The political culture in the U.S., and at Kenyon specifically, forces individuals to identify themselves within a group and then fight to become the majority. The constant conflict between traditional white politics and postcolonial thinkers at Kenyon is an example of political groups whose clashing values make true discussion impossible.
By ignoring the racist ideas and politicians that whiteness has helped produce, many right-leaning white people on campus won’t admit that their ideas aided a nativist movement that elected President Donald Trump. Postcolonial thinkers, however, continue to demonize whiteness at the cost of not interacting with it, which might be the most powerful way to defeat racism. In the contest between majority and minority, the promise of a productive argument is broken by an individual inability to transcend us-versus-them arguments.
Free speech advocacy, for example, characterizes the refusal of white intellectuals to acknowledge the harm their ideas and words continue to have. On the one hand, free speech is interpreted by right-wing thinkers as a political right to disempower the claims of those invoking liberal identity politics. Many right-wing politicians, however, are unable to see the violence and inequalities that their ideas, even if they do so unintentionally, cause.
To this day, for example, many white thinkers understand black inequality as a problem indicative of a moral bankruptcy on the part of inner-city communities. From this notion arose the characterization of black men as super-predators, and the war on drugs. How can these wounded communities respectfully respond to political thinkers that have remained silent while their ideas contributed to these violent monstrosities? If white thinkers reflected on the violence that speech can symbolize, they would also be reflecting on the pain that their community has helped inflict against minority communities. You cannot support your community, however, by admitting its violent tendencies.
Postcolonial theory, at least among my peers, responds to these ideas by imagining a system devoid of white supremacy and any political power structure based on social identifiers. People of color have responded to a political culture that characterizes our communities as being uncultured aliens by accusing the white community of being violent thieves. Some spoken-word poets who come to campus engage in this rhetoric by making whiteness an evil caricature that has personally wounded them.
What does it mean for poets to empower themselves by condemning an entity that took and demeaned their identity? Empowering ourselves by condemning whiteness implies that the only way we can imagine breaking through our subjugation is by becoming superior. Expressing these ideas to a packed venue reveals that the subjugation of our identity is a personal wound. Instead of individually articulating what racism says about white people, we decide to collectively incriminate whiteness.
Although this method of healing is supportive to many people at once, it necessitates that anyone who challenges or questions the values of the group will be demonized. Using ‘white people’ as an accusation testifies to the speakers’ anger, which makes me suspect that a postcolonial world desires to reciprocate the oppressive violence we endure.
As these communities fight over who leads Kenyon, they will become more condescending of others and exclusive among themselves by growing more intolerant of outsiders.
Political thought at Kenyon will increasingly become less about the truth and more about who has more intellectual influence.
Daniel De Andrade ’19 is a political science major from Norwalk, Conn. You can contact him at email@example.com.