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MIT Race Relations

Guest Column
Matthew Brown

Astounded. That is how I felt when I first read the description of one of the events in this year’s Orientation booklet. For the benefit of those of you who are either not freshmen or who don’t want to go digging through a plethora of official MIT Orientation information, here it is: “Minority Orientation Welcome Luncheon: The Office of Minority Education will host a luncheon to welcome African American, Mexican American, Native American and Puerto Rican students to the MIT community.” Maybe people as a whole don’t have a problem with this event, and maybe one could call me over-optimistic about the state of the world, but I seem to recall people saying that one should not be judged on his or her racial or ethnic background.

It is easy to defend the event, in fact, as most people are used to similar events and organizations that they see absolutely nothing wrong with it. Those who see a problem can also write it off as a necessary evil -- a way to help groups of people that, for some reason or another, MIT considers to need special attention. But when I see that headline, I am furious, not because I expect to be included, but because I and many others are actively excluded. While personally, I would not feel the need to attend, there may be some who would, were the language of the announcement not so prohibiting to them. But I am, and expect everyone else to be, very angry that an event such as this is taking place, and even more so that it is sponsored and run by MIT.

Some of those who are angry, I am sure, are saying “Why was I not included? I am a(n) (insert race here), and I am even more of a minority than (insert other race here),” they are skirting the issue entirely. Maybe if the specific racial qualifiers were removed, the event would not be as offensive, but that concession would still only barely rectify the big problem inherent in the existence of organizations like MIT’s Office of Minority Education.

These types of offices, organizations, and the like only serve to further separate races, destroying any progress that has been made in the widespread acceptance of racial equality. While they will say that their purpose is to promote equality, their intentional and accidental accomplishments are counteractive; effectively, they destroy communication between the races through a method of political correctness.

Would the same lack of attention be given had the event read “Majority Orientation Welcome Luncheon: For Whites Only”? Of course not, for there is a huge double standard in the concept of what is and is not acceptable when it comes to racial restrictions. We don’t find the real event as offensive as the aforementioned hypothetical one simply because we have become so used to seeing minority-only groups that it has become acceptable to exclude again.

For some reason, it is “politically correct” to exclude the majority groups from something, yet offensive to exclude the minority groups. But why are we excluding anybody at all? This is the real question, because it is this concept of political correctness which has demolished any chance of true equality. With the double standard in place, there will always be first and second class citizens, there will always be people who are not included in something, no matter how trivial or important it may be, simply because of the color of their skin or their ethnic background.

So what are we to do? Simply take the opportunities that are provided by the Office of Minority Education and similar organizations away from people who really need it? Of course not; that would be unfair and completely contrary to maintaining progress towards equality. But I call for MIT, and everyone affiliated with it, to set an example, and stop excluding people based on race and background. Services and opportunities should be given to those who need it, whether they are African American, Mexican American, Native American, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Asian American, Caucasian American, not American at all, or in any group that I have failed to mention.

In actuality, I have failed everyone by mentioning those groups, for humanity cannot hope to succeed until these labels, which we now still consider to be inextricably bound to each person, have all been destroyed or rendered meaningless. Only then will the double standard finally die and people will be judged on their abilities rather than their appearances.

Matthew Brown is a member of the Class of 2006.