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December 07th, 2021
L&T Opinions Page

earl wattL&T Publisher Earl Watt


Is it possible to combat discrimination with discrimination? Is it possible to defeat racism with racism?

It seems like a no-brainer question, but that is the problem facing college campuses these days with the creation of what is being called “safe spaces.”

According to the Oxford dictionary, a safe space is “a place or environment in which a person or category of people can feel confident that they will not be exposed to discrimination, criticism, harassment, or any other emotional or physical harm.”

Wikipedia takes the definition further defining safe spaces as “places created for marginalized individuals to come together to communicate regarding their experiences with marginalization, most commonly located on university campuses in the western world, but also at workplaces, as in the case of Nokia.”

There is no such way to ever protect a person from ever being exposed to the evils of the world, or from perceived evils.

While laws already exist to protect people from physical assault and against discrimination and harassment, humanity will always be exposed to criticism and even harmful speech.

Another issue is to define some people as “marginalized.”

This creates victim mentality. The very definition of marginalization states the “treatment of a person, group, or concept as insignificant or peripheral.” Therefore, a person or group who believes themselves to be marginalized already believes themselves or their group to be insignificant, or at least treated as insignificant by some other group.

In most cases, those who are considered to marginalize others are either white people or heterosexuals.

In a recent outrage situation at Oxford College in Ohio, Peter Fray-Witzer, a student at the school who lives in one of these “safe spaces,” wrote an editorial for the school paper about feeling “mildly violated” when the school replaced the radiators in the space, and those who did the work were cisgender, which means straight.

Not only was the student offended that straight men were allowed in his “safe space,” but he was really miffed the next day when they returned to follow up with the replacement to make sure the device was working properly.

In Witzer’s view, and what he has been told and has been reinforced by this lucrative college that costs $80,000 per year to attend, he shouldn’t be exposed to straight people. In his world, these men who he doesn’t know are oppressive to him just because they are straight.

He made no accusation that these men said anything derogatory to him or to anyone else, and no one filed any harassment complaint of any kind.

The simple fact that straight men were allowed into the “safe space” was a violation in itself to this student.

In other words, straight people are not allowed into parts of the campus because other students simply do not want them there.

Those of the LGBTQ community should be able to freely traverse any public space. And so should anyone else, and this student should have exhibited that openness by welcoming these men in to do the work rather than assume he would be a victim of discrimination.

Since we are defining terms, discrimination means “the unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people or things, especially on the grounds of race, age, or sex.”

According to Witzer, heterosexual males should not be allowed, which is clearly sexual discrimination. There was no evidence these men did anything inappropriate. Their presence alone was inappropriate according to Witzer.

This same mentality was used to keep African Americans out of restaurants and other public spaces. Racist policies made it legal for whites to experience a “safe space” to eat without the fear of being in the presence of a Black person.

What crime did Blacks commit? Their only transgression was being Black, and now the transgression is being straight. Or in many of these safe spaces, being white.

America cannot advance with this separation.

This was already declared unconstitutional with the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education case when Mr. Brown enrolled his daughters in an all-white school in Topeka only to be denied admission. He sued and the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the concept of separate but equal.

We can’t move forward by forcing ourselves into factions.

Colleges have even admitted that having “all-Black” dorms may be the goal, and they promote all-Black dorms, but they cannot legally prevent a white student entry, because it is illegal to use race as a condition for housing.

The failure of our educators and our leaders is the misunderstanding of how to address our social challenges. 

It is easy to crawl back into our shell and away from others who are different. As a matter of fact, encouraging separation is the cause of the distrust, just as it was when African Americans were not allowed to buy homes in certain neighborhoods.

It is much harder to overcome our differences by joining arm in arm, in the presence of one another, and moving forward by recognizing the value of each and every person.

Those involved in athletics are way ahead of the rest. Athletes work together on a team, and all members of the team want to succeed. Differences are so far down the list when we all wear the same uniform and play for pride for our school or team.

We made a critical mistake when we thought creating safe spaces was a good idea.

The entire concept is discriminatory and promotes discrimination.

And it doesn’t do anything to create inclusion. It creates tribes. It perpetuates victim mentality rather than forcing the hard work of reconciliation. For centuries, Blacks have been discriminated against because of false beliefs of an entire race being violent or inferior.

Today, we allow discrimination because of false beliefs, be it by color or being heterosexual, that others may feel threatened.

If we buy in to the idea that only those like ourselves create safe spaces, we’ve already lost our strength in unity with those who are different.

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