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Maybe The Problem Is You

Oppression narratives and self-sabotage

From the front lines of Ivy League privilege:

“I was accepted as the class of 2014,” Nissy Aya, CC ’16, said. “I will not receive a degree until 2016, if that is any marker of how hard it has been for me to get through this institution.”

Aya was a panelist at an open discussion on Wednesday evening where students and faculty called for more inclusive curricula and greater centralization of resources for marginalized communities at Columbia—particularly for students of color.

Why has it been so hard for Nissy Aya to get her degree on time? She was forced to read books by white people:

Aya said that the the Core Curriculum further silences students of color by requiring students to read texts that ignore the existence of marginalized people and their histories.

“It’s traumatizing to sit in Core classes,” Aya said. “We are looking at history through the lens of these powerful, white men. I have no power or agency as a black woman, so where do I fit in?”

Aya mentioned that even in her most recent Art Humanities class, the word “primitive” was used five times to describe Congolese art—a label she did not speak up against because she was tired of already having worked that day to address so many other instances of racism and discrimination, she said.

Hey Nissy Aya, maybe the problem is you — and maybe some grown-up at the university needs to tell you that. As the Daily Caller points out, Columbia has one of the highest four-year graduation rates in the country. Maybe Nissy Aya didn’t study hard enough. I graduated on time by the skin of my teeth because I was lazy, and didn’t study hard enough in one class I found difficult and boring. If the university has a stellar four-year graduation rate, that suggests that the problem is more likely to lie with Nissy Aya than with the university. Can we even say that these days?

If a white kid were studying jazz at Juilliard, would he get away with blaming identity trauma for failing his classes, saying that he had to listen to too many black jazz composers? Could a black student studying classical music at the same institution get away with claiming trauma because all the composers were Dead White European Males? Come on.

The college professor who tipped me off to this Columbia story said:

Our patrimony is under assault. At some point someone just has to tell these kids the truth: some civilizations are better than others. But that has nothing to do with you. You are not inexorably linked to your ancestors. You can appropriate all the good insights anywhere you find them. To deny yourself goodness, truth, and beauty wherever it is, you wind up diminishing your own dignity, treating yourself as if you were no more than your color or your genes.

The African-American linguist John McWhorter talked about the “self-sabotage” of students like this Columbia student in his 2001 book Losing the Race. Ward Connerly summed up the argument in his review of the book:

As John McWhorter explains in his new book, Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America, posturing like that has come to largely define what it means to be black in America.

McWhorter, a linguistics professor at Berkeley, traces this posturing to three cultural diseases: victimology, separatism, and anti-intellectualism. He demonstrates that these strains infect the entire spectrum of “black” culture. From the black student pursuing “doctorial” studies to a black-student recruiter from Berkeley worried that black students who get into Berkeley without preferences “aren’t concerned with nurturing an African-American presence,” McWhorter introduces us to characters we recognize and shows how their words and actions reveal their belief in these cultural diseases.

Reader Richao put together a great Storify page collecting the successive tweets of an Islamic libertarian, explaining how the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves dictate our path through life. It ends like this:



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