LETTER: Racism manifested in many ways

To the editor:

I was never motivated enough to submit a letter to the Thresher . That is, never until I read Mark Nichols' letter in the Feb. 7 issue, with the unfortunate headline "Racism complaints overstated." Now I am compelled to speak about his points.

Before going any further, let me say that I am in no way affiliated with the Campus Police or the Graduate House. Also, I know neither Nichols nor Apollo Amoko. Some would say, then, that I should not write about things I know nothing about. On the contrary, I know what lies at the center of this argument: the problem of racism in this country and on this campus.

There are some who consider police harassment unfortunate, but necessary to catch "the bad guys." Obviously, these people have never been harassed by police. Officers stop countless Americans who are in the wrong place at the wrong time. But when an officer uses a person's skin color as a reason to stop and harass him or her, it is racism.

There are no extenuating circumstances, no excuses, no exceptions when anyone -- even someone in authority -- prejudges another based on race and then acts on that prejudice. It is racism.

Now, after Amoko told Nichols of Campus Police harassment sparked by racism, Mr. Nichols writes, "I agreed with him [Amoko] that the police acted badly and ought to apologize (as they already had), but I told him it sounded like the administration was just doing its job protecting Rice's reputation."

I laud Nichols for recognizing Amoko's experience as unjustified. But Nichols also thinks that the Campus Police's private apology to Amoko is enough to end the discussion. I could not disagree more.

Racism is a national problem. We cannot expect the country's problems to remain outside the metal gates that barricade this campus. Though these gates may deter criminals, problems like prejudice, racism, sexism and countless others creep onto this campus and grow strong on paranoia and ignorance.

Because of this, I believe the Campus Police and the Rice administration should apologize for this incident, not only to Amoko, but to the rest of campus. Neither have had the courage to say to its students, "Our campus, however enlightened, however tolerant, is still prone to incidents of racism. Even our administration is guilty of committing these acts. We are not perfect. We apologize not only to Amoko, but to the Rice community at large. And we pledge to work against the forces of racism on this campus."

Now I don't know what Amoko wants, but this is what I want. It upsets me that the administration is more concerned with "protecting Rice's reputation," as Nichols suggests, rather than working to prevent incidents like this from happening again.

This does not mean that I completely agree with Amoko's view of this campus, however. Nichols is angry because he says Amoko stereotypes "Rice's predominately white student body." On this point, Nichols and I agree. No one should think that all blacks are criminals -- or worse, possible suspects.

Likewise, no one should think that all whites are part of a national racial conspiracy -- or worse, closet racists. To think this way is to give in to prejudice and to run the risk of becoming racist yourself.

To those of you who never knew of Amoko's experiences with the Campus Police until reading Nichols' letter, or this letter, don't use words like "allegedly" or "supposedly" when describing the incident. Don't grow tired or dismiss the conversation. To do so lessens the reality that racism exists on this campus.

If you disagree with me, say so, but don't be unwilling to talk about your opinion. The Rice administration -- as well as the student community -- must address this incident and incidents of racism in all its forms. But if the discussions are not serious, nor without stereotyping, paranoia or flippancy, who knows what else may invade this campus. Criminals will be the least of our worries then.

Ahmad Hernandez

Brown '98

This item appeared in the Opinion section of the February 14, 1997 issue.

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