“Now THAT’s not racism. Why do you murderous honkies have so much trouble understanding this?”
A roommate-wanted notice posted on Facebook by a Pitzer College student has turned into yet another racial controversy. The student, along with two Pomona College students, were seeking a fourth to join them in an off-campus house. The notice included “POC only” –person of color only—and this got them immediately called out as racists by some other students.
The ad is not racist. The text reflects a bias, as in “preference,” but that isn’t necessarily racism. Everyone has freedom of association in this country, or should. Human beings are more comfortable with those whom they perceive as being more like them. There is nothing wrong with that, but even if there is, it is human nature. There is nothing to be done about it, and there shouldn’t be anything done about it other than to help each other understand that tribalism is divisive and a pre-programmed bias that we should fight, because getting past it makes us better neighbors, members of society and human beings.
Still, I don’t want to live with someone who doesn’t want to live with me, but who is going to accept me into a living situation based on a feeling of obligation. A house seeking someone else to share the rent isn’t a public accommodation, and there is no ethical principle demanding that the roommates can’t or shouldn’t specify the kind of individual they think would best complete the group. What if the other three are all white, and are seeking someone different from them to make the house more diverse? Is it equally offensive if the ad sought an athlete, or someone overweight (who wouldn’t make the three hefty roomies feel unattractive), or a good student, or an actor, or someone with a good sense of humor? Why? Such requirements are not a per se indication of anything but personal preferences, and personal preferences aren’t racism.
Is the “POC only” addendum unethical? Technically, it fails Kant’s “what if everybody does it?” test, for if everybody did it, white students would have nowhere to live. There you have an example of where Kant’s Rule of Universality is worth musing about but often isn’t applicable. Some conduct is ethical despite Kant because the idea that it would become universal is too ridiculous. I want to live with a baseball fan. I don’t want to live with someone who is going to be listening to punk rock. If three roommates can look for a female fourth, or a gay fourth, or a Spanish-speaking fourth—and they can without nicking any ethics principles at all—then they can insist on racial or ethnic qualifications too.
Is it better ethics to be accepting of all equally? Sure it is. But not exhibiting exemplary ethics isn’t unethical. Again, it’s just human.
There is more to the story however. When some students commented on Facebook that the notice was racist, the replies from the students posting it and others expanded the controversy.
The Claremont Independent, a student paper that covers all five of the Claremont colleges (as well as two graduate schools), of which Pitzer is a member, published some of the comments, and they show the anti-white animus and double standards now roiling race relations in the U.S. Continue reading