I am writing in response to Professor Baumann’s April 12 letter. There are several things in his letter with which I disagree. Primarily, his claim that getting called racist is “the worst thing that can happen to most decent people” — as if getting shot by the police, or having your son or father or brother shot by the police, or serving 65 years in prison for a murder you didn’t commit, or getting paid 62.1 percent of what you deserve, or knowing you are three times as likely to lose your baby due to elevated cortisol levels due to structural racism, or actually suffering that loss, isn’t.
Professor Baumann writes that “liberal education means fighting with ideas that are sometimes disagreeable and even offensive.” Ironically though, his behavior at the Feb. 1 panel on The Good Samaritan did not match this thesis. “Hilarity” did not ensue, as he writes. Rather, multiple students and Professor García all expressed their disagreement with him calmly, clearly, and concisely, but instead of engaging in this discourse — discourse that Professor Baumann may have found “disagreeable” or “even offensive” — he left.
On one level, I agree with Professor Baumann. Part of why I came to college was to engage with difficult subject matter from multiple perspectives. However, people of color have been wrestling with the white perspective for 400 years, and should not have to fight to be taken seriously about subtextual racism. People of color should not have to fight to be taken seriously, period. Rather, white students and faculty must examine their own biases without defensiveness, and take steps to remedy the unequal power dynamics we inherited in whatever way that we can.
Sitting with your prejudice is not easy. Getting called out for saying or doing something offensive is uncomfortable, and often painful, but it is also a gift, and absolutely necessary if we are to move forward as a society. As a political scientist, Professor Baumann should be interested in the political economy of our campus.
Getting called racist can be painful and disorienting, but it is not the worst thing that can happen to most decent people. Not by a long shot. By failing to account for the trauma that people of color encounter every day in this country, Professor Baumann excludes people of color from the ranks of “most decent people.”
I don’t think that Professor Baumann is a racist, but I do think that he owes it to his students to risk engaging honestly with subjects that he may find off-putting, difficult, or frightening — namely systemic oppression, implicit bias, white fragility and privilege — without leaving the room.
India Kotis ’20