Reading Critically – A comment

A recent incident involving a tasteless, many are saying racist, poster found in a freshman residence hall has created quite a stir on the UMW campus.  This week’s edition of the University of Mary Washington school newspaper, The Bullett, included a letter from one of the residents of the building, whose associates were quoted extensively in the above-linked story, questioning the veracity of the article and the journalistic quality of the paper in general.

My biggest problem with this argument is that it assumes that people would not be angry if they new “the real story.”  It is true that most people would  like to know the real story, but that signifies that students, faculty, staff, and administrators here are reading the school newspaper with a critical eye, seeking facts and filtering out bias whereever they believe it is present.  There are likely those who take what they read at face value, and I will grant that this is an enormous mistake on their part.

Still, anyone reading a second- or third-hand account of anything in any journalistic piece should always keep their guard up.  Bias is everpresent, and whether you are reading The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, your local school newspaper, or my blog, you should only take at face value that which you can verify.  I will grant that at least one advantage of a well-established newspaper over a college newspaper is that much bias can be inferred directly by regularly reading the Op-Ed page.  Perhaps the unfortunate weakness of The Bullett is that its editorials rarely give us an eye onto the latent biases of the editorial staff, only comments on irrelevant matters of dubious value.  This does not, however, negate the truth of the basic facts of the case.  Mr. Bloom’s letter to the editor, while perhaps justified in some respects, does not deny that students printed out and posted a piece of paper in public with a smiling white man embracing a sobbing black man with the caption “Slavery Reinstated:  Get yourself a strong one,” and neither does it deny that the people responsible for the poster and their peers demonstrated a complete disregard for those who were understandably offended by it. 

Mr. Bloom, after critically reading the original story, your response, and the comments you and your peers have posted publicly online, it is still clear to me that the actions and comments of your friends were stupid, irresponsible, and latently racist in nature. 


4 Responses to “Reading Critically – A comment”

  1. Steve Says:

    My reading of Mr. Bloom’s letter, which was admittedly pretty cursory, suggested that he was simply arguing that all residents of Jefferson shouldn’t be tarred with the same brush. (Disclaimer: Bloom is one of my students and I think I know him pretty well.) My initial reaction to the events in question was that that if the Bullet article and quotations were correct, the students involved were stupid, insensitive and rude, which is probably not unique among first year students. The question I’m asking is absent the offensive poster, would we be accusing the students of racism, or just poor judgment?

  2. redbaiters Says:


    I think ‘latently racist’ is too forgiving a characterization. That poster is overtly racist, and as you point out in your response to Steve–they cannot hide behind the childish excuse that it was just a joke or we were having fun. They were making a statement and have targeted people whom they knew would be offended. I think the ramifications of such an act need to be felt acutely by these students and the campus at large. Laughing this off as a joke or downplaying it as a silly act of “children” is the most irresponsible way to handle this issue. Swift and severe justice would send the message that this community needs to have already put out there: no tolerance for acts of discrimination. Period!

  3. philosonomics Says:

    I am not in disagreement with you, Jim. I am curious, however, what you think would constitute swift and severe justice?

  4. Idetrorce Says:

    very interesting, but I don’t agree with you

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