For those of you who didn’t know, or for those of you who forgot, this month is Black History Month. While contemplating what I would do in commemoration of this month, I stumbled across a dilemma, a dilemma that is prevalent all over this campus: People just don’t want to discuss racism. Even though at this university and in this newspaper we tackle an assortment of issues that include sex, sports, religion, politics, partying and education with a great deal of openness, tolerance and regularity, the subject of racism is almost taboo.

The fact that our student body is open to discussing, debating and laughing about almost every other conceivable topic except for racism will always remain an enigma to me. Maybe it is because people fear that discussions of racism almost always have to conclude with someone being declared a racist. Or perhaps it is because people are afraid of breaking the status quo and acquiring a reputation as the person who dared to discuss racism publicly. These methods of thinking, however, should drive – and have driven – some of us students to want to discuss racism even more.

Anyway, once I had decided to generate some discussion by writing an article on racism, another problem abruptly emerged: What exactly would I discuss? Would I write on racism as a possible factor in the Katrina response, as “Race Relations Unjustly Questioned in Katrina Aftermath” (Daily Nexus, Jan. 17, 2006) and “Exposed Racist Infrastructure” (Daily Nexus, Jan. 19, 2006) both attempted to do? Or would I expand on “Polish Up Black Politics” (Daily Nexus, Feb. 9, 2006), addressing possible racism in politics. I also had the option of going completely controversial off the bat, pushing hot buttons instead of intriguing minds, by addressing the recent dismissal of the Nexus columnist who wrote an article with a potentially offensive title. Further reflection on these articles and on the dismissal of that Nexus columnist, however, demonstrated to me that the issue concerning racism that is most pressing on this campus, and in this country – which happens to influence all the debates we have on this topic – is our definition of racism and, therefore, of people who are racist.

Since I arrived on this campus in September of 2004, I have called a relatively high number of people racists and the most consistent response I have received from others when I characterize people as racist continues to be a question about the accused individual’s possible interactions with persons of a particular race. More specifically, I get asked, “What if that person has an African-American, Asian, Hispanic, white … friend?” And after being asked this question repeatedly, I finally inferred that, for too many of my brethren, the litmus test for determining if a person is racist is looking at an individual’s ability to interact with the individuals of a certain race. My rebuttal to this logic has always been, “Racism shapes interaction; it doesn’t have to preclude it. It may shape it so that it precludes it, but, again, it does not have to preclude it.” In other words, the test for if an individual is racist or not should be looking at how they interact with people of a certain race and how that interaction is shaped by race, as opposed to whether or not they interact with the individuals, period. We use this logic in how we generally define people who are sexist in our society – people who allow gender to shape their interactions with others.

The point of expanding our definitions of racism and of being racist is not to prove me right, as good as that would feel, nor is it to create a system where we can declare people racist beyond a reasonable doubt, because those are unattainable goals.

Racism is, and always will be, a subjective concept – something that is believed to be in the “eye of the beholder.” It is the “eye of the beholder” part, however, that is the rationale behind expanding our definitions of racism and of being racist. Searching for mere interaction with our eyes isn’t a sufficient enough test for racism, which forces us to start thinking about how that interaction is shaped with our minds. And, in case we have all forgotten, that is what we are all here for: To think with our minds.

Lance Aduba is a sophomore political science major.