Why We Should Listen to the Protesters

By Juan Andrade-Vera, Middlebury Student

When I engage with fellow students, I start by asking questions. This past week I often asked, or some form of, “do you think that currently, and historically, there has existed a power imbalance between whites and POC’s/poor people, leading to an overvaluation of white voices and an undervaluation of POC/poor ones?” I am pleased to report that in 100 percent of conversations I had, the answer was “yes.” Great, now here is the point: equality and equity are not the same thing — not even close.

This past week I’ve heard, “everyone has a right to their freedom of speech,” or “I don’t agree with him, but I want to hear what he has to say.” With that, I disagree. Allowing everyone to speak freely, especially on matters of race, creates that power imbalance my peers agreed existed, thus, not providing marginalized groups equal paths to success. In economics, the free market equilibrium we see on a supply and demand graph isn’t obtainable because not everyone has the income necessary to participate in said market. Same here. Equality means giving both, whites and marginalized people, the same access to the platform of speech, but equality won’t do anything to solve the ever-growing gap between the valuation of white opinions over the valuation of marginalized ones. Instead, it will continue to fully value and in this case, normalize those opinions that have aided in the creation of institutionalized racism, making it difficult for the marginalized voices to be heard. Equity, on the other hand, is providing a platform, equal or unequal, for people to begin to have access to the same opportunities. It is giving the poor more income in order to participate in a market. Fighting inequity means we need to value the freedom of speech of marginalized people more than the freedom of speech of the oppressive voices such as Charles Murray until we see significant decreases in that gap. The mindset of allowing Charles Murray to speak for the sake of civil discourse and freedom of speech is dangerous as it ignores the fact that certain groups do not have an equally valued platform. As Travis Sanderson ’19 wrote, “opinions are not all created equal”.

As it stands, Donald J. Trump is president; in the “most diverse congress in history” POC’s represent only 102 members despite non-Hispanic whites making up 60 percent of the US population. According to the Pew Research Center, in 2013, the average net worth of a black family was seven percent that of a white family. In a study sponsored by The Student Impact Project based on data from the US census and Bureau of Labor Statistics, they concluded a black college student has the same chance at employment as a white college dropout. In a study conducted by Anderson Cooper of CNN, a white male with a criminal record is just as and sometimes more likely to get a job than an equally qualified person of color with a clean record, and the chances are twice as high when the white applicant has no criminal record. According to the New York Civil Liberties Union, in each year from 2009-2016, 80 percent of the stops in NY’s stop-and-frisk were done to blacks and Latinos; 10 percent to whites. The list goes on and the inequity is there and will be there until we decide that the kind of rhetoric that has aided in the creation of these inequities is not tolerated any more. I’m not saying that Charles Murray is the cause of every single problem I highlighted; I’m saying that giving him the platform to spew out the oppressive nature of his rhetoric can be used to validate someone else’s racist views, bringing us back to a pattern of oppression.

This week, my frustration was not with Charles Murray. I have heard and dismissed people like him my entire life. My frustration, sadness and disappointment was with my peers, who were so quick to fight for his right to speak, and tell me “listen to the other side” before considering the pain, hurt and self-doubt his presence was causing me. I beg all of you who are privileged enough to not be frustrated with Murray’s presence to take a piece of your own advice and listen. Listen to the other side, and to the pain and suffering and try to empathize with how Murray has made people feel, and how the protests that occurred were signs of solidarity, not signs of intellectual intolerance. Emotional distress is real; Charles Murray’s findings are not.

On Thursday, I was proud of my fellow protesters. For the first time at Middlebury I didn’t feel alone, and I hope we don’t let the violence enacted by a few non-Middlebury members mask what I believe to have been the most beautiful demonstration of rhetorical resilience. President of Middlebury Laurie L. Patton wrote, “let’s make our conversations authentic and resilient. Resilience is the ability to change and grow in response to our environment.” Well, Thursday was our response. We felt the pain and saw the danger in having Charles Murray, and we grew to make our response authentic and resilient.