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Where Do I Fit Into Campus Race Debate?

I had planned to take a side on the blistering debate surrounding David Horowitz's ad, the protests against the naming of Saunders Hall and the charges that institutional racism at UNC is alive and well.

I'm having a hard time doing it -- mostly because I'm white.

And because of that, it's hard to figure out my place in this debate. It's hard to figure out what I have a right to think and say because I'm white. It's hard to comment on racism when you haven't been the victim of racism.

My closest experiences have been through friends -- watching a Radio Shack employee at University Mall follow my friend around while she browsed, or my landlord's suspicions about my new roommate.

It sure as hell doesn't make me an expert, and it only gives me a mere glimpse of what other students on this campus have gone through every day of their lives.

But at the same time, I'm a part of this equation. There has to be a place for my voice. I'm just not sure where it is.

I watch my words whenever the topic is broached, be it conversations with friends or discussions in class.

Because there are few words that sting like "racist."

Most times I find myself on the defensive, trying to avoid the pitfalls of making assurances like, "Hey, I have black friends."

I struggle with the fear that if I disagree with these protesters, I incriminate myself. If I express my sympathy for their plight, I'll be perceived as patronizing.

And that fear hinders the dialogue that could be the next step to making things better. My best experiences discussing racism have been one-on-one, with people who knew me well enough that we could duke it out without judging one another or hurling convenient stereotypes.

I defend this paper's right to publish Horowitz's words without branding itself racist. This column isn't a one-on-one forum, so I'm taking a risk.

I give my weekly kudos to the On the Wake of Emancipation Campaign. I've been begging for a demonstration from anybody all year. OWEC is the first that has gotten truly hyped and bucked the apathy trend at this University. And that's what it takes to get our administration's attention.

I support the idea that a plaque should be added to Saunders Hall, revealing Col. William Lawrence Saunders' involvement in the Ku Klux Klan.

But when the debate turns to the monument of Silent Sam, as it has nearly every year since I've been here, I stand my ground. The statue is dedicated to the men of the University who died during the Civil War, the ones who learned that duty "is the most sublime word in the English language."

Those advocating the bulldozing of said statue contend that it is a monument to slavery. Confusing the issue are those calling for its destruction while arguing that the Civil War was not fought over slavery.

A part of me is scared to admit that I believe Silent Sam is a monument to men who loved their country enough to die for it and nothing more. It surely means something else to others.

But tearing down such structures does not erase these facts and the sentiments surrounding them. Hiding ugly truths won't change a damn thing on this campus.

Instead, in likeness to placing an additional plaque on Saunders, monuments should be constructed to celebrate the efforts of those who haven't been acknowledged.

In the meantime, I hope these debates and discussions don't lose their fire. Because like it or not, such demonstrations are bringing to light problems on this campus that aren't as apparent as Union construction.

It's going deeper into issues that most of us don't know about and some know all too well.

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The protesters have raised the racism question again.

I'm eager to see how the Big Meese, and the UNC campus, answers it.

Columnist Ashley Stephenson can be reached at

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