Race is one of those things that immediately causes most people to take a position. We have all grown up in a world that is still struggling with racial equality and we have all been exposed to the racial profiling that took place after 9/11. Outwardly, we all recognize that it is no longer PC to call someone by a racial slur or to discriminate in an overt manner—and this is where we begin to enter dangerous territory.
Many of my students have grown up in an environment that shuns racism; we all profess to believe in equality. We think the lack of lynch mobs or ethnic cleansing in our surroundings means that we’ve somehow moved past all of this. But we still have Minute Men, we still have genocide, we still have the KKK, and we still have people dragged behind pickup trucks with their faces melting against asphalt. We exist in a country that is becoming more polarized than ever and it is frankly a little frightening. We are learning to turn our backs on each other and form communities that ascribe to the same beliefs that we do.
Racial issues affect all of you.
If you think that this statement is untrue, look at the world around you. Think about your place in your community and the niche that is carved out for you by others. Where does society tell you that you can exist? What is it safe for you to be? How much of this is determined by your physical features?
On a related note, the concept of Affirmative Action was explored by Thursday’s session—something that I happen to know a little about. Some students voiced concerns over the practice while others stated that they did not support it. Let me start off by saying that I get where these students were coming from as I was no different in college. Like it or not, however, all of you have been affected by Affirmative Action. USC as an institution values diversity and practices Affirmative Action; the term, however, does not mean what most people assume it to. In our eyes, Affirmative Action is about providing equity and access to education. You might think that such programs lend a helping hand to indigents at the expense of “more qualified” individuals; I would challenge you, however, to think about what makes one student more qualified. Is it test scores? Is it GPA? Is it the fact that you went to a fancy prep school and deserve to be at USC? Do you think that this somehow makes you better than someone else?
Now think about how many other people are just like you.
Affirmative Action aims to recognize the strengths that different individuals can bring to the table. Do Latinos and Blacks who have had to struggle to finish high school have a different perspective on the world than Asians (who might have benefited from positive aspects of the Model Minority myth)? Do these students see things in a way that you don’t? Is there a benefit to interacting with them and learning how other people think?
Affirmative Action doesn’t just apply to Blacks and Latinos, however. Are you Southeast Asian? Are you first generation? Are you from a low socioeconomic class? Did you have to work in high school to help your family? Are you from a state that does not typically send a lot of students to USC? Are you from a minority religion? Do you hold atypical political beliefs? Are you a female interested in Math or Science? Are you a male interested in Communication? If any of the above are true, then you have benefitted from the type of thinking that supports Affirmative Action.
Moreover, you all benefit from the diversity that Affirmative Action creates. The depth of experiences that you have at USC is in part due to the voices that we bring in. Every student has value.
And, to turn things a bit, if you think that Affirmative Action is wrong, let’s think about football. Many of the students on the team were individuals who may have scored lower than you on SATs or received lower GPAs. Why aren’t as many people upset that these “lesser qualified” people were admitted? Is it because you enjoy going to football games? Do you only extract value from people when it suits you? My point is that the entire USC community benefits from the presence of gifted athletes (who manage to graduate just fine, by the way) and that these individuals—analogous to ethnic minorities—can bring something invaluable to the table.
I think that the reaction against Affirmative Action stems from fear: we instinctively lash out in order to protect ourselves when we feel threatened by the encroachment of undesirables. We want to secure our hard-earned victories and may feel that our achievement are cheapened by the acceptance of people whom we do not respect.
Fight to see the similarities that you have with others; fight to see their worth. Think about how important it is for other people to see you and fight to feel the same way about others. Fight against the indoctrination that you’ve suffered for so long that has engrained these patterns of thinking into your minds. Fight the urge to think that you’re more important than you are. Fight the need to feel comfortable and fight the urge to judge. Fight for your life and fight for your life to be the way that it should be. Fight to understand the things that we’ve been talking about this semester; fight to find meaning in our discussions. Fight to make the world better for your children, for your friends, and for yourself. Fight for people who don’t have a voice. Fight in whatever way you can…but just fight.
It has been my pleasure to work with you this semester and there’s no real way to convey how hopeful I am that this will be a turning point in your lives. I don’t expect that you’ll all become crusaders for API rights (nor should you feel compelled to), but I do hope that we’ve been able to get you to see things for the first time or to feel empowered to make change happen. Take the critical thinking skills that you’ve learned from CIRCLE and go out and find your cause. We’ve got a long way to go, but you’ve already taken the first steps.
The sun wasn’t doing anything to help things. Sweat began to pool under my collar, causing an unbearable urge to scratch—made worse by the fact that I couldn’t move a muscle. I stamped my foot in frustration as the word escaped my lips.
To be honest, it was the first thing that I thought of. I stood there, watching my classmate crumple in front of me as tears began to well in her eyes. This, I think, was when I committed my first hate crime.
I was seven.
I’m neither particularly proud of this moment nor ashamed of what happened. I don’t view myself as exceptionally racist, but I recognize my biases. This story is important to me because it reminds me that we are all capable of committing hate crimes—these are not things that are just perpetuated by other people. I can recall the way that I felt on that day in second grade and I realize that people engaging in these heinous acts must feel something similar. This is not to say that any amount of prejudice is acceptable, but I think that it is important to be just as hard on ourselves as we are on others.
In my last post, I talked a bit about power and I think that some of the same ideas apply to this week. This time, however, it’s personal. How do we react to our perceived loss of power? What do we do when we’re up against a wall? When we’re strung out and broken? When we think that there’s a demon inside of us? What do we look like when we’re grasping at straws? We’ll use anything, and everything, that we can to try get back to where we once were. Calling to mind scenes from True Blood, it’s Tara throwing things off of the mantle to make herself feel better, it’s Jason willing to dance on a webcam, it’s Lettie Mae pulling her cards out left and right. There’s so much in the show about possession, and drawing lines, and standing your ground. Who has the power? Who wants it? Who needs it? Who doesn’t have it? Who merely feels like he doesn’t have it?
Recall the idea of “the Other,” as well: power is all about the “haves” and the “have nots.” It’s about the fear that stems from feeling powerless and misusing power. It’s personifying the fear that we have into characters that we can relate to, and, more importantly, name.
Shows like this, or Battlestar Gallactica, are interesting in our post-9/11 world because they are so much about the powerless striking out in fear against those who they think can harm them. It’s weird to me, because I don’t think people become terrorists (or individuals who commit hate crimes) unless they feel like they are backed against a wall and don’t have much to lose. Terrorism is the language of the oppressed, of the beaten down, and of the people who are desperate to regain a semblance of power and control. Our fear of those who we perceive as more powerful is one of those dirty things that we don’t like to think about because I think it makes us too similar to “terrorists.” There’s certainly the whole X-Men/mutant thing where we see people with powers vs. people without them but it’s the same story over and over with different characters and us playing different roles. It’s no wonder that we respond to these sorts of stories when so much of our history has been a power struggle over various things—perhaps we’ve been programmed to identify with this concept.