Jones: The Myth of Two Sides

by Calandra Jones | 5/26/15 7:46pm

As Dartmouth students, we are committed to an odd mission. We are experts at walking the line of an impossible neutrality that assumes a more objective, higher ground in messy political squabble than those who advocate for or believe in one side of an issue. We insist on the existence of two equally valuable sides to every story, which in turn erases the possibility that there may actually be only one correct narrative or ethical viewpoint. Those stories that warrant an egalitarian approach often fall along the lines of friendly disagreements, policy debates and most decision-making processes. When we discuss anything related to social justice, however — be it interpersonal, structural, systemic or otherwise — our methods visibly change.

In those discussions, students become self-appointed “devil’s advocates,” spewing narratives which supposedly illuminate the side of the story left out by our opponents. For example, in the natural hair debate — which centers the visibility, care and culture of erasure surrounding Black peoples’ hair texture and styling — these students argue that hair is just hair, and that white peoples’ hair should have access to the same styling that Black hair does, including cultural styles such as dreadlocks or cornrows. Another example, in speaking on acts of interpersonal racism, these students argue that white people are also victims of racism, often citing examples of things said to them while walking in Black-American neighborhoods or traveling in foreign countries where white is not the majority demographic. In speaking on feminism, these students hypocritically argue the importance of fighting the representation of a homogenous female experience in the classroom, but in their daily lives decenter women of color, different ability, class, sexuality and sex.

Why do we insist on the insertion of whiteness into everything defined without it? Why do we fight so hard for the social rights of those — such as white women — who, for the most part, already have them globally? Why do we call this egalitarianism, justice, fairness?

If Dartmouth students are so basic to believe that fairness is literally the insertion of the “other side of the story” in every discussion, then our education is not worth the roughly $250,000 we pay for it. True fairness is spotlighting the story heard less often, the pain less commonly understood and the people who make you uncomfortable. Justice is fighting for those who you do not understand.

Dartmouth sells itself on its ability to teach students differently — we have small class sizes, skilled and accessible professors and well-resourced departments. One of my favorite aspects of my Dartmouth education is the depth of learning we can accomplish, or ignore, here as students. Personally, I pride myself in a special skill taught here daily in the absence between what is said and what is not — I call it “learning between the lines.” For example, from classes in the women and gender studies, English and geography departments, I learned that missing histories are indicators of long-term community erasure. From classes in public policy, African and African American studies and environmental studies, I learned that community-based violence is often state-sponsored. But from philosophy, I learned my most valuable lesson — there are not always two sides to the story. Depending on the strength of the argument and the different things at stake, one side can completely shadow out the other one, rendering it basically non-existent. Why do we commit that power to ensuring the presence of a negating whiteness in every debate centering people of color? Why do we insist on standing on the side of history already told? It seems that there are two sides to every story — those standing with the legacy of a white majority, and those insisting on living in spite of that legacy.

So I ask you, which side are you standing for when you speak? What histories are you supporting? Are you standing in the shoes of those who have walked over the most vulnerable? Are you exchanging values that are built on the profits of slavery and genocide?

Whatever you are supporting, do so full-heartedly and remember this — the devil does not need an advocate.