By Ali Meyer | Racism during masculinity week.
Racism at Tufts is a sensitive issue. Some think that Tufts’ support of the Group of Six essentially encourages self-segregation, and some think that it promotes multiculturalism. The issue was brought up this week in an unexpected place: the Women’s Center, during their “masculinity week.” The Women’s Center hosted a Masculinities Movie Marathon on Thursday showing, among others, “The Color of Fear.” The movie is, according to the flyer, “an insightful, groundbreaking film about the state of race relations in America as seen through the eyes of eight North American men of Asian, European, Latino and African descent.” A total of seven people watched the movie, four of whom were designated discussion leaders, whose presence was mandated.
In the movie, the men go on a retreat to discuss issues of race; initially angry, they then they become loving, caring and aware of each others’ struggles. One of the token white men starts to cry because he thinks the others think that his race is “the oppressor.” An Asian man tells him: “I appreciate your survival.” Among more tearful men discussing their retreat were pleas to spread awareness of “the Euro-American responsibility to come clean and talk” and various proclamations of devotion to ending racism and changing the world. The director of the Women’s Center, Steph Gauchel, explained that she chose the movie for “masculinity week” because besides being about race, it is a study on masculinity; the characters in the movie are initially angry, but they shed their apparently masculine façade by the end of the movie, when they are tearful and hug each other extensively.
The movie ended with all of the newly bonded men singing together in a circle, holding hands; the audience then engaged in a six-person discussion about the movie. Despite the context of the movie (“masculinity week”), the entire discussion focused on race. A grad student studying psychology bemoaned the lack of progress with racism; it has made her “tired.” But the women’s center director, a woman with cropped hair and a plaid shirt, says she is frustrated that people refuse to have honest conversations about racism. This at Tufts, where the administration has done more than most people can imagine in order to promote diversity, political correctness, and the complete elimination of all things that could possibly be construed as offensive to anyone.
However, it is difficult to define what racial political correctness is. According to the director of the Women’s Center, the color-blind attitude is “harmful and dismissive.” That is news to many Tufts students, who have been taught to treat and consider all races equally, and, that, essentially color-blindness is what society is striving for. The director clarified her point: “I don’t have a problem with color-blindness per se, but I think that it runs the risk of dismissing peoples’ experiences by assuming that the color of their skin doesn’t affect their experiences.” Color-blindness as a societal value, according to her, is “problematic.” This leaves society to consider races separately, and judge accordingly, and is also the logic behind the Group of Six. If color-blindness is discouraged, it only leaves the door open for more severe racism, racism encouraged by a society that teaches its members not to consider races equally.
Perhaps the dual advocacy of contradicting values—the elimination of racism while discouraging a color-blind attitude—is why some of the participants felt that racism was still pervasive, despite the thorough and expensive measures taken by the university.
Tufts’ embrace of multiculturalism has led to the establishment of the Group of 6, which are clearly facing problems of their own. Naturally, blame for the low attendence, was not directed towards the content of the film or the absurdity of the conversation, but to the greater institution of Tufts. According the the discussion leader, people do not want to come in to the Women’s Center, or any minority center for that matter, because Tufts does not provide “opportunities or structures to make it [multiculturalism] happen.” The director of the Latino Center, Ruben Salinas-Stern, said that “Tufts just wants us to celebrate our diversity, be culture houses—‘your food, my food, your holiday, my holiday.’ They don’t want true multiculturalism.” It is hard to conceive of what this “true multiculturalism” actually is, harder to conjure up what Tufts could do to promote “true multiculturalism” that would satisfy Mr. Salinas-Stern, and it’s even harder to imagine what limits Tufts has placed on the university’s embrace of diversity.
Tufts has given the Group of Six buildings in prime locations on campus and large amounts of funding; enough, at least, to fund program directors for each individual house as well as money for activities and awareness campaigns like the Women’s Center’s “masculinity week.”
And yet all of the programming and racial awareness events have not indoctrinated students satisfactorily; inexplicably, they are either attempting to be color-blind and see all races equally, or they are still seeing races separately and are therefore racist. Mr. Salinas-Stern, director of the Latino Center, is a member of the Task Force on Race, and he advocated more racial awareness programming at orientation in order to clear things up for incoming students. Clearly, “Many Stories, One Community” has not been effective enough at teaching the majority of people, “who have never faced any prejudice,” about the travails of minorities, and more programming at orientation will fix this problem.
There are faults within this line of logic; no matter how many lectures and programs students are required to sit through, they can only practice tolerance through their own volition. Indeed, the entire logic of the discussion was awry. It is paradoxical to discourage color-blindness as a societal or universal value and still expect people to treat each other the same way. Color-blindness by definition mandates that result, but when differences among races are examined instead of similarities, and when self-segregation is advocated, racist thinking is bound to ensue.
Ms. Meyer is a sophomore who has not yet declared a major.