Overcompensation Doesn’t Improve Relation(s)

I’ve been thinking a lot lately in class about the tendency that white people have to overcompensate for the racist acts of other white people. For example, when a white person hears a story about another white person acting in a racist way or making a racist comment, they often react by making a dramatic claim in order to make it clear that in NO way do they associate with the racist belief system of another white person. In the fall of 2015, many individuals from underrepresented groups on college campuses came forward to speak out about the oppression that they’ve faced as students of color. At Muhlenberg College, a small and predominantly white liberal arts college in Pennsylvania, an outpour of outwardly racist comments towards black students on the social media platform YikYak led to a “town hall” meeting focused on race relations on campus. Despite the huge turnout, students of color were frustrated with the way that white students hogged the microphone; instead of simply allowing the voices of minority groups that are so often silenced to speak about their lived experience, many white students saw the meeting as an opportunity to apologize and voice their deepest sympathies for what was going on. I believe that this tendency that many white people have to speak out in ways that do not help to advance the discussion when they witness or hear about situations that display explicit white supremacy can help us understand the multitude of unnecessary comments made by white students at the Muhlenberg College town hall meeting. It seems to me that many white students were disturbed and perplexed by the racist actions of other white students in the community and saw the podium as a way to express their disapproval. However, although well meaning, their comments were selfishly driven and were only made to make the individual feel better about their role in racism as a system. Considering Beverly Tatum’s piece about racial dialogues entitled “Breaking the Silence”, people of color cannot afford the cost of silence, but white people can. Instead of taking over the microphone, white students should have allowed students of color at Muhlenberg to express their experiences as the people that do not benefit from this system known as racism. Does this “overcompensation” tendency perpetuate racism? If so, how?

3 thoughts on “Overcompensation Doesn’t Improve Relation(s)”

  1. Yeah I also see it as being a distancing mechanism between the problem and themselves. It is almost like passing around the issue of racism through an penetrable barrier of responsibility. Between themselves and the people that they believe exhibit racism, it was like a game of “hot potato” where they could pass around responsibility without ever taking in what the problems were. The fact is, the Town Hall meeting was problematic in the sense that white students did not see how their occupation of the microphone was problematic. Many students, even still, will say “I don’t understand what is wrong,” or “how was I supposed to know?” What many fail to do is educate themselves through the opportunities that are available now (e.g. Doing Groundwork”). Instead, the system is perpetuated with everyone ignoring the racist problems that still exist.

  2. I agree with Krysta. When white people distance themselves so vehemently from the racist actions of others or deny the racism that is wide spread in our institutions they are showing their own privileges and lack of engagement with these issues. The simple act of assuming individualism when condemning someone else’s actions is a sign of privilege because, as we know, marginalized groups are seen as groups, not individuals. However, I think white voices need to be a part of the conversation but they can’t be the loudest. In order to be an effective ally you need to be willing to stand up and speak out against injustices that may not be directly effecting you. In response to the notion that white students should not have been speaking at the Town Hall meeting, I think that if we had all remained silent it would have been really terrible. However, what was being said was not helpful, which is unfortunate but very telling about our campus culture.

  3. Is it overcompensation for their white identity, racism or an unwillingness to recognize their aversive racism? The more I think about it, the more I consider the white voice hogging the microphone at the Town Hall meeting, the more I think that peoples’ Egalitarian views were fogging their unconscious biases, so they had a need to justify for themselves that they are good people. Maybe they were justifying or overcompensating on an individual level and did not realize that what was happening wasn’t meant to call out individuals but to call out a system of oppression working against an entire population of students?

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