The controversy that has surrounded last week’s editorial is the product of a misunderstanding that was fueled by careless and inaccurate reporting. With a series of inappropriate Facebook comments and an inflammatory article posted on NYU Local, it became clear how quickly individuals are prepared to assume the worst rather than think critically about dissenting opinions. In response to an editorial we wrote discussing the importance of allies to any social justice campaign, NYU Local claimed that, although our piece “is not blatant racism,” we “[had] entirely missed the point of being an ally.” Eric Silver stated that “sometimes, being an ally means not being included.” Yet, if an ally is anything, it is someone who associates with others for a common cause or purpose. This was the crux of our argument — one that acknowledges the crucial role alliances play.
As the “I, Too, Am NYU” campaign eloquently responded to our editorial, “No doubt, the role of allies in racial justice movements is a critical one, and we welcome and encourage vocal support from students who do not identify as people of color.” We completely agree, and last week’s editorial proposed nothing more. The “I, Too, Am NYU” campaign would benefit from the active participation of white allies in order to effectively promote racial equality on our campus. Our editorial called attention to this fact. Yet this message seems to have been lost in the controversy that has since developed. We did not argue that the involvement of racially privileged individuals should be prioritized, nor did we argue that white students should be featured in the photographs published by the campaign, as Silver suggested. Rather, we identified the specific benefits that can be found when encouraging white allies to actively assist in the promotion of racial equality. This is not to say that allies define the movement to which they associate themselves to. They are, of course, just allies, but nevertheless important.
NYU Local editor Helen Holmes tweeted that we “criticized a campaign giving voice to minorities for not including white people.” The inclusion of white students in a group that advocates for racial equality at NYU should not be simplistically reduced to — or valued by — whiteness. Indeed the inclusion of white students does not constitute any notion of “validity by whiteness.” There is no validity to be gained by including white students. The inclusion of white students is neither a necessary nor a sufficient policy for the validity of “I, Too, Am NYU.” Yet it might nevertheless be a beneficial one for matters of strict practicality.
We believe that the goal of the campaign is to make students realize that fleeting comments to their peers are racist. Including white allies who stand in solidarity with “I, Too, Am NYU” would increase exposure to the students who disproportionately make these comments in the first place. The campaign is in the unique position to include the very students that it is targeting.
This conclusion prompted Silver to claim that our piece conveyed nuanced racism. Yet, it is rather the omissions in his reporting that furthered bias and misunderstanding across our campus. He should have acknowledged that members of our Editorial Board are comprised of racially, ethnically and religiously diverse individuals. If this had been done, certain incendiary and presumptuous comments on the “I, Too, Am NYU” Facebook page would not have been allowed to stand unchallenged. The assumption that the Editorial Board members are “white people [who] feel othered,” who promote “what about us in the majority” arguments, is plainly false. In fact, the editorial was chaired, developed and conceived by a person of color. Given the diversity of the board, it is unclear as to why we would hold a “what about us in the majority” opinion.
The most adamant supporters of “I, Too, Am NYU” pride themselves on combating microaggressions, yet several were prepared to perpetuate them. Indeed, some readily and willingly assumed that anyone who holds an opinion that dissents from that of a group advocating for racial equality must not be a person of color. One commenter went so far as to dismiss the very identities of the individuals who wrote the article. Yet, if an opinion article is anything, it is an opinion that is held by the authors of those who penned it. To disregard the importance of the individuals on the Editorial Board — and their unique identities and experiences — is to ignore this basic fact. The claim that we were motivated by a “what about us in the majority” argument is injurious.
Just as NYU Local is entitled to publish an opinion, the Editorial Board — comprised of several individuals who identify as the “oppressed friends” the author had benightedly volunteered to defend — is also entitled to take a particular view. Silver’s failure to accurately report an opposing perspective conveys a disregard for journalistic principles, as well as a complacency with fueling misguided aggression.
A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, April 30 print edition. Email the WSN Editorial Board at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Illustration by Jourdan Enriquez.