Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

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Diverse racial experiences at UW

"So are you in football or track?"

Wait one moment, my African-American friend. Before you sarcastically admit to being a Kenyan long-distance runner in a nasal Midwestern accent, consider these statistics.

Out of 28,217 undergraduate students at the University of Wisconsin in 2004, just over 3,000 were minorities. Only 688 were black.

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There are few students who wouldn't like to see more diversity on campus. While there is no single clear solution to UW's racial woes, the problem won't go away by refusing to think about it. Among the most articulate defenses of this campus' prominent "blame minorities for every racial problem that ever existed" school of thought are as follows.

"So, wait, you really think racism still exists?" (Especially popular among those who have never run into a black person sans the barrier of a car door or TV screen.)

"They bring a lot of it upon themselves. You guys talk about it too much." (Yes, racism would end if we would all just shut up about it already.)

"That's not MY history." (Damn. You've got me there. If only I had realized humans couldn't live for 200 years.)

Quite frankly, crying foul at every perceived injustice wears a bit thin. "It's because I'm black, ain't it?" seems to be the most feared response to a question at any frat party. Next time you're having a moment of clarity just before you puke your brains out off a balcony onto unsuspecting bystanders, glance around for this. Listen closely and you'll realize you haven't heard such carefully worded questions and answers since the second presidential debate.

The first step to bridging the racial divide on campus would be for all of us to just have a little empathy. Nobody's perfect. If you are getting acclimated to the dorms as the only black guy on your floor, and you're being treated like a museum exhibit, let it ride. Put yourself in their shoes — these are mostly sheltered kids venturing into the real world for the first time, and a little curiosity is natural. They'll soon realize we're all the same people, just different pigments.

If you feel like the black guy on your floor bit your head off for asking a simple question, put yourself in his shoes. Imagine hearing people whisper about your presence for weeks, or every time you meet someone new being asked what project you're from, what team you are on, or if your dad was a sports star. A few years of this would make anyone a tad sensitive to questioning. It was more likely an annoyed guy blowing off some steam at the wrong person than an example of the volatility of an entire race.

A little empathy would go a long way in understanding arguments for affirmative action as well. If you're against it, consider your reasoning. Do you really believe those on the other side of the argument are so irrational and self-interested? However idealistic our country's mottoes may be, racial bias is built into the system. If you are capable of thinking about the issue rather than blaming genetics, how can disparities be explained in modern times?

Affirmative action is a necessary program for universities because capitalism gives us all different starting conditions.

It's as if one group of people was largely forced to begin a race 20 yards behind another. If one group is disproportionately disadvantaged due to poor school quality, having to support family during high school and coming from families without the experience of sending a member to college (among a laundry list of others), guess what happens — fewer of them make it to a university.

As a large and respected school, UW should offer a diverse experience that goes beyond the ethnic studies requirement. What kind of service would UW and the state of Wisconsin do for their students by sending them through high school and college without exposing them to any more than one or two ethnic minorities? How many students have graduated thinking they were ready for the real world, only to ask the black guy in the office what project he is from?

Diversity is not only a nice thing for a university to have, but it is critical if UW expects to graduate students capable of working with a wide array of individuals. Yes, we would all like to live in a color-blind world, but it won't become that way by ignoring racial problems. Sadly, too many UW students oppose the very programs that can bring about the color-blind world they wish to create.

Bassey Etim ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in journalism and political science.

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