Posted by: rudyruddell | November 25, 2015

Looking at Both Sides of the Race Issue at Western Washington University

“College cancels classes over racist postings” These were the headlines on page four of my morning paper. It seems like a movement; Yale and University of Missouri are two of the most prominent examples of what some say is political correctness gone wild, while others say it is the voice of an oppressed group who is finally speaking out for social justice. In order to understand issues like this, I try to put myself in the shoes of both sides before issuing my judgment.

Pretending I am a White student at Western Washington

On one side, we have the white students. I am white and most probably I have Viking ancestors on both sides of my family. I should be proud of Vikings, right? My high school mascot was a Viking. It will be easy therefore, for me to pretend I am a white student at Western Washington, where 75% are white and 25% are non-white. Since I am proud of my Viking heritage, hypothetically, I am incensed that the school is considering changing from the Viking mascot. I will take it personally, as a mental experiment. One reason I came to this university was that the mascot is a Viking like my own high school. I talk to my friends, who are all white, and they are angry too. Who is trying to steal our Viking from us? It is the African Americans. “They are too politically correct. They are hyper-sensitive. They are cry-babies.” I go home, angry and type a racist comment on Yik Yak.

Pretending I am a Black Student at Western Washington

One the other side we have the African American students. Now, I imagine I am African American. My parents are both African American professionals with advanced degrees. I have black friends and white friends, but I have had experiences of being followed in department stores by security officers when my white friends were not. I have been stopped by police for no apparent reason when my white friends did not have this problem. At this university, I am treated with a little more respect by my black friends. When I sit with white students in the cafeteria, they ignore me, but not so with my black friends. They like me. We talk about school events like the changing of the mascot.

I did not take much interest in history in high school so some of the things I heard in the cafeteria were new to me. One guy said that Vikings were like pirates and marauders. They would invade towns, rape and kill all of the women and children, and then take all of their gold. For that reason alone, it seemed like Vikings were not the best role model. But then, they went on to talk about slavery and they compared the raping by Vikings with the slave-holder raping of slave women. More was said about Emmitt Till and how he was murdered by two white guys in 1955 because he made a pass at a white woman. Then, the discussion went onto segregation, Bull Connor fire-hosing children, and other events of the civil rights movement. I was beginning to wonder what all this had to do with Vikings. Then they talked about how African Americans have been blocked out of wealth accumulation in real estate due to red-lining. That rang a bell with me because I remember my grandpa telling me how he could not buy a house where he wanted because he was black.

The conversation soon moved to Ferguson and Baltimore and the extremely large number of unarmed African American men who have been killed by police. We talked about the war on drugs and how a disproportionate number of African Americans have been incarcerated for drugs even though drug usage among white people is just as high as among black people. That reminded me of how I was ignored by white people at this university. I was getting angry at this conversation and so were all of my friends. Are we just going to sit around and talk about this or are we going to do something? What can we do? We can speak out against that Viking symbol that reminds me of one of the stern police who stopped me on the street for no apparent reason.

Back to the Real World

As I emerge from my imaginary world of walking in the other guy’s shoes, I can understand both sides better. I can see why it would seem silly to protest about a mascot that is used widely in the United States. But I can also understand the anger that the Viking figure could evoke. In the case of Western Washington, it was a good idea to close the school to allow for cooler heads to prevail. The frontal lobe responsible for impulse control is not fully developed until about age 25. These college kids are reacting to their feelings. There needs to be more discussion in a calm environment. By closing the school for a couple of days, this issue got published by the Associated Press. Now it will be discussed nation-wide. We need to have this discussion so people can understand both sides.




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