Our Stance: A Daily Camera letter to editor was racist and tone-deaf

Our Stance is the CU Independent’s weekly statement of opinion by the editorial board. Ellis Arnold is today’s writer. Contact him at ellis.arnold@colorado.edu, and follow him on Twitter at @ArnoldEllis_.

One of the purposes of a letter-to-the-editor section of a newspaper is to give an open forum to all kinds of voices in the community — liberal and conservative, young and old, personal and political. But sometimes, letters to the editor can descend into bare condescension and asinine ignorance. And that is what happened in a recent letter to the editor published in the Daily Camera this Tuesday.

In the letter, a 76-year-old Boulder resident named Barbara Chalmers derides minority students at the University of Colorado and tells them to “grow up” and stop “whining.” Chalmers, who appears to be a frequent contributor to the letters section of the paper as of late, seems to take issue with the general fact that minority students, well, complain about things.

Take, for instance, her first case in point: comments given by students, faculty and staff at CU’s recent social dynamics forum that highlighted the struggle of dealing with racial and religious slurs, bashing of femininity and negative attitudes toward differently abled students.

Chalmers seems to take issue specifically with racial and ethnic minorities, though, so let’s talk about her qualms. It’s common knowledge, especially to those who follow the local news in Boulder, that minority students have become markedly more vocal over the past fall and current spring semesters.

What’s interesting about Chalmers’ commentary, though, is that it doesn’t point to any specific complaint from any individual or group of students. She’s not against, say, efforts to enroll more minority students, or efforts to make the campus more accepting in the abstract. Not specifically, anyway. No — it would seem that what drove Chalmers to rant is the general fact that minority students exist in Boulder, but fail to exist quietly.

Chalmers is displeased that minority students desire change at CU or in Boulder as a whole, and she’s vaguely angry that “as a taxpayer,” she’s unwillingly forced to subsidize ways in which the university “deal[s]” with minority students. What Chalmers means by “deal[ing]” is unclear and unexplained, but perhaps she feels that CU gives off an image of spending large amounts of funds in, well, getting people to sit in rooms and discuss racial issues.

Chalmers and other concerned taxpayers can rest easy, though, as CU-Boulder is notorious for its low percentage of state funding, and I’m sure that with some petitioning, the university could manage just fine without extracting taxes from similarly concerned residents who feel slighted by its diversity-minded efforts.

The clincher of Chalmers’ criticism is that minority students, in her eyes, have failed to adjust to the natural social atmosphere in Boulder — and that, in her estimation, these students want the place to be more like “the constricted world of Denver,” which we can only assume means “more diverse.”

To Chalmers, living in the “big wide world” requires accepting the fact that Boulder is simply a place where minorities find less of “their own kind” and resisting the urge to whine about it.

In her eyes, minority students complaining about feeling unwelcome just aren’t up to speed with Boulder’s “cosmopolitan” nature. Cosmopolitan, of course, is one of those fun words that people throw around when they don’t know what it means. Or perhaps Chalmers prefers the connotation of cosmopolitan as meaning “sophisticated” or “more modern.” If sophistication correlates with more wealth and more majority white population, then we hear her message loud and clear.

But what Chalmers’ opinion really rests on is a classic example of the marginalizer crying “oppression!” at the first brush of justified pushback from the marginalized. It’s no different from when Christians in America feel attacked when someone suggests that maybe Christmas shouldn’t be a de facto national holiday in a society where church and state were envisioned separately, or when a picketer brandishes an “all lives matter” sign even though the legitimacy of all lives was never in question.

Chalmers is wary of minority students displaying “rudeness and condescension” toward faculty and staff when they suggest that there are problems with racial relations and lack of diversity at CU — and for the record, the fact that there are such problems is not up for debate.

Whether complaints from minorities are rude, though, depends on your viewpoint. If you believe that minorities should have to endure feeling alienated in a place where both the demographics and the social atmosphere fall far out of balance with the nation at large, then yes, when minorities start talking, it’s going to sound rude.

Chalmers opened her piece by condescendingly stating that one of the “purposes of a university education is to learn how to interact with persons who are different from oneself — different cultures, values, ethnic groups, lifestyles, political beliefs, religions, etc.” (She is, of course, implying that minority students are the ones who have failed to learn those lessons.) It should not be necessary for us to map out the irony in that statement. It would seem that to Chalmers, white Boulderites deserve to interact in the world without having to address or acknowledge hate speech and general social inequities, while nonwhite Boulderites need to sit down, shut up and let whites live in peace.

But let us be clear. We do not take issue specifically with Barbara Chalmers — in fact, we hope she’s doing well. Nor do we decry the fact that letters to the editor are often grounds for starkly opinionated voices.

What we do take issue with is the fact that Boulder — and CU — has long sat comfortably on a reputation of staunch liberalism and progressive disposition. As long as people continue to hold these hidebound, harmful and haughty views toward racial minorities, nothing could be further from the truth. And we urge more open-minded residents and students to continue to keep their ears open for those who want to have more honest — and more realistic — conversations about race in this city.

Ellis Arnold

Ellis Arnold is the CUI's editor-in-chief and a journalism and political science student. He writes about diversity issues, politics, student government, music and (sometimes) life advice. Is he qualified to do that? You'll never know. He's a senior from Aurora, Colorado, who's been with the CUI for eight semesters.

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