To the Editor:
The Summer 2019 Bulletin with its package of stories on the college’s “antiracism” thrust calls out for a bit of perspective.
As the child of two German-Jewish Holocaust refugees (both notable people at CC in their time), I know something of the history of bias and discrimination, even hate and genocide. Further, it must be said, of course, that racism is far from extinguished; that America remains a nation eternally searching for greater equality; and that purveyors of prejudice have perceived disturbing new license to peddle their poison over the last few years.
However, these Bulletin articles and the college’s preoccupation strike me as off the mark in two fundamental ways.
First, there is a glaring lack of acknowledgement of the vast distance this country has traveled, particularly over the last half-century or more. To be “woke” is far too often to ignore or even reject the immense progress in breaking down barriers, in building a Black middle class, and in creating a more just society. Yes, injustice remains. Sometimes shockingly so. Yes, opportunity is still not equally distributed. But America circa 2019 is not the America of Jim Crow or Bull Connor or Lester Maddox or Cecil Price. So much of this new CC curriculum seems to posit the glass as still empty when I’d suggest it is well more than half full.
Second, there is a basic fallacy at the root of this approach — that being the premise that identity is determinant. This emphasis — yes, even preoccupation — with skin color or ethnicity is contrary to so much of the core American belief in individualism. Some still confront a far rougher road than others and we should remain committed to smoothing that path. On that note, I am far from alone in contending that the real inequality in this era centers on the economic divide as opposed to racial identity.
This obsession with identity carries a huge risk, as my family knows all too well. My father taught me an early lesson based on his German childhood in recalling that when Herr Schmidt committed a crime, Herr Schmidt was guilty; while if Herr Feldstein committed a crime, the Jews were guilty.
The question I’d pose is whether we create a more just, equal, free society with an ever-increasing focus on skin color and identity? Or whether we’d do more to advance that pursuit with a softer lens and dialing back that focus?
Instead of a center of “diversity, inclusion, intercultural exchange, equity, and empowerment” (quite the mouthful), what about a college center of individual responsibility? Instead of a newly mandated, two-block requirement in “equity and power,” how about a class in individual agency?
Eric Sondermann ’76