How should I respond to a classmate regarding racial bias?
September 11, 2014 8:05 PM   Subscribe

I'm an Asian female attending a University. I wanted to run for a leadership position in an organization that consists of 70% Asians. A Caucasian classmate of mine who wants to run for the same position thinks that I'll get elected over him because of the group's demographic. I found out from a mutual friend that he might withdraw from the election. How should I go about addressing this issue with him? I really want to make it a fair competition and convince him that the group demographic should not benefit me in anyway because I have the same amount of interactions with them as he does. I also want him to know that I have other skills and attributes that would make me fit the officer role, and not my race. Thank you for your advice!
posted by missybitsy to Society & Culture (20 answers total)
to what extent do people vote along racial lines in your org?
posted by bruce at 8:38 PM on September 11, 2014

What's your goal in talking to your classmate? The leadership position should be filled by someone who 1) is willing to work to get things done, and 2) is good at communicating with many people.

1) Your classmate doesn't seem to want the position, if he isn't even willing to try out for the position.

2) If the classmate thinks that everyone will vote for you instead of him just because they're Asian and you're Asian (which quite frankly is kind of an insulting assumption), then he probably won't be such a great communicator with the demographic, either.
posted by suedehead at 8:38 PM on September 11, 2014 [10 favorites]

"I really want to make it a fair competition and convince him that the group demographic should not benefit me in anyway because I have the same amount of interactions with them as he does. "

"I also want him to know that I have other skills and attributes that would make me fit the officer role...."

That's, uh, not your job to convince anyone to run against you!

You can't convince him to run.

You definitely can't convince him that you're the better candidate while you're at it, LOL!

I would not speak of this. I would tell the mutual "friend" to stop gossiping.
posted by jbenben at 8:39 PM on September 11, 2014 [11 favorites]

Too complicated. Both of you should just go and lead your lives.
posted by JimN2TAW at 8:50 PM on September 11, 2014

I just don't see what you have to gain by talking to him.

While I can definitely see why you might be offended at his supposed reasoning for dropping out, I don't see any value in trying to convince him to do what he currently sees as a likely waste of his time and effort, however flawed his reasoning might be.

I could potentially see myself saying something like "That's a dumb and insulting reason not to run against me" if the opportunity presented itself (ie, if he tells you himself that's why.. do realize he could have dozens of other completely legit reasons to drop out), but I certainly wouldn't feel the need to convince him to run.
posted by wats at 8:51 PM on September 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

Not your problem, forget about it.
posted by smoke at 8:57 PM on September 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

This isn't your problem. Even if it was, this sort of gossip and rumor wouldn't be actionable information.
posted by spaltavian at 9:26 PM on September 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

Let it go. If he's foolish enough to withdraw, he'd make a lousy leader anyway.
posted by Hermione Granger at 10:21 PM on September 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

And then what? If he wins, you lose out. If you win, he will consider himself to have been proved right...
posted by KateViolet at 10:26 PM on September 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm so stupid!!

Hey, you know what? He doesn't think he can win against you because you are the better candidate. Duh.

Saying this is icky race thing is his way of secretly sticking it to you and undermining your confidence, such that when you eventually do win, you might always wonder a bit if you only won because you're Asian.

Ha! Ha! He's funny. Laugh him off. Boy, he must be intimidated by your skills, though.

It's nice that you wanted to address this with him, but don't. You're being genuine. He's being the opposite (or the gossiper that repeated it to you is not genuine - hell, maybe both of them are being undermining?)

I hope you're picking up what I'm putting down. You can definitely let this one pass by without comment.
posted by jbenben at 10:45 PM on September 11, 2014 [11 favorites]

I appreciate your thoughts and desire to run for office fairly. It's his decision to run or not, and I do agree with others that it is not your burden to convince someone to run against you.

However, regardless of whether he decides to run or not, at some point, it would be worth pulling him aside (perhaps after the election) to address what you heard. Frame it in a non-accusatory way (e.g., "Hi friend, I heard through the grapevine you chose not to run because you thought you would lose based on race. Is this the case, and if so, could we talk about it?").

If what you heard was true, it's a great opportunity to have an honest and frank conversation about race and politics, as well as demonstrating that you truly care for your classmate by engaging in meaningful conversation that may push your and his identity development. Race plays a significant factor in our racist society and institutions. Rarely does white privilege understand what it means to live with the odds stacked against a person in nearly every aspect of one's life. This is only a small glimpse of the oppression people face daily. You being willing to be uncomfortable and act upon the sentiment in your question could very well enable him to think critically about the world in which we live and perhaps actively push against the status quo to build a fairer and just world.

I'm happy to chat via memail if you'd like. I get what you're feeling. Several years ago I probably would have chosen to stay silent, but today... Today is different. I've seen what silence has enabled, what champions we've lost or failed to foster because we didn't challenge our classmates and friends, and I've also seen the incredible leadership that has come about because of difficult and courageous conversations. Perhaps nothing will come of this, or perhaps things will ripple in change.
posted by sums at 10:46 PM on September 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Personally, I feel that there are two things here that you can't control. Firstly, you can't control who will or will not run for election, and the reasons why. Secondly, you can't control whether the members of organization will or will not vote primarily based on race.

What you can do, in my opinion, is to promise, and deliver on the promise, that you will be capable, fair, and be working for the interest of all members of the organization, regardless of race.
posted by applesurf at 10:54 PM on September 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Unless he specifically said something to you or publicly, he can do whatever he wants. You just focus on running whether he does or not. Hearing second-hand that he accused everyone of being racially biased and then confronting him about it does you no good. He'll believe whatever he believes and you can't convince him otherwise. And if you want to be the leader, I don't see why you'd beg him to oppose you either.
posted by AppleTurnover at 11:18 PM on September 11, 2014

Hi, I misspent my youth doing student politics and lost far more elections than ever I won. Here is my advice: do not do anything to convince your friend to run, as it is his business entirely. There is no angle in you whatsoever doing anything to influence him either way. In fact, if you talk him into running and he loses to you, he's likely to resent it---I certainly would.

A one-candidate race is just as 'fair' as a two- or multiple-candidate event. Really, it is. And as applesurf says you really have no idea how or why other people will vote; people cast their votes for the strangest reasons.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 11:58 PM on September 11, 2014

Being that your race would most likely impact being elected, even though it's wrong and unfair, I think he has the right to opt out. Racial bias is real and trying to convince him otherwise is patronizing. We all know it sucks, but it's real and not going anywhere soon.
posted by waving at 6:46 AM on September 12, 2014

A Caucasian classmate of mine who wants to run for the same position thinks that I'll get elected over him because of the group's demographic.

Is he right or wrong?

If he's right, then he's making a logical choice given the circumstances he's in, and that choice doesn't make him racist, or stupid, or anything else. It also doesn't reflect on you at all as an individual or as a candidate. And it certainly isn't a decision that should prompt an intervention from you or anyone else.

I really want to make it a fair competition and convince him that the group demographic should not benefit me in anyway because I have the same amount of interactions with them as he does.

You're right, it shouldn't. Life also doesn't always follow what should and what shouldn't.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 8:22 AM on September 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Is he better than you? Then drop out. Is he not? Then do nothing.
posted by IndigoJones at 1:46 PM on September 12, 2014

One thing about politics; you will never be able to please everyone. In particular, you will never be able to please your rivals. If you could, they would be your allies and not your opposition.

Trying to address this is a lose/lose situation for you. If he runs and wins, you lose out on a position that you want. If he runs and loses, he will feel like his claims of race-based voting have been proven, and will just be more embittered about it and towards you.

Don't worry about this. His insecurities and sour grapes are not your problem.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:14 PM on September 12, 2014

By giving up before even trying (as well as then sitting and whining about it to others), he has shown himself to have been the lesser candidate of you two.

Don't enable him by giving in to his pity party.

If he were a friend I'd probably tell him something like
"You know Paul, dropping out is your choice, but the reasoning you’re giving seems idiotic, insulting, and more than a bit racist."
...but you describe him as a "classmate", so it's not really your job to buy him an ice cream. Hopefully someday he’ll come across the Gretzky quote
"You miss 100% of the shots you don't take."
Try for the position, you would make a much better leader than he.
posted by blueberry at 11:17 PM on September 12, 2014

Outside of everyone's point that this is not your problem but his, let's not forget one thing.

First, you are not "Asian". You are either "Chinese" or "Indian" or "Singaporean" or "Vietnamese" or .... from some other country in Asia. The people from the countries are very different to simply lump everything together into one moniker "Asian".

That said, if the 70% in the organization are all from the same country, do you really believe your friend is at fault for fearing what he fears?

I am an "Asian" too, and I am no stranger to university organizations filled with "Asians."

People only admit its racism when it doesn't happen to oneself. For the caucasian friend, sure it is racism. But nobody among the 70% voting for you will think its racist at all. Sure, they might be voting for you because you are qualifed and genuinely deserve to win.

But let's face it. At a sub conscious level, there's always going to be some amount of racial bias you can't deny.

Maybe you can look into the organization's history? If the organization has always consisted of 70% or more "Asians" and the leader has always been a "Asian" for the past 4 times or so ... doesn't that just prove my point and your Caucasian friend's?

Anyway, my point is, irrespective of whether you are an "Asian" or otherwise, racial bias will exist. Especially among people who go abroad to study. People just feel more comfortable psychologically knowing the 'leader' is someone among 'them', someone who is likely to have faced the same struggles as themselves to have come to the university.

So .. in summary, yes there will be racial bias. No, it is not your problem but your caucasian friend's problem that he is afraid. If he wants let him fill up the organization with a bunch of his friend and get them to vote in his favor. Yes, if you win it will be because you genuinely deserved it but don't insult him by claiming there's absolutely no racial bias whatsoever. Accept it and get over it.
posted by the_hard_truth at 9:47 PM on September 14, 2014

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