I never felt comfortable being brown when I was growing up. I didn’t know many others like me and I always felt alone in my skin. Coming to Rider allowed me to also come into my identity as a person of color who was acknowledged, included and even celebrated at the university. However, I fear that the identities and empowerment of other students of color at Rider might be at risk.
Rider’s Turning Point USA chapter has planned to host an event titled “White Privilege is a Myth” on April 2, allowed by the university to promote freedom of speech. As someone who works in communications and writing and as former opinion editor at The Rider News, I understand the importance of free speech. It is the foundation upon which all our work stands.
However, freedom of speech is not freedom from consequence, and I worry about the consequences this event will produce.
When discussing issues of racism, prejudice and white privilege, the point of the discussion is not merely political correctness or creating safe spaces for “snowflakes.” The point of discussion is about our lives. A 2016 Pew Research study reports that white men out-earn African-American and Hispanic men, and all groups of women. College-educated African-American and Hispanic men earn about 80 percent the hourly wages of white men who also attended college. Educated African-American and Hispanic women, however, earn only about 70 percent of white men.
According to the FBI’s 2016 hate crime statistics, race-based hate crimes were the most common occurrence of the year, comprising 57 percent of all hate crimes. African-Americans made up 28.4 percent of those attacked, making them the most-targeted group of that year. The Pew Research Center also reported that in 2016, assaults against Muslims increased 19 percent, even exceeding the peak numbers from 2001.
This is just a sampling of the struggles people of color face. This is not to say that white individuals have easy lives — it is just to say that their lives are not made harder because they are inherently white. Masking the prejudice faced by people of color effectively masks the struggles facing Rider’s students of color as well. It also opens not just a forum about white privilege, but a platform for ignorant individuals to spread information that is simply not true. White privilege is not a myth, even if people choose not to acknowledge that fact.
For current students of color, and others who see the deep flaws with this event, please don’t forget that this is meant to be a discussion – so go and discuss. Do not be complacent in things that you do not agree with. Do not fight or incite rage or violence, but do speak up. Never forget to utilize your voice. It wields the power to educate, advocate and cultivate.
This event spreads false information and also tarnishes the welcoming environment that I always felt from Rider as a brown woman. If this event was happening six years ago when I considered attending this university, I can assure you I would not have chosen Rider. I am sure other prospective students of color, who will see this event coupled with the recent reveal of blackface in Rider’s old yearbooks, will also be encouraged to choose another school.
And while I know Rider changed my life in the most positive ways, on the surface level, I would not be able to blame them.