Kayde Langer spent much of her 21st birthday meeting with UW-Eau Claire officials, interviewing with media outlets and replying to messages on social media, according to Leader-Telegram reporter Ryan Patterson.
At issue was a racist note found on the student’s dorm room door last Sunday. The abhorrent message read “go back to the rez” in addition to a racial slur. Langer is Red Lake Ojibwe.
“When a member of our Blugold Family is targeted, we are all impacted and called to speak with one voice against bigotry, discrimination and intolerance,” read a statement from UW-Eau Claire Chancellor Jim Schmidt. “This campus must act when hatred rears its ugly head.”
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University officials undoubtedly will conduct a thorough investigation of the incident, and we appreciate a strong tweet from Schmidt on Sunday evening that included, “There is no place for hate speech (at) UW-Eau Claire. The racist who wrote this despicable comment is not welcome on this campus.”
The overriding question, however, remains: Why would someone do this? More specifically:
• Is there a perverse joy in making someone else feel sad, angry or unsafe?
• Does belittling another human being make him or her feel better about themselves?
• Is the writer so lacking in self-worth that he or she must put down others?
“Racism has to do with thinking of oneself as being different from other people,” said Pricilla Dass-Brailsford, a psychologist at Georgetown University and the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, in a Huffington Post story. “Racists see others as being less than, and think of themselves as being superior.”
Just for the record, they’re not.
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In a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll, an unsettling 12 percent of respondents either somewhat or strongly disagreed that all races are equal.
So, what causes racism?
“In some ways, it’s super simple,” said Jennifer Richeson, a Yale social psychologist, in a Time magazine story. “People learn to be whatever their society and culture teaches them.
“We often assume that it takes parents actively teaching their kids, for them to be racist. The truth is that unless parents actively teach kids not to be racists, they will be. This is not the product of some deep-seated, evil heart that is cultivated. It comes from the environment, the air all around us.”
Added Eric Knowles, a New York University psychology professor, in the same piece: “An us-them mentality is unfortunately a really basic part of our biology. There’s a lot of evidence that people have an ingrained even evolved tendency toward people who are in our so-called ‘in group.’”
The only way to combat bias, Richeson said, is to change culture.
“You have to change what is acceptable in society,” she said. “People today complain about politically correct culture, but what that does is provide a check on people’s outward attitude, which in turn influences how we think about ourselves internally. Everything we’re exposed to gives us messages about who is good and bad.”
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Shootings, rallies and other incidents of late at the national level have increased media attention to racism. Every nation likely contends with the issue, but we should be setting the bar for equality and inclusion.
Langer told Patterson she planned to keep the racial epithet on her UW-Eau Claire dorm door. Although she’s received many positive and supportive comments, the goal is to keep the conversation going.
“I want people to be educated on this,” she said. “I don’t want them to pretend like this situation didn’t happen.”
Hopefully that awareness will help move us in the right direction.
— Liam Marlaire, assistant editor