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Don't deny your privilege — recognize it and learn from it

Don't deny your privilege — recognize it and learn from it
A letter of apology from student and fraternity member Kyler Watkins in the the Cal Poly San Luis Obispo student newspaper on April 28. (Los Angeles Times)

To the editor: Thank you so much for publishing the brilliant and insightful op-ed piece by Viet Thanh Nguyen, "The blackface incidents at Cal Poly show why we need more education about racism."

Professor Nguyen offers a much-needed tutorial on the insidious nature of privilege, whether based on race or gender or some other factor such as sexual orientation.

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While teaching a women's history class at UC Berkeley some 20 years ago, I generalized about "women." After one class, a student came up to me and asked if I meant all women or merely white women. From then on, I tried to correct my usage, and it was salutary to look out on the class and know that someone was keeping track.

I'm happy to say that at the end of the semester, the student asked me for a letter of recommendation — and I gave it to her with enthusiasm, because she was the instrument of my own education.

Glenna Matthews, Laguna Beach

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To the editor: USC Professor Nguyen's lecturing of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo over the insensitive actions of two out of its 20,000 students is an example of over-the-top political correctness.

What the two students did was crass and rude and they needed to be reprimanded for their actions. Now, 19,998 students have to wear a hair shirt for the rest of the year for an action they did not commit.

At USC, three Asian students have been killed since 2012, and yet there were no protests about the racist killing of Asians. I would advise Nguyen to start with his own campus before lecturing Cal Poly San Luis Obispo about its students.

Mark Walker, Chino Hills

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To the editor: Nguyen is masterful at putting issues in great perspective rather than simply scratching the surface — in this instance by revealing his growing experiences without simply condemning the perpetrators of the incidents.

I'm a 77-year-old white resident of Venice with a history of involvement with local politics via the Venice Neighborhood Council, having witnessed first-hand the acrimony between factions where listening and learning seem too often to be in short supply. I'm also a Vietnam veteran, and I am currently reading Nguyen's book "Nothing Ever Dies," in which he writes, "An ethics of recognition says that the other is both human and inhuman, as are we."

In this article, Nguyen reflects on his own "growing-up experiences" where he learned that he was immature and is able to now recognize that these blackface incidents could also be a growing-up experience for the individuals involved. This ability to reflect before condemning the actions of others is one reason why I describe Nguyen as masterful.

Joseph Murphy, Venice

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