Culture

Oxford University: Avoiding Eye Contact Is Racist

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Making eye contact is something that many people still struggle with — and they struggle with it for many reasons other than racism.

According to Oxford University’s Equality and Diversity Unit, not making eye contact and “not speaking directly” to people are examples of racism.

The Telegraph newspaper reports that Oxford has informed students that these things can be examples of “racial micro-aggression,” which can cause “mental ill-health.”

Other examples of “everyday racism” listed on the guide included asking people where they were “originally” from and making jokes related to a person’s accent, according to Oxford Mail.

Make no mistake about it: It’s definitely better to make eye contact with people when you’re talking to them. After all, I’m pretty sure that no interviewer has ever said, “Gee, I really liked how much that one candidate kept staring at the floor while telling me why she was perfect for the job.” And I’ve never heard a girl say, “He always stares at the wall when he tells me he loves me, and that’s how I know that it’s real.”

We all know that making eye contact is better, but it’s something that many people still struggle with — and they struggle with it for many reasons other than racism. Some people are shy and unsure of themselves. Often, what causes people to look at the floor when they’re speaking to someone is not a lack of respect for the person that they’re speaking to, but a lack of respect for themselves. It’s a sign that they don’t have confidence in themselves or their ideas. Is making these kinds of people afraid that they are going to be accused of racism as well as rudeness going to make these situations more comfortable for them? No, I’d say that it probably won’t.

There are certain behaviors that undoubtedly are socially desirable, and the ability to make direct eye contact certainly is one of them. It’s a good thing to emphasize to college students how important eye contact is. I don’t, however, see a single good thing about trying to make it a racial issue. Eye contact is always beneficial, regardless of the race of the people involved. The advice to students shouldn’t be “Make sure you’re making eye contact with people who are of a different race than you, because if you don’t, that comes off as racist”; it should be “Make sure you’re making eye contact with everyone, regardless of race, because if you don’t, that comes off as rude.”

Sometimes, people are rude to people from minority races because they’re racist — but that doesn’t mean that every, or even most, incidents of rudeness against people who happen to be from minority races are automatically racially motivated. Talking to someone who won’t look at you is an experience that everyone in the world has had, regardless of race, and arbitrarily assigning racial motivations to something so universal isn’t going to help anyone.

— Katherine Timpf is a reporter for National Review Online.

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