Incidental White Privilege

White Privilege

STUDENT VOICES

By Jade Reyes

Not every issue of morality that we are faced with is easily discernible— with an easily ascertainable correct action. Many of these issues are nuanced and multifaceted, affecting every person differently and involves a weighing process between imperfect alternatives. One of those issues is race or ethnicity and furthermore the perceptions and assumptions that come hand in hand. Race and racial prejudice are intricately woven into the fabric of American history. While the most prominent struggle between Whites and Blacks is entrenched in the legacy of slavery, another more subtle battle persists. This battle, in my personal experience, blurs the line of ethical and moral behavior in many settings; particularly social and business relations. This struggle is the plight of those who pass for another race– specifically those non-Whites who may be perceived as White, such as myself. This presents a unique moral and ethical challenge: having to toe the line between my ‘by chance’ white privilege and allegiance to my ethnic background.

Often the struggle to which I refer is given the name of colorism, in which light skin tones are preferred and fare better in arbitrary categories when compared to darker skin tones. There is this persistent trend; according to the historical record that having lighter skin regardless of your racial or ethnic origin is a good thing— a door opener if you will. For fair-skinned Latinas like myself, the identifier of white is available to me, but it comes as a powerful oxymoron to define myself as a white-Latino. The rich history of Latino and Hispanic people is tinged with repression and marginalization, while placing white race as the perpetrators of that oppression, laden with privilege from the get-go. There are many studies, both scientific and academic, exhibiting the inherent ‘benefits’ of white-passing not limited to better marriage prospects, better socio-economic standing, and better employment opportunity only in correlation to having lighter skin regardless of any other identifying factors including gender or age. In my own experience, the vast majority of people who are not Hispanic or Latino themselves believe that we are to a certain extent homogenous: small in stature, darker in tone, with straight black hair. When one does not fit into the cookie cutter mold that has been cast, there is a sequence of events that can only be described as unsettling to the receiver. At first, there is the glossing over of who you are to accept your external whiteness at face value, allowing you to race-pass should you choose to. Then, should your true ethnicity become known; there is always disbelief or a shot taken at your credibility—somehow you must not know what you’re talking about or you must really be from somewhere else. In my case, I am privileged by my skin color and I have had to learn to navigate a world that consistently mistakes me for something I’m not and only accepts me based on that misconception.

I am the color that white people want me to be, but I am not the person they want me to be nor do they want to be me. It is often just the literal color of my skin that makes me appealing to them. Being labeled as white is problematic because identifying as white ignores all of the struggles that my ancestors went through, and because quite simply, I do not fit into the overarching white historical narrative. My people’s genesis is not located in that kind of whiteness. Often, discerning that I am not actually white is greeted with a sense of unsettlement, like I have somehow upset the natural balance. Colorism can be fickle that way. To offer a small social example, I’ve had others approach me and inquire as to how I keep just the perfect tan over the winter months. The first time this occurred I could not have been older than eleven or twelve. For me, the question did not even make sense because I was not “keeping” a tan—I was not doing anything to my skin, that was just the color that it always was, and I did not know how to respond. Do I admit to being Latina? Do I declare that my unique tone is the physical enduring evidence of the rape of indigenous Puerto Rican women long ago until the blackness faded from my family tree to create me? Do I laugh and play it off? The moment that I own up to being Puerto Rican, the admission is accompanied by varying levels of disbelief, demands for explanations (as if this was really some method designed to hoodwink them!), and requests to speak Spanish as if I need to prove who I am.

People do not like hearing that the preconceived notions they have developed are wrong, especially if they hold unfavorable points of view toward races associated with dark skin tones. This unsettlement can especially manifest itself when expanding business or social circles. I once sat in a job interview for close to half an hour until the manager realized I was not white like her and there was a definite downturn in her attitude toward me—the disappointment in my non-whiteness was palpable. I could not relate to the plight of going on vacation to Mexico and not understanding the natives and getting sunburned. It was almost as if she took personal offense to me severing the imaginary link she had formed between us, like I had deceived her by presently outwardly as a white woman. For her, the idea of who she wanted me to be was preferable to reality.

This extends further into my working experience, where my first name does not betray my Latino lineage but my last name does, leading me to have ‘fooled’ coworkers and managers that assumed me to be white and thus bestowed the ever complicated benefits of white privilege on to me. This is just one instance of the ethical crossroads I find myself at because of the presumptions of others before I have had the chance to self-identify. Working at a sports arena, I have never had my bag searched upon entry, but my ‘brown’ friends have frequently and I am acutely aware that if I wasn’t naturally fair with blonder hair and green eyes things may be different. I once had a fellow Latina coworker, darker skinned then me, tell me that I was only made the team lead during a high profile event because I had a white name and white features and thus would appeal more to the visiting corporate management. In hindsight, she may have been correct.

I live in a culture that values whiteness, even my imperfect whiteness, and seeks to assign privileges to that whiteness that I cannot morally accept. Ethically, I cannot disown my race when it suits me, or when I am hyperaware that my Latino brothers and sisters are victims of colorism that I escape by the happenstance of less melanin in my skin. I cannot stand by the fact that my whiteness means I will not get followed around a store, but my younger brothers will, or that my hair is enviable and my sister’s is unkempt and coarse. My whiteness is a product of history, where colonialism swooped in and somewhere along the line decided that white triumphed over brown. Even more down the line, it mixed with brown enough to create people who look like me: just white enough to be tangentially accepted so long as one plays the part well enough to go undetected. However, I do not want to be accepted that way— to turn one’s back on their identity is to turn one’s back on the heritage, culture, and history that informs the collective identity of all one’s people.

Jade Reyes ’17 is a student at Fordham College Lincoln Center. She is majoring in Political Science.

 

Projection NOT Promotion: Why the Violence of Sports is Ethical in Society

boxers-652382_1280
Image via

STUDENT VOICES

By Maria Trivelpiece

It is quite difficult to get through a day without hearing or seeing some mention of sports or athletics in our world. They practically dominate society. Professional athletes are some of the highest paid people on the planet. They are the epitome of what children aspire to be, fans fawn over and television networks profit from. Yet, in the midst of all the glory of these games, the evident violence that accompanies them seems to be conveniently overlooked. But is it okay to simply ignore that the most watched event on television is a game of grown men tackling each other, beating each other and then celebrating the fact that they physically harmed another human being? Is it ethical to teach our children that the most exciting moment in ice hockey is when the defensemen drop their gloves and fist fight? I am here to say that it is. The violence of sports, in technicality, is ethical because sports are not promoting violence, but rather mimicking and projecting the society that we live in.

We want to rationalize and determine if an action is ethical. Just recently we have seen Colin Kaepernick kneel during the national anthem and cannot imagine why anyone would even condemn him for expressing his freedom of speech. But then, we see the war veteran without legs who so bravely defended our country and does not have the privilege to stand for the flag he fought for and our ‘ethical’ minds question, what is right and what is wrong?

The same dilemma happens in sports; however, we fail to see both sides. We see the violence of football, boxing and ice hockey, and automatically determine that this is affecting us, our children and the way our society functions. On the contrary, we do not look at the violence already in society and in some way see how it reflects itself and impacts sports.

Violence in the sporting arena has been around longer than historians may even know. Gladiators fought until the death and 20,000 people encouraged the fighters to slaughter each other. In 1930, Maximillian Adelbert Baer killed a man in the boxing ring and spectators cheered until they realized his opponent was not moving. It seems that we as fans love this ferocity. We watch in awe and anticipation, and almost thrive off of the viciousness within the arena.

But why does the violence make us feel invigorated, even happy? I believe the answer lies deep within the human soul. We all have our own opponents. Every single day we wake up there are obstacles we have to face, problems looking to crush us and the unstableness of life. This instability causes anxiety. It causes anger. We cannot always understand why bad events tend to happen. We cannot understand why they happen in general, not only to us, but to humanity. When evil attacks, our response is to fight it. We do not welcome it with open arms into our lives, but rather, we wish to eradicate it from ever coming near the people and things that we so love.

So we wrestle with the malevolence; we stand up for ourselves, we protest, we fight for our beliefs just as the gladiators looked to defend themselves and the defensive lineman looks to tackle the running back charging towards him. In sports the opponent is the evil, trying to invade our basket, our end zone, our goal line, which at that moment is the most valuable piece of life. When we defeat the challenger and win the passing of a particular job or make the game-winning basket, then, we feel alive. We have defeated that invasion, rising victorious.

The violence of sports is a projection of society, not a promotion of actions. Sports respond to the way that human beings act. Charles Darwin theorized about survival of the fittest in 1859. The animal, the human being, the plant, that knows how to adapt, knows how to defeat the other to survive. We cannot blame sports for influencing violence in the world, when there is an inherent desire to demolish the competition within all creatures of this earth. Sports project this tendency that already exists. If we are unhappy with the climate of the sporting arena then the only way to change it would be to change the climate of life.

So, in the most literal and figurative way, the ball is in your court to decide if this violence is ethical or not. But before you decide, look at the world around you. See the wickedness that occurs every day in many different ways and then determine whether this is because of sports or if sports are simply a slightly more manageable way of projecting this wickedness in ways that are more controlled than most acts of vice in the society of our time.

Maria Trivelpiece ’19 is a student at Fordham College Rose Hill. She is double majoring in psychology and journalism. 

Weighty Choices: Ethical Challenges of Addressing Eating Disorders

5523425885_0900138aae_z.jpg
Image via Courtney Emery

STUDENT VOICES | CHYNN PRIZE FIRST-PLACE WINNER 

By: Geena Roth

In certain situations, the moral or ethical decision is obvious, but more often than not, there are a number of complicating factors.  Almost all decisions we make will affect more than just ourselves, forcing us to weigh our own morality against another’s autonomy.  This is particularly true in the case of medical interventions for the sake of another’s health.

Anyone who has been a part of a long-distance friendship knows that there are very few things more exciting than the prospect of getting to see your friend in person for the first time since parting.  That excitement is somewhat marred, however, when your friend has so drastically changed that you literally do not recognize them.  The summer between my sophomore and junior years of high school, my family moved cross-country from Texas to Indiana, forcing me to leave my best friend behind.  We of course kept in touch via text and phone calls, but between the time change and our equally busy schedules, we rarely if ever had the chance to video chat.  Combine that with the fact that she is largely an abstainer from social media, and the result was that I hadn’t seen a picture of my friend in a year, at which point I was flying back to Texas to visit her and our other friends.  When my plane landed, I grabbed my things and rushed down the escalator to baggage claim, not realizing that I had looked my friend in the face and kept on walking because I did not recognize her.  She was about two-thirds the weight she had been when I left.  We had discussed how she had started working out and had gone on a diet, but nonetheless, the extent of her weight loss scared me.  Over the course of the trip, however, she seemed healthy and in better shape than she had ever been before, alleviating some of my fears.

Cut to two years later, when she was getting off the plane to visit me.  Now she was down to probably about half her original weight and, looking at her, I could no longer deny that something was definitely wrong.  Her eyes were sunken, her hair was thinning, all of her clothing was too big, and when I hugged her, it felt like I could feel every bone in her body.

This was about a year ago now and I still have not brought up the term “eating disorder” to her. Every time we speak I vacillate about whether or not to broach the topic with her.  On the one hand, she is my close friend and if her health was at risk, I would want to intervene on her behalf.  On the other hand, I know that I am not in a unique position to say something.  She lives with a group of roommates who see her on a day-to-day basis, not to mention she has her parents and siblings who see her more than I do.  I justify my silence with the assumption that if anything was seriously wrong someone else would have intervened.  We have a mutual friend who previously suffered from an eating disorder and her parents were the ones to get through to her before either of us, or any of her other friends, could.

Perhaps my action, or lack-thereof, reflects some form of the bystander effect, which raises another question about morality.  One of the common tenets of ethical decision-making is whether or not you are in a unique position to prevent something from happening.  By this standard, any time someone in a more authoritative position can take action, some of the burden of responsibility is taken off of oneself.  For instance, in the infamous case of Kitty Genovese, a group of bystanders either heard or saw various portions of both an attack on and the murder of Genovese and all but one neglected to call the police because they assumed someone else in the vicinity would.  This kind of moral code can lead to a good deal of damage because this assumption is not always true.  That being said, there are no grounds on which to enforce an all-encompassing moral code dictating that everyone should act when they observe something potentially harmful or dangerous.

When wrestling with my decision of whether or not to intervene in my friend’s health, I also consider the possible negative ramifications of speaking up. I worry that if I were to say something, she would find it offensive and that our friendship would suffer because of it or that she would alienate herself.  When a seemingly moral choice also has negative ramifications, it is harder to come to a decision.  If I knew for sure that she was suffering from some form of eating disorder and that my saying something would ultimately result in her getting better, then the ethical decision would be very clear and I would bring the topic up to her.  However, issues of moral or ethical standing are hardly ever this clear cut.

Another issue to consider is the question of morality versus autonomy.  My friend remains an autonomous individual in control of her life, so even if it were to prevent some harm, I don’t know that I would have the right to intervene in her life.  The line between one’s own sense of ethics and morality and the autonomy of others must be drawn somewhere.  Just because I deem an action that I would take to be moral does not mean that I have the right to then carry that action out, taking away someone else’s autonomy, deciding what’s best for another person who has a right to make that determination for him or herself .

The conversation about eating disorders in relation to morality and ethics also calls to the forefront the role of media in the prevalence of eating disorders in American society.  There is no denying that eating disorders motivated by body image issues are at least somewhat caused by representations of women in media.  Unrealistic body standards are largely derived from the proliferation of Photoshop in magazine images and advertisements.   It seems that media personnel who create this content should have some degree of moral responsibility to represent realistic images to their consumers whose lives they are negatively affecting.  Questions about morality and ethics in regard to the issue of eating disorders range from the smaller, personal scale to this large scale.

I am still struggling with whether or not I should speak up in my friend’s situation.  I have not come to any conclusions as to what the proper moral action to take is.  However, I have come to believe that there are no simple guidelines for making decisions.  Moral and ethical decisions are more often than not very complicated as well as multi-layered.

Geena Roth ’17, a student in Fordham College Lincoln Center, is majoring in theatre and was awarded first place in the Fordham University Center for Ethics Education 2016 Dr. K. York and M. Noelle Chynn Undergraduate Essay Prize in Ethics and Morality.

Justice for College Roommates: A Lighthearted Approach to a Complex Principle

Via freedigitalphotos.net
Via freedigitalphotos.net

STUDENT VOICES | CHYNN PRIZE 3rd PLACE WINNER

By: Brendan Dagher

Everyday we struggle to resolve how to treat those who wrong us or cause us pain. How do we punish those who steal from us? Who determines how we are fully compensated for the pain others inflict on us? We demand justice, or a system of fairness that safeguards our dignity as humans. Our personal morals feed into this system of fairness, often making justice a complex ethical issue.

Continue reading “Justice for College Roommates: A Lighthearted Approach to a Complex Principle”

Bringing ethics to the foreground

There are ethical dimensions to all aspects of society: research, medicine, politics, business, science and technology, the environment, and responses to natural disasters, among others. The purpose of this blog is to highlight and analyze various topical issues relating to ethics and society, with a view to promoting social justice and equality. Continue reading “Bringing ethics to the foreground”