The Student News Site of Wofford College

Old Gold & Black

Breaking News
  • Issue 10 Out Now!

Old Gold & Black

Old Gold & Black

Scott Kull: The new Director of Athletics
Abigail Taylor, Contributing Writer • April 16, 2024

Believe it or not, the founders are not really relevant to this conversation

By Joe James, Contributing Writer

Before we continue this correspondence on racism at Wofford College, I think some ground rules about the discourse needs to be established, or else the discussion will go all over the place and no longer be productive.  Namely: stay on topic, use facts, and at least try to not use an esoteric vocabulary that tests the readers’ patience when an “easy-read” alternative is available.  I request these parameters not to insult anyone’s intelligence, to “dumb-down” conversation, or because I can’t understand Mr. Stone’s points.  Rather, it’s come to my attention that many of my friends on both sides of this issue, who are passionate about its discussion, have almost lost confidence in the potential for this conversation due to the lack of clarity and “all over the place” nature of Mr. Stone’s writing.  If in the course of this exchange we drift away from the original point to flex our vocabulary muscles, talk about deeper philosophical concepts such as natural law, or just say things that are false, we’ve failed to actually initiate a campus conversation about racism at Wofford as it practically affects people’s lives.  If we want to start a conversation at Wofford about racism in which all people are heard and wrongful actions are changed or discouraged, we need to keep this conversation as accessible as possible.

Stone’s rebuttal is an ideal example of not staying on topic, projecting ones’ assumptions onto another’s claims, and being factually wrong.  Such a rebuttal demonstrates his biases and halts a continuing conversation.  Neither I nor anyone discussing racism on campus are making a single claim, philosophically or otherwise, about the merits of abolishing, amending, or otherwise changing the constitution.  Stone constantly brings up the constitution and the principles of the Founding Fathers as it is important to his argument.  He claims that “If we attempt to revise or reform the definition of its articles and amendments on the basis of power structures, the nature of our political thought may become so warped that we forget why we started in the first place: to add continuity to the aforementioned principles and escape tyranny.”  This claim is false.  Though pretending this claim is true may help Stone’s argument, it casts those who disagree with the specific principles outlined by Stone as “un-American.”  After all, if you love America and are proud to be an American, why would you disagree with the Founding Fathers or the foundation of what (supposedly) makes us a great nation? This much is implied by Stone, but in reality, those who disagree with him aren’t contradicting the principles of the Founding Fathers, they’re continuing the tradition of the Founders in ways those men could not understand, given their historical context.

For one, the Founding Fathers didn’t believe we should be enslaved to the constitution of 1789 forever; some such as Thomas Jefferson argued that we should have a constitutional convention every 20 years or so to create a new constitution.  Further, The Founding Fathers did care about power structures and believed that curtailing power structures was a way to curtail tyranny, establish domestic tranquility and secure liberty.  The constitution reflects a conscious effort to curtail the power structures the Founding Fathers were most marginalized by: autocratic rule by a monarch and unrepresentative legislatures.  There were still other power structures of racism, sexism, and classism among others at that time, but the reason those structures weren’t curtailed in the constitution wasn’t because doing so would contradict freedom, but because the victims of those structures had no political power or social power to successfully petition against such structures.  The Founding Fathers were socially biased against women, African Americans, and unlanded whites and thus institutionalized their biases in the constitution.  The Founding Fathers had no reason to think such structures were unjust; they benefited from them and thought they were natural.  One could go so far to suggest that the minimal proposition of allowing women or African Americans to vote would embody the sort of “radical egalitarianism” contradictory to the founding values of this country that Stone rants against.

Story continues below advertisement

Today, we realize that people who aren’t land-owning white men are people too, and we have to accommodate our social contract in order for it to maintain its legitimacy.  This means addressing different power structures that negatively affect different people.  Legally, this is attempted through the Reconstruction Amendments of the Constitution, as well as a number of other legislative measures passed by Congress since Reconstruction.  With that said, it’s important to understand that the era of racial discrimination is not over, and that discrimination is not perpetuated exclusively by our legal system, but by other social systems and power structures as well.  Though legal and social systems aren’t mutually exclusive arrangements, we can certainly promote a culture that identifies and discourages racism, while also condemning racism as morally wrong, without even touching the constitution, repealing free speech, and so on.

Having a conversation about racism at Wofford College must operate under that presumption, and those trying to raise awareness and start a conversation about racism on campus are operating under that presumption.  Unfortunately, those such as Stone refuse to participate or advance that conversation (outside of talking about the founders, as he is now) as those such as him do not hold that presumption.  Instead, Stone and those like him operate under an alternative presumption: that we should define tyranny synonymously to how 18th century aristocratic white men defined tyranny as it was defined or implied in the constitution.  Any deviations from that definition of tyranny, to Stone, is anathema to the values that made the United States great, even if it’s clear that many of the founders did not want their exact definition of tyranny established as the exclusive basis for law forever.

Unfortunately, this alternative presumption is dominant at Wofford, and as a result, many Wofford Students don’t see racism as it exists in the 21st century as a social ill worth fighting.  To those such as Stone, our founders did not define racism as a tyranny, and so we should not combat it; further, those such as Stone falsely believe any social attempt to combat racism necessarily contradicts American Values and entails the destruction of the constitution.  If they didn’t believe this, then why do they bring up the constitution and justify inaction against racist culture in constitutional terms, when the constitution isn’t relevant to the conversation at all? That mode of thinking is counterproductive to any conversation about racism, because it prevents a conversation from even happening.

To solve this, I suggest we turn the conversation to understanding how power structures influence our lives and behaviors here at Wofford.  I haven’t acknowledged Stone’s commentary on social power or power structures because he clearly does not understand how they work or any of the points I made at all.  For instance, Wofford is an academic institution of “high ideals” and a power structure; they aren’t mutually exclusive.  Though Stone has the right to talk about his experiences with racism, as a white man he certainly doesn’t have the life-experience of those who have experienced racism at Wofford.  He also lacks the jurisdiction to overrule the experiences of people of color as not happening or that the social backlash people feel for speaking out against campus culture as nonexistent.  Instead, we should have a productive conversation centered on listening, not invalidating, the lived-experiences of people of color at Wofford, such as the ones discussed in Jonathan and Savanny’s article.  If we want to defeat racism or any power structures that negatively affect different groups, we need to listen to those groups with open ears, open minds and open hearts.  That, and not a well-thought-out-yet-poorly-researched ideological critique of arguments no one is making, will advance the conversation at Wofford.

Donate to Old Gold & Black
$0
$500
Contributed
Our Goal

Your donation will support the student journalists of Wofford College. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
Donate to Old Gold & Black
$0
$500
Contributed
Our Goal