The opinion section of this newspaper is, in its purest sense, an open forum for the community that the paper serves. More so than any other section of the paper, the opinion section belongs to the readers, and except for the unsigned staff editorial, should stay objective — or at least fair — and allow readers to present their viewpoints.
The paragraph above is taken nearly word for word from the Northwest Missourian’s staff manual. As an editorial board, we’re committed to providing an open forum for diverse thoughts and ideas — as long as those thoughts and ideas aren’t rooted in the dismissing and discounting of an entire race of people.
We’ve received more letters to the editor in our inbox over the last several weeks than we did the last calendar year, most of them in response to a column we ran almost a full month ago titled, “Being Black in Maryville means never feeling safe.” Each response, critique or barely-coherent stream-of-consciousness we’ve received has been unique, of course, but they’ve come with a common theme. They center around white people victimizing themselves over the discomfort Black people feel in this community.
Dear white people: we’ve read your letters. We aren’t running them in this newspaper or on this website. We aren’t going to lift up voices that are intent only on disputing and drowning out those of our Black students, our Black peers, our Black columnists.
Dear white people: we’ve read your letters. We know you don’t see the racism in this community. You’ve never had to live through it. And if you keep closing your eyes and plugging your ears when someone who has lived through it decides to share their encounters, you’re not going to see it. You’re not even trying to.
Dear white people: we’ve read your letters. And we have more than a few concerns, so we’ve decided to take this space, in this moment of national and local reckoning, and address some of them in the sincere hope of advancing a conversation that many members of this community are unwilling to hear.
Yes, white privilege exists. It’s inherent and systemic and inescapable. It’s apparent in police traffic stop rates and in school curriculums. It’s so interwoven into American society that it goes unrecognized by those who reap its benefits every day. And it’s there, in ignorance, where white privilege is perhaps the most prevalent and dangerous. Inherently removed from the effects of racism, even well-meaning white people are walking around in delusion, unaware of the dire racial climate they occupy, unable to see the changes that need made.
No, reverse racism does not exist. Perhaps there are people who hate you for being white, maybe even groups of them. But there aren’t systems designed to hold you down. There haven’t been policies written to exclude you. You don’t face now, and have never faced at any point in America’s history, any systemic barrier in advancing in society.
And Affirmative Action — a buzzword for several letter-writers and Facebook commenters — was a set of policies enacted to promote equity, not to hurt you. In fact, white students still receive almost 67% of all institutional grants and scholarships awarded, and over 75% of all merit-based grants and scholarships, although white people only make up about 62% of the college student population.
No, there are not Black-exclusive clubs, fraternities or sororities on this campus. The Black Student Union, the Rho Theta Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., the Minority Men’s Organization and every other student organization on Northwest’s campus is open to every student regardless of race. White people are not excluded from any campus groups based on the color of their skin.
No, our columnist didn’t say he thinks people who drive trucks and wear boots are racist. He actually wrote clearly that, “trucks don’t, by any means, denote someone’s personality.” But still, so many respondents and Facebook commenters have latched on to his anecdotal note about some boot-wearing, truck-driving Maryville residents. And in doing so, they may have proved his point.
If your response to our columnist bravely sharing his experiences in Maryville was to make a Facebook comment or pen a letter doubting and discrediting his words, determined to prove to him how accepting this community really is by twisting his words and accusing him of “reverse racism,” perhaps you’re a part of the problem.
Racism is rarely overt. It’s subtle. It’s daily. It plays out on a systemic scale too large to comprehend and in microaggressions too small to spot. It’s not often written out in black and white, submitted in letter format. But it has been lately.