Nov. 11, 2012 by chosam
In writing the first of these two blogs about the power of willful ignorance, I tried to lay out a sense of what it is and how it should be conceptualized. In this concluding chapter, I thought it would be appropriate to use anecdotal evidence to provide an interesting entree into understanding exactly how willful ignorance operates within our campus. As I’m sure most of you are aware of, there have been an alarming number of racialized incidents that have taken place on campus in recent weeks. These events have upset and triggered many of us on campus, particularly those of us that identify as students of color. But what I’d like to do here is re-contextualize these events in terms of what it means to be willfully ignorant when an incident of hate occurs on campus.
Before I go any further, however, I feel compelled to make a statement on what I feel is one of the largest misconceptions about any incident of oppression that occurs (whether on campus or off). In my time at Wesleyan, the most dangerous assumption that I have seen made when an incident of hate occurs (whether that is a problematic sign placed in the student center, a bake sale based on racist underpinnings, racist posts on an anonymous chat board, or the like) is that these events only harm those in the affected group. In actuality, they affect us all. As a community, when one of us has their value and humanity challenged, we are all degraded as a result. The lack of that awareness lies firmly within the realm of willful ignorance.
Like I said in my last post, willful ignorance is based on unwillingness to accept the oppressive structures that surround you, so if you hear of an ad for a forum around these issues, see a poster that calls your attention to issues of discrimination on campus, and then have an internal dialogue that says that those issues don’t affect you, then you are part of this larger structure that normalizes you to believe that.
At this point, you might be asking yourself a logical question: How exactly does structural discrimination manifest in my life negatively, particularly if I am in the majority class. Let me give you an example. Have you ever read an article about racial discrimination and felt compelled to say something about it but didn’t because you felt it wasn’t your place? Been involved in a conversation about any of the “isms” and checked out because you were afraid of offending someone else in the room? What we often forget is that silence is an ally of hate. The fact that we have been normalized as a society to stand-by when incidents of hate occur because we are fearful of doing damage to our reputations is itself a perpetuation of oppression. Whether on this campus or back at home, pain is reinforced by silence. Even if you aren’t in the targeted group of people that are “directly” affected (this idea of a target group is also problematic), you should still feel for your community members. To be willfully ignorant is to know this and not take steps to place your voice into the discussion.
A first step to being comfortable enough to speak is being able to listen when there are opportunities to do so. Tomorrow is one of those opportunities. There is an all-campus forum in Beckham Hall at 7:30 PM about the campus climate and recent incidents of racism and discrimination that will feature President Michael Roth, Professor Alex Dupuy, Professor Elizabeth McAlister, Public Safety Director David Meyer, Chantaneice Kitt ’13, Jalen Alexander ’14, Dorisol Inoa ’13, Evan Okun ’13 and moderator Chief Diversity Officer Sonia Manjon.
When you work to understand what’s going on around you right under the surface, then you can begin to understand how to correct it. When we all decide to work on ourselves, the social change is already done.