Misplaying the Race Card

by Matthew Carrigan | 10/28/04 5:00am

During my time at Dartmouth, I have encountered a disturbing trend among many students -- especially hardcore Democrats -- to resort to name-calling when trying to make some political point. For example, my fellow classmates have told me that "George Bush is an idiot" (he graduated from Yale), "Dick Cheney is a crook" (his ties to Halliburton are ephemeral at best) and "Colin Powell is as white as they come" (I don't know how accusing someone of being white is an insult, but such is often the case at Dartmouth).

What bothers me about these statements is that the people who make them assume that such accusations need no defense, that calling someone who graduated from one of the best schools in the country an "idiot" manages to end the debate in the accuser's favor. And before people start telling me that Bush only got into Yale because of his family's name and money, they should think about all the students they know at Dartmouth who are not the brightest crayons in the box, but who are legacies and manage to pay their full $40,000 tuition.

On October 26 (The Dartmouth, "A Racist School"), Timothy Marks wrote, "Saying that Columbia students fall asleep to the sounds of gunshots and sirens has no basis in fact other than the fact that Morningside Heights borders an area that is predominantly black." He also stated that accusing Columbia of being located in a crime-infested area was "racist."

Frankly, I don't think that Marks knows what he is talking about. Racism (or "racialism"), as defined by Webster's 20th Century Unabridged Dictionary, is "a doctrine or feeling of racial differences or antagonisms, especially with reference to supposed racial superiority, inferiority or purity."

The original article to which he referred never mentioned anything about race, and certainly did not say or imply that non-white people were inferior to whites. It stated simply, if somewhat colorfully, that Columbia was located in a notoriously bad neighborhood. In support of this claim, I offer the following quotation: "There are also pockets of high-crime hotspots -- like the poverty-stricken and drug-ridden areas in the South Bronx, Harlem, Washington Heights and Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn -- which contribute to the impression that the city is a crime-infested mess." That's right, Harlem is a high-crime hotspot. And Columbia is located you guessed it, right next to Harlem. Maybe some simple logic could bring the conclusion to Marks' attention. In 1990, according to a professor at Columbia, "the life expectancy for men in Harlem was less than that of men in Bangladesh."

Doesn't that mean that Harlem is a dangerous place? Even though Marks was completely wrong in his assertion that Harlem is not dangerous, I am more upset at his portrayal of people who point out the crime statistics as "racists." Unfortunately, he does not seem to comprehend what a racist truly is, but uses that term as a weapon against those people by whom he feels threatened.

Racism is a serious issue, and people like Marks who use it instinctively, without careful consideration, are doing damage to every movement that has ever sought to end racial discrimination and prejudice. Harlem is one of the most crime-infested areas of New York City. The inhabitants of Harlem are primarily non-whites. In New York City in 1998, almost 90 percent of violent crime suspects were black or Hispanic. Would Marks consider me a racist for saying such things? I hope that he would not, for if such factual statements constitute modern-day racism, then we are not likely to ever break down those racial walls that still unfortunately divide our country.

Save the accusations of racism for those situations that truly deserve it, and please, let's all stop the vicious name-calling; we should have better things to say.

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