OPINION | White people have no need for race-based affinity groups

White+students+still+have+much+to+learn+to+be+good+allies+to+their+BIPOC+peers.+

Ashley Chen | Art Director

White students still have much to learn to be good allies to their BIPOC peers.

Gabi Liebeler, Contributing Writer

It is no secret that Tulane University has experienced controversies surrounding racial diversity, some of which were related to whiteness.  In November of 2017, signs that read, “It’s okay to be white” were plastered around campus in the months following protests led by white supremacists.  Three years and a massive resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement later, it seems like Tulane and other higher education institutions have yet to get the message that white people are not oppressed, and they should not be made out to feel like they are. 

  On Sept. 8, University of Michigan at Dearborn announced that they would hold virtual “café” events to encourage discussions about race and diversity.  The problem was that the university segregated these events into a “BIPOC Cafe,” for “marginalized racial/ethnic/cultural communities to gather and to relate with one another to discuss their experience as students on campus,” and another “non-POC café,” for non-people of color to “gather and to discuss their experience as students on campus and as non-POC in the world.”

  

In an attempt to hold productive discussions, UM Dearborn created segregated environments, which may have insinuated that the school was equating the experience of being non-POC on campus with the experience of being Black, Indigenous, or a person of color on campus.  Within a day, UM Dearborn issued a formal apology.  

Like UM Dearborn, the racial demographic of Tulane’s student body is majority white. Specifically, Tulane’s undergraduate population is 70.9% white, 8.6% Black/African American, and 20.5% Asian, Hispanic/Latinx, unknown or other.  

In light of UM Dearborn’s obliviousness, administrators are prompted to question what spaces there should be for non-POC affinity groups, or white affinity groups, to discuss issues of racial diversity and inclusion at Tulane.

The answer is simple; non-POC affinity spaces should not exist.  Frankly, they are neither productive nor appropriate. Affinity groups are important for marginalized groups to share their experiences and understand that they have a community that embraces them.

At a university like Tulane, where “white culture” is inherently ingrained in the school’s culture, there is no need for an affinity space that enforces the idea that white people are systematically marginalized in the same way as BIPOC individuals and communities.

On that same note, a non-POC affinity group may create the sentiment among its members that being actively anti-racist is in some way a burden. Consequently, such an environment could stimulate either resentment towards the BIPOC community or “white guilt,” neither of which are effective.  Furthermore, the need to have affinity spaces begs the embarrassing question of, what do non-POC students feel uncomfortable saying around their BIPOC peers and colleagues?

It is inarguable that BIPOC members of the Tulane community understand that affinity spaces are important, in the same manner that these students understand that talking about racism from the white perspective can be uncomfortable.  In an age of political correctness, Tulane students are often scared to offend their peers or say the wrong thing.  

To be good allies, non-POCs have to get used to the discomfort that arises when dismantling the long-established racial hierarchies that benefit them. White Tulane students have to understand that their discomfort in acknowledging and accepting the reality of white privilege is not comparable to the immeasurable effects of systemic racism that BIPOC have faced for hundreds of years.

Tulane has a responsibility to work towards diversity, equity and inclusion.  In learning from the mistakes of other schools, as well as those of our own community, Tulane has to ensure that the community does not invalidate the experiences of its BIPOC members through the explicit and implicit messages they send while trying to achieve these goals.