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The Scarlet & Black

Re-evaluating the subconscious to inch unity forward

Grinnell has certainly impressed me with its commitment to social justice, to cultivating an inclusive yet diverse student body and to advancing the discourse on challenging prejudices. I can confidently write that I would not want to be anywhere else at this stage of my intellectual development. However, recent bias-motivated incidents on campus have prompted me to pen a piece delineating a critical approach to what I have called the -isms—a term I use to describe an array of typical prejudices including, but not limited to, homophobia, racism, sexism and classism. In the subsequent paragraph I argue two central points to improve our society.

First, Grinnellians ought to acknowledge that most racists don’t call Afrodescent people the n-word just as homophobes don’t call homosexuals the f-word, sexists rarely assign people the roles our prejudiced minds often assign, nor do classists hurl slurs at people they never want to hang out with because they are limited to inexpensive leisure. In our present reality, most forms of prejudiced expression disguise themselves with indirection and manifest in our subconscious. Thus, they are harder to identify. Second, and for the reasons explicated in my first central point, diverse institutions seeking to strengthen their unities should focus on continually re-evaluating the prejudices inculcated onto minds by our nation’s history. I argue that the subconscious is, indeed, the focal point if we really want to heal social ailments that are endemic to the diverse identity of this college and this country.

Next, I will provide an example of the homophobic subconscious –ism, in order to demonstrate the phenomenon.

I knew of a college student who made the foolish mistake of having unprotected sex with another person he was not in a monogamous relationship with at school. Upon being introduced to three of her really close male friends from home, he began to panic for unfounded and farcical suspicions. His uneasiness came because he perceived the female student’s three friends as effeminate. On that basis he determined that his unprotected sexual contact with her exposed him to the AIDS virus. So he eventually went to the doctor to quell his fear that he had contracted the AIDS virus. The doctor told him what he deserved to be told—essentially, “You’re being an ass.”

Here is my approximation of their exchange—your first mistake was having unprotected sex, because you should never do that with anyone unless you are absolutely sure of their sexual activity and their STD status. Your second mistake was convincing yourself that you have AIDS because I know you don’t because you tested negative three months ago, and the virus just doesn’t move that fast. And finally, you cannot associate some people making the same mistake you made—mistake number one—with everyone that identifies as they do. That’s like me saying you can play basketball in the NBA but you can barely read, based on the fact that some guy in the NBA looks sort of like you but can only read at a 9th grade level.

This man, who I would not necessarily dub “homophobic” based on his actions prior to this event, realized his own prejudiced proclivities. He is intelligent, so he was able to articulate what I find a critical self-discovery. He recognized that the problem he had did not expose itself in an overt and overly-abrasive fashion. Instead, he found himself frighteningly homophobic on an intuitive level. In that same way, I think sophisticated neuro-scientific observations would show that we all respond to a lot of things with a little bit of prejudice. But at least we can move our own community forward. We ought not to forget the perpetual struggle to improve this community in small steps just because we will never be perfect—as King said here in ’67, “the arc bends towards justice.”

That we never forget, underplay or ignore the overt BMIs that happen on the campus is imperative. But we must also remember to reflect and evaluate our own patterns of presumption.

Anyone who does not believe that the Loose Hall incident was heinous needs to bring him, her or itself into our reality. And the perpetrators of a crime like that one should continue to hide, but they should move to the Burling Library’s second floor. I think they would find a few books there helpful—if they can, in fact, read.

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