Careless reporting misconstrues ‘I, Too, Am NYU’ editorial

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 editboard@nyunews.com. 

 

Illustration by Jourdan Enriquez.

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5 Responses to “Careless reporting misconstrues ‘I, Too, Am NYU’ editorial”

  1. LJP on April 30th, 2014 11:52 am

    If the original editorial hadn’t been poorly written and conveyed its message more clearly, Local might not have misconstrued what was being said. And neither publication has room to speak about journalistic principles.

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  2. Nadia Hassan on April 30th, 2014 12:18 pm

    Unfortunately, WSN Editorial Board, your initial article about the “need” for the “I, Too, Am NYU” campaign to expand to include allies underhandedly perpetuates the very systems of oppression that the campaign attempts to critique.

    Examples of privileging your power as “allies” rather than openly critiquing the very systems that enable your privileges:

    “While the campaign serves as a powerful reminder of the struggles minorities endure on college campuses, it would benefit from expanding its mission statement to give non-minority allies an opportunity to participate.”
    >>>The struggles that minorities endure and the fight against this struggle should not have to provide opportunities for said “allies” to participate since said allies already have platforms from which to speak. Thus, as an ally, it is your obligation and your duty to find ways to show your solidarity. As one white man once said, “ask not what [minorities and movements against hegemonic systems] can do for you, ask what you can do for [those same minorities and movements against hegemonic systems of power and privilege].” Waiting for an invitation to be an activist is not only ignorant and passive, but narcissistic and evidence of disingenuous “ally-hood”.

    “Movements citing the prevalence of racial discrimination struggle to make a significant impact without strong allies.”
    >>>This blatant prioritization of the “strong ally” as a necessary component of successful, “significant” movements against racial discrimination invalidates the very struggle minorities and marginal subjects face and attempt to eradicate. Sure, WSN, this is an opinion piece, but please cite some evidence––literally any warrant––that highlights failed movements due to lack of privileged allies. Maybe when, and if, you do, you can be an ally and truly critique the very ability you have to influence these movements of which your livelihood is not at stake.

    “Allies play an important role for campaigns that advocate for greater LGBTQ rights by helping to influence a larger demographic.”
    >>>Indeed. Allies, as non-marginalized groups, already have a much larger range of influence. As an ally, you must not only accept your privilege, but critique it. Why do you have this larger range of influence? Why should this movement “need” you? How can you support the people of color who are “on the front lines fighting racism because their lives are at stake” without prioritizing your desire to fight with them (Kivel)? You literally have the power to choose what kind of struggles you want to engage in, and this choice in itself is power.

    From Peggy McIntosh’s article “Whiteness: The Power of Privilege”
    “One factor seems clear about all of the interlocking oppressions they take both active forms which we can see and embedded forms which as a member of the dominant group one is taught not to see. In my class and place, I did not see myself as a racist because I was taught to recognize racism only in individual acts of meanness by members of my group, never in invisible systems conferring unsought racial dominance on my group from birth.

    Disapproving of the systems won’t be enough to change them. I was thought to think that racism could end if white individuals changed their attitudes. [But] a “white” skin in the United States opens many doors for whites whether or not we approve of the way dominance has been conferred on us….

    To redesign social systems we need first to acknowledge their colossal unseen dimensions. The silences and denials surrounding privilege are the key political tool here. They keep the thinking about equality or equity incomplete, protecting unearned advantage and conferred dominance….

    Most talk by whites about equal opportunity seems to me now to be about equal opportunity to try to get into a position of dominance while denying that systems of dominance exist.”

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  3. Edward Radzivilovskiy on April 30th, 2014 1:50 pm

    This editorial is full of double-speak and contradiction. It reads like an Onion piece. The Ed-Board should apologize.

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  4. Paul Funkhouser on April 30th, 2014 10:05 pm

    WSN is obviously the shitty paper that supports the administration. F your white liberal bias

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  5. Nafeesa Essajee on May 1st, 2014 1:23 am

    Any piece, no matter how nuanced and well-intentioned that cries about the exclusion of allies, in a minority led movement is misunderstanding the very CRUX of liberation of the oppressed. Allies want cookies, recognition, inclusion, “but whyyyy can’t I be a good white/straight/cis person???” Go.home.to.your.mama. The point of privilege and dismantling it is to RELINQUISH that privilege. Not ask for cookies and MORE f*ing recognition. And often when allies become included in a movement BECAUSE of their privilege they take over – see, Macklemore, straight white man speaking for all my queers out there. See Bill Gates speaking for all my colonialised folks out there. We poc and marginalized folks need to speak for ourselves, allies need to sit down and silence themselves. THAT is the point. If allies make movements more successful that’s part of the problem. Macklemore and Jared Leto (straight, white male “allies) shouldn’t be winning oscars and grammys for representing queer and trans* people, queer and trans* folks should be winning those awards/getting those jobs. That is what happens when allies are “included”, they take over.

    WSN really, really should think critically, swallow a dose of humility and issue an apology to the movement and not continue its baseless defense.

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