Dear campus and regional community,
Reducing systemic inequality and its harms, including racism, has been an significant part of The Benjamin Center’s work, and we denounce the racism expressed in a recent New York Times article, including the statements made by the director of the center, Dr. Gerald Benjamin, that have undermined the good work of the center. We accept his apology, while recognizing and understanding that there are those who remain dissatisfied.
This incident starkly illustrates how privilege can blind us to our own racism. Dr. Benjamin and The Benjamin Center have contributed substantial and impactful intellectual and political work toward addressing and reducing unequal power and privilege. And yet Dr. Benjamin still made comments that contributed to the very harm and marginalization that so much of his and our work seeks to rectify.
We all carry and express biases (implicit and explicit) associated with our race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, social class, ability, etc. No one is free of this. People who hold more power and privilege, whether due to race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, social class, ability, etc., are regularly complicit in maintaining the status quo that benefits them. People with this greater power need to be vigilant in recognizing their advantage at all times, just as those with less privilege recognize and experience devaluing, othering, and disadvantage daily. People with white privilege must acknowledge that every time racism is expressed, intentional or otherwise, that power is being wielded like a weapon, harming “others.” In this instance, it is important to it make clear and visible — because invisibility is integral to how racism is perpetuated — that the comments normalized whiteness, erasing people of color, sending a message that they are not one of us. This is never acceptable, be it expressed casually in everyday talk, or in comments to national media.
Taking responsibility for disparate power requires real honesty and considerable discomfort in the recognition of the greater status and benefits afforded white people and the resultant pain and oppression it inflicts on people of color. White people must commit to undoing racism for real progress to be made and, in particular, white people in leadership positions like ours must own and face our own biases and racism so that we can be influential agents of dismantling rather than perpetuating systemic racism. Our director acknowledges this and supports our issuing of this statement on behalf of the staff.
We commit, as does our director, to engaging our campus and region in anti-racist efforts that increase awareness and create positive change. We are reaching out to students and colleagues on campus and others across the region to catalyze and facilitate this work, not dictate it. You have already heard some of what is planned from the college leadership and Dr. Benjamin, and we will continue to communicate our concrete plans about how this incident will inform our future work.
The Benjamin Center Staff