can and has afforded me. However, this response to being confronted with a campus attempting to address a Trump victory is ignorant at worst, unproductive at best.
Herein, I suspect, lies Stoll’s greatest critique of Middlebury’s developing racial discourse which he previously attempted to shroud in general political talk of the elections. Race, apparently, isn’t a significant factor in determining inequality: “Skin tone is not a reliable guide to privilege or lack of same, nor is it a reliable guide to much of anything.” While race is in fact a relatively recent invention, its effects on all people of color, particularly Black people, can hardly be denied (although as a white man I see how he might overlook this small factor). Class is a significant marker of social and economic mobility, but being rich doesn’t take away the complicated experiences of someone being both rich and black.
But he isn’t finished yet. Nope, he goes on to a discussion of microaggressions, cultural appropriation, and safe spaces. All of these, apparently, imply a coddling of people of color by protecting them from any “slight” said against them. The inherent issue with all of Stoll’s ideas concerning the aforementioned is white fragility, a series of defensive or emotional responses to even a minimal amount of racial tension. The overarching concern he expresses for students and faculty being unwilling to have discusssions because they are comfortable living in a complicit bubble of racism is white fragility. To denounce cultural appropriation as too broad implies a reluctance to grapple with one’s personal responsibility in perpetuating oppression and is white fragility. With his analogy, “Thus white students will not have the right to demand safe space from a discussion of the slave trade,” he conflates the enslavement of black people with white people’s discomfort to confront injustices committed by white people. He then makes a blatantly racist comparison to cultural appropriation by implying that white people have a “cultural ownership of Alpine ski gear and business suits,” which are deeply rooted in classism. I honestly had no idea only white people wore business suits.
The question of who exactly has “color” is an interesting and valid question. The term “people of color” has its benefits, but it also has the added effect of generalizing a majority of the world and the unique experiences and difficulties that ethnic groups face. It perpetuates discourses of colorblindness by insinuating that white people have no color, that they are the normal, standard skin color. It also places the responsibility of racial issues on non-white people, even though all categories of race and ethnic categorization exist in opposition to whiteness. How do we grapple with the intersections of race in our everyday lives? Simply removing race as an “administrative category” from Middlebury is not a solution, but a deliberate desire to disengage with race as a huge marker of social inequality, particularly on this campus.
Middlebury is the sort of institution where white liberals can hide behind generalizations about allyship and extremely divisive rhetoric like that spewed by Donald Trump, yet write articles such as this one in an effort to shut down conversations about race. In the very same opinion section of the November 16th edition of The Campus, David Stoll signed his name on the “Professors Against Derogatory Rhetoric” piece, which came out a week after Donald Trump won the presidency. How is it possible for someone to sign their name in a show of support against derogatory rhetoric and then write an article where, at least in terms of racial discourse, he is divisive and marginalizing? I do not accept racism masked as benevolent camaraderie and allyship.
I’ll end with this quote, the last sentence of the article written by Stoll: “If race is a cognitive error, we can’t escape it by constructing a new racial system. If we do construct a new racial system, it will empower some people at the expense of shutting other people up, just like the old racial system did.” To this I will reply that if people of color collectively constructed a new racial system just like the old racial system, it would have to do more than just shut white people up. It would have to rob them from their homes, subject them to a violent and treacherous voyage across oceans, enslave them, rob them of their language, culture and dignity and deny them civil liberties after being freed. Thereafter, the new system would then have to discriminate against them for at least 100 years politically and economically, allow for the murdering of white men for the pursuance of black women, encourage experimentation on white bodies in the name of science, all the while concessioning semblances of progress in order to veil the construction of new racial systems designed to keep white people oppressed. And then of course, people of color would have to blame white people for their own oppression and absolve themselves of all responsibility. I am personally doubtful of the aforementioned coming into fruition as a result of making a few white folks uncomfortable, but ironically, it seems that lockjaw is only a problem when those who historically benefit from free speech think their privileges are being revoked.