By Nick Ingram, Special to the Denisonian
I had an encounter with a fellow Denisonian a few days ago that brought out an uneasiness that has troubled me for quite some time. Each of us had arrived for a film screening of a British-American romantic historical drama about the founding of Jamestown, Virginia, and inspired by such historical figures as Captain John Smith and Pocahontas. As my classmates and I took off our jackets and backpacks to get settled into our seats, I heard a few students mention that we would be watching a historical film, to which one of my classmates replied (and I will do my best to convey the language used), “I hope it’s not another film by a white male sh****** on history.”
This struck a sour chord with me, of the type I have heard time and again on this campus. I knew very well what my classmate was implying, but, as a white male, I was slightly offended. “I don’t think all white males sh** on history,” I retorted with an aggressive tone. “Oh, you’re one of those,” my classmate replied. “What was that supposed to mean?” I thought. Who are those and why are their opinions brushed to the side? My classmate was assuming something about me from one opinion, placing me in a box to which I was not sure I belonged. This bothered me. Failing to control my frustration, I sharpened my tone to express my annoyance with what I perceived to be many students’ double standard toward equality. Allow me to explain.
I am disappointed with some fellow Denisonians. We claim to respect one another equally without using labels or preconceived notions. Yet time and again, I find students using labels to assert their “open-mindedness.” This particular student called me “one of those,” I assume, because I, too, am a white male.
I suppose my classmate thought of me as close-minded, someone who accepted the “white male” interpretation of history as fact. Yet, in labeling me as “one of those,” my classmate was distancing me as the ‘other,’ someone whose opinion was incorrect and could not be heard. It was my classmate’s way or the highway, as the aphorism goes. When we label others as being narrow-minded for having opinions different from our own, we ourselves are being narrow-minded. This is what I felt my classmate was doing.
In a country stricken with the illness of insufferable partisan politics, my timely encounter shed light on not only the condition of this plague but of an ideological divide I have felt since arriving on this campus. No, not all Denisonians are quick to judge, nor are we all of one philosophical mind-set.
But when I experience hostile encounters such as the one described, I cannot help but come to the defense of what is perceived as an inferior ideology or party.
For the record, I do not consider myself “one of those,” nor did I actually come to the defense of what I thought were those. I do not consider myself strictly a Democrat or Republican, a social liberal or social conservative. I was simply challenging the notion that all white males distort historical events with a romanticized interpretation. Nothing more.
I am fed up with this recurring hypocrisy of using labels to make ourselves appear more open-minded than others. I call on you to hold one another accountable, to withhold from labeling fellow students according to their opinion on a single matter. Do not judge a book by its cover (or a film by its predecessors).
We are better than that. We are better than labels. Labels are helpful to distinguish between ideologies, but they are harmful when they are slapped onto our classmates inductively.