Race talk focuses on Sept. 11

by Sarah Betts | 11/8/01 6:00am

Sparks flew when a discussion of racial profiling at Shabazz last night turned into a debate on the nature of the Sept. 11 attacks and what sector of American society those attacks targeted.

The discussion planned to address the attitudes and experiences of Dartmouth students regarding racial profiling, especially as South Asians and Muslims face increased discrimination. As participants probed the roots of racial profiling, though, they arrived at conflicting definitions of what it means to be American.

Participant Jennai Williams '03 saw the destruction of the World Trade Center as an attempt to topple the white economic community, and questioned how minority victims of domestic terrorism could unify against a new foreign threat.

"We have terrorism in this country," Williams said. "Why go fight the Taliban when we haven't fought the KKK? I'm tired of fighting wars that aren't for me."

Christopher Springer '00 offered an opposing view, suggesting that the events of Sept. 11 claimed victims from various ethnicities and nationalities.

"The war against terrorism is a struggle against something that kills innocent victims. There is a danger in separating yourself from the larger problem. We need to find what crosses racial and class divides," Springer said.

The desire to bridge cultural and ethnic gaps in the face of a common evil resurfaced throughout the discussion. Participants represented a wide spread of demographics, and everyone agreed that racial profiling negatively affects members of all ethnic and religious groups. The difficulty arose in trying to figure out how to combat deeply ingrained stereotypes.

Many participants spoke in favor of organizing large numbers of concerned citizens, but others pointed out that such rallies often become targets for domestic terrorists, breaking the debate down along racial lines. There was much frustration regarding racism in American law enforcement and media, but few ideas on how to help the situation.

Participants also agreed that racial profiling stems from a wrongful perception that an individual's ethnicity can define his or her behavior. Several of the students had been victims of racial profiling, and shared their personal experiences. John Stevenson '05 was compelled to attend because he had experienced such bias.

"I have been a victim, and I wanted to make sure all points of view were represented," Stevenson said.

Students representing the Dartmouth Alliance for Middle Eastern Awareness, South Asian student group MILAN, Muslim student group Al-Nur and the Concerned Black Student Committee moderated the discussion.

"We wanted to show that racial profiling affects many different groups of people and is a responsibility of the entire community," DAMEA representative Claire Superfine '04 said.

Though the debate strayed from the issue of profiling, Superfine still felt the event was a success.

"We wanted to talk not just about profiling, but also about our responsibility as citizens," she said. "People are concerned and divided due to recent events, and of course that was going to come into the discussion."