Structured conversations on race lack direction

By Patrick English '15

On Nov. 18, James S. Sherman Professor of Government Phil Klinkner explored “The Meaning of Whiteness” in the third of a series of talks focused on race sponsored by the Days-Masolo Center.

As Klinkner explained, while his talk was titled “The Meaning of Whiteness,” his topic focused more on white privilege. He covered how policy changes over time, such as slavery and Jim Crow laws, have left whites with the  upper hand and the easier path in our society. Despite the fact that our society has made attempts at equality in recent years, whites still have the social and economic advantages due to the many  changes that helped them in the past. Klinkner used the analogy of a running race to explain this problem. If one group already had a head start, attempts to make the race equal would be useless.

Klinkner went on to explain his ideas for reform. He brought up the idea that reparations may be the solution to the problem of white privilege. Laws that benefited minority races rather than whites would have to go into effect to reach equality. Klinkner emphasized that policy was the most important factor going forward. While conversations and outlooks can change, policy changes would be the only way to completely change the culture of equality in our society.

Klinkner’s ideas, while radical, were intriguing and compelling. The only thing similar to these reparations in recent times was affirmative action. In recent years, the Supreme Court overruled affirmative action in the United States. With the lack of success and support for these ideas, it is unlikely that we will see the major changes that Klinkner is talking about in the near future. This is unfortunate because it will leave our country with a constant problem of racial inequality.

After a short question and answer period, the administrators opened up the conversation to hear from students and faculty on their views of white privilege and race on campus. Several students shared their stories and perspectives on how race affected their Hamilton experience. While it was interesting to hear others’ stories and important for them to make others aware of their experiences, this part of the conversation felt unnecessary and unproductive. Many of the discussions were too allegorical and personal to have any bearing on Hamilton’s future with regards to racial relations. Instead of identifying problems and suggesting changes, students voiced their opinions and left the conversation open-ended. Unfortunately, all three of the Days-Massolo Center’s events have devolved into this type of conversation.

The response of The Movement and the large turnout at these meetings shows that this campus has a problem with race and members of the community want to fix it. Rather than using these meetings to vent about race on campus, we should identify the structural problems that exist and look to make possible changes. Those who attend these meetings are clearly interested in making progress, but for whatever reason have failed to do so.

Having these meetings about race without accomplishing change only prolongs the uncomfortable and unsafe feelings students have about the Hamilton campus. If we can move towards more meaningful conversations, we can make this campus more comfortable on the subject of race. However, if the conversations continue as they have, we will accomplish nothing.


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