Opinion | Columns

Punishing Chad Washington doesn't solve the problem of racism

Chad Washington, the Columbia student who was accused of an assault and alleged hate crime against a male Asian-American student last year, recently had his case dismissed by the New York City Criminal Court. Despite what some might think, this is good news.

This incident is, after all, about more than whether or not Chad Washington should be punished. It has more to do with race relations on this campus. At the risk of sounding inflammatory, I will say that Columbia—maybe we could say the Ivy League as a whole—appears to have a race problem. To find examples of this, we need only to look at a few statistics, and dig a little into Columbia history.

During the infamous protests of 1968, when Columbia students occupied Hamilton Hall and Low Library, part of what made the situation so tense was that black students at Columbia had very different demands from white students. As both black and white students occupied Hamilton Hall, their agendas began to diverge—black students wanted to focus more on fighting the construction of a gym in Morningside Park, while white students wanted to stop aiding the defense technology, which escalated tension between white and black students. Shortly thereafter, the white students moved their occupation to Low Library.

Today, it looks like students of color continue to feel alienated from the white-dominant culture on campus. Gerardo Romo’s piece (“Legacies of trauma,” Oct. 21) earlier last year addressed this point by arguing that students of color and queer students seemed to have more severe mental health issues on campus. Overly dismissive op-ed responses published in Spectator from students who did not share Romo’s identity or view seemed to further the point that race relations on campus were not as good as they may seem. 

College graduation statistics also point to the continued alienation of students of color via alienation’s effects on graduation rates. A recent article published in The Dartmouth shows that only 85 percent of black students graduated in the class of 2011, compared to almost 97 percent of white students. Statistics for Native American students were even lower.

Columbia’s graduation statistics by demographic aren’t available online, but the same article does suggest that Columbia and other Ivy League institutions have similar distributions in their graduation rates.

So, within the context of racial marginalization and alienation on Columbia’s campus, what did it mean for a young man like Washington—who, statistically and historically, is part of one of the most vulnerable populations on this campus and in the United States as a whole—to allegedly perform this kind of violence onto another student who may also feel excluded and alienated based on his ethnicity?

The alleged assault was a product of a history of race relations between black and Asian students and people at Columbia and beyond.

The Model Minority myth used to homogenize and praise Asian Americans hinges on a particular form of anti-blackness. In other words, the logic of the Model Minority myth goes, if Asians can come to this country with nothing and be successful (to an extent, of course—the glass ceiling still exists), why can’t black people do it? Why can’t Latinos pull themselves up by their bootstraps? The Model Minority myth draws strict boundaries on who are “good” or desirable people of color (Asian Americans), with the result that by contrast, blacks in particular (but arguably also Latinos and Native Americans) are seen as “bad” or undesirable people of color.

The struggles of Asian Americans who continue to be marginalized are covered up by this myth, just as the historical and structural oppressions black Americans continue to face are covered up. 

So when an incident like Washington’s alleged assault happens at Columbia, it probably has something to do with the broader race relations on this campus and the simmering racial tension in the United States. It probably has to do with continuous historical and structural oppression on Asian and black communities. It’s likely that it has something to do with the way in which many white and heterosexual students dismissed Romo’s observations about the different experiences of people of color and queer students on this campus.

In other words, this incident has little to do with the personal bigotry of Washington and more with the way in which racism works today.

It’s not that I think that Washington should not be held accountable for his actions. He should be. However, punishing Washington doesn’t address the system of racism that still exists. The answer to how we can focus on dismantling our racist practices and society is complicated, and I’m not going to pretend to provide a solution for this problem. I can, maybe, suggest strategies. And one strategy to dismantle the race problem at Columbia might be to look at the everyday ways in which students of color face structural oppression on this campus and at our everyday practices that perpetuate racism. 

As long as we focus solely on the individual racist as the root of the problem instead of the racist society, hate crimes will continue to occur.

David Abud-Sturbaum is a Columbia College senior majoring in Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African studies. Much Abud About Nothing runs alternate Mondays.

To respond to this column, or to submit an op-ed, contact opinion@columbiaspectator.com.

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In summary: posted on

It's pretty much alright when a black guy assaults someone, but if a white guy assaults someone LET THE FIRES OF THE HELL FLOWETH FORTH

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CC 14 posted on

Yup cause that's exactly how things in the real world work, with higher rates of incarceration for black people in this country.

Good understanding of this article!

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hold up posted on

do you realize your argument has no legitimacy?
1) this whole issue which has ~infinite~ spec and bwog coverage is about a black man assaulting someone, so saying that "it's pretty much alright" makes approximately 0% sense
2) as the above commenter said, in society at large this is completely false. When a white person and a black person commit the exact same crime the black person is more likely to be charged guilty and receive a longer system. There are whole systems of privilege within our justice system that I --and I don't mean this in a condescending way-- really suggest you read up on. Think about weed-- black and white people smoke at approximately the same percent, but guess who gets incarcerated WAY more? black people.
I wish I had these studies on hand, but also believe you are a capable person who should make an effort to educate themselves and not rely on others to do it for you.

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Wuz you dere? posted on

"As both black and white students occupied Hamilton Hall, their agendas began to diverge—black students wanted to focus more on fighting the construction of a gym in Morningside Park, while white students wanted to stop aiding the defense technology, which escalated tension between white and black students. Shortly thereafter, the white students moved their occupation to Low Library."
Not exactly. Overnight a large number of black NON-students moved into Hamilton and eventually the white students were, er, asked to leave and find their own building. Which they did.
For the record.

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You voted '-1'.
Anonymous posted on

This racism that these articles continually assign to the college, are more due to the culture at large. It was New York City criminal justice system that decided not to file charges aaginst Washington. Apparently they felt calling an Asian or gays names did not constitute a crime.

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Anonymous posted on

"In other words, this incident has little to do with the personal bigotry of Washington and more with the way in which racism works today.

It’s not that I think that Washington should not be held accountable for his actions. He should be. However, punishing Washington doesn’t address the system of racism that still exists. ...
And one strategy to dismantle the race problem at Columbia might be to look at the everyday ways in which students of color face structural oppression on this campus and at our everyday practices that perpetuate racism."

Washington is a product of this bigotry and he should be held accountable for his actions. If we're not going to apprehend the individuals who perpetuate this racism, then nothing will change.

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Alex Hamilton posted on

The somewhat convoluted train of thought outlined in this op-ed, involving historic race relations at Columbia and in the United States, might explain Washington's actions that evening.

Or it might be that a large, muscular guy didn't like taking any back talk from a smaller dude.

Now, based upon your experience with the human race (including both large, muscular guys and smaller dudes), which explanation do you think applies to the Chad Washington incident?

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Joe Brown posted on

Hey, all

We are at columbia. Let's turn today's news into a learning moment. A topic for today is anti-black racism (I will exclude racism in general).

The fact is, anti-black racism and anti-semitism are developments that our friends the greeks popularized. When the egyptians expelled semitic peoples back into palestine, there was a lot of name calling. The semites eventually wrote a book demonizing the egyptians for being black. The egyptians demonized the semites as heathens or something. The greeks picked up on this and gave us the popular bigotry of our times: anti-black racism and anti-semitism.

Read Jan Assman - a european egyptologist and learn how history is so today.

Love and Peace

Joe Brown

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Anonymous posted on

while your historical info is really great let's not forget that racism is just as-- if not more-- present today. We shouldn't distance ourselves from racism as if it were a "thing of the past."

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Joe Brown posted on

Hey, all

We are at columbia. Let's turn today's news into a learning moment. A topic for today is anti-black racism (I will exclude racism in general).

The fact is, anti-black racism and anti-semitism are developments that our friends the greeks popularized. When the egyptians expelled semitic peoples back into palestine, there was a lot of name calling. The semites eventually wrote a book demonizing the egyptians for being black. The egyptians demonized the semites as heathens or something. The greeks picked up on this and gave us the popular bigotry of our times: anti-black racism and anti-semitism.

Read Jan Assman - a european egyptologist and learn how history is so today.

Love and Peace

Joe Brown

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menckenman posted on

As one who was personally and physically involved in the '68 demonstrations, I can add a bit of perspective. That is, as long as the readers here accept and respect my rapidly diminishing mental resources, due to my extremely advanced age.

First of all, I like the basic motive of this article. Improved race/sexual/any relations are always laudable. Sadly, this shouldn't even be necessary, but the world is not yet perfect. Having said this, I believe that campus feelings do not exacerbate the situation. CU is one of the most liberal, accepting campus in the country, and always has been. I suggest that the issues described are more an instance of transporting existing problems to CU, where they do not disappear but are certainly ameliorated. In this scenario, holdover inappropriate attitudes don't disappear but are certainly discouraged. But they will still erupt. Ditto for mental health/depression issues. These travel with the victims; they aren't caused by the CU environment, which is as previously stated is more open than most places these folks have come from. So I believe this is more a treatment/support solution than a "fix" for purported CU issues.

Secondly, I'll provide first hand insight into the '68 situation. After the initial occupation of Hamilton by SDS and the Black Coalition, SDS was informed that the blacks did not believe the aims of the 2 groups were parallel; that SDS was mainly a white middle class fashionable political protest as opposed to the very serious Black social/economic/resistance protest which they (the black students plus a large contingent of militant Harlem protesters) were prepared to push to the limit.
Mark Rudd and his coterie were essentially evicted from Hamilton, and then proceeded to occupy Low Library and 6 other buildings. The gym issue was actually a false flag, since it was ultimately built on campus and the Harlem community at the base of Morningside was deprived (and still is) of an excellent facility in place of a crime-ridden park unusable after dusk. In this case, public relations, propaganda and politics worked counter to the community's self-interest.

As far as the central thrust of the article, I support the concept and intent, but question the logic. How does one "know" that minorities are diminished on campus? I agree this occurs in other walks or facets of life, but I posit that it is far less egregious here than anywhere. Not to say we should not be sensitive to this, but at the same time, I suggest we avoid unnecessary mea culpas. These problems are not of our making. What we can do is continue to offer acceptance to everyone. In the real world these issues do not disappear overnight. Only consistent awareness chips away at them.

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Anonymous posted on

this is a disgusting excuse for offensive behavior.

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Anonymous posted on

Are you actually forgiving the actions of Mr. Washington because there is an anti-black culture at Columbia created by white guys writing Spec articles? About white guys writing articles ASKING TO BE ABLE TO TALK ABOUT THESE ISSUES?! This is ignorant

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Anonymous posted on

The logic (or lack of, really) of this article is an analog of the following statement:
"there are always deeper reasons for crimes, so it might be a good thing not to punish individuals who committed them, since it does not solve the problem of the existence of crimes in general in the society."

total nonsense.

yes, there might indeed be deeper reasons for crimes, but it does not give any legitimate excuse for omitting an individual crime and let the one who is responsible be at large. Doing so will actually encourage crimes and injustice and escalate the conflict between ethnic groups.

there are more things to do besides punishing individuals, agreed.
let individuals be at large is good news and write articles to find excuses for that, not acceptable.

whether this kind of ridiculous opinion in the article is a demonstration of lack of logic and reasonable thinking, or is for some untold purposes, unknown.

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