Lightheated atmosphere takes away from serious issues
I remember the first time I went to a “diversity” assembly at school; the speaker talked about masks and how everyone sometimes hides behind one because of others. I was in 7th grade, and even then, words like “acceptance” and “appreciation” were thrown around like candy. To this day I’m not really sure what celebrating “diversity” means. I get it, we’re all different and everyone has the right to flaunt what they have. However, am I supposed to throw my hands in the air and celebrate that racism exists and the world is a horrible place?
Now that I’m older and more perceptive of the world around me, I have to admit that I was not moved by the First Year Residential Experience diversity speaker Maura Cullen. While much of the rhetoric of the lecture was supplemented with interactive activities and magic tricks creating a lighthearted atmosphere, I couldn’t help but feel that having fun overshadowed the seriousness and importance of talking about race and discrimination candidly.
She wasn’t serious enough? I mean, prejudice matters and the way that we approach talking about prejudice affects how we deal with it. People are more than the binaries they represent, and generalizing them for the sake of illustrating the concept of equality as Cullen did, should not be acceptable. Imagining that you are the only white person in a predominately black school who is taking classes in “white history” as a way to illustrate the struggle of black Americans on college campuses seems a bit extreme to me. But it begs the question as to why we need to be put through such exaggerated situations to empathise with our peers in the first place.
The bottom line is, sugar-coating racism and discrimination so that it is more palatable and understandable for others who do not have to deal with it on a daily basis is egregious, if not offensive, to those who are forced to live with the consequences of intolerance and prejudice.
No matter how you look at it, oversimplifying people’s troubles does not do anyone any good; it perpetuates negative stereotypes, gives people a false sense of understanding and, most of all, silences the voices of those that need to be heard. We need to recognize that everybody deserves human dignity, and we need to choose not to engage in the same identity politics that have been fragmenting our society for years.
Cullen adamantly believes in the philosophy that being accommodating and overtly celebrating the differences of others can serve as a solution for intolerance and prejudice. However that ideology, is questionably ineffective.
Complex problems can only be solved with complex solutions. Gender bias, transphobia, racism and wealth inequality are not issues that will go away simply because we acknowledge they exist.
How many people celebrate Black History Month? Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month? Domestic Violence Awareness Month? Have these “cultural holidays” contributed to the disintegration of preconceived notions about each respective marginalized group?
While considerate and accommodating, such celebrations of diversity fall short of eliminating prejudice and narrow-mindedness because if they did work, there wouldn’t be a need for diversity speakers.
And so the question we all need to ask ourselves now is: Can we reach equality through acknowledgement or is there something else missing?
Today, obvious, overt racism and bias has evolved to latent insensitivity, making it harder to recognize and dissect prejudice all together. Hence, the need to have serious conversations about the world around us is not only important but also necessary.
Saying that a person only got accepted into a university because of the color of his skin or the fact that she is attracted to girls is not stupidity or ignorance. It is based more on hostility and malice — instead of being based on character, intellect and personality — because of what we have been socialized to believe and then internalized to be true.
Today we are so afraid to cause offense or pain when stereotypical ideas come to mind that we keep these thoughts hidden, instead of taking action against them. The tension that comes from minority/majority relations is largely due to miscommunication and creating unnecessary barriers that inhibit connection. Therefore, we need to have authentic discussion about what problems people are facing and what society can do to help, rather than an end-all-be-all assembly about masks and mindfulness, with a corny sprinkling of magic tricks and short-sighted jokes.
Michele Hau is a freshman culture and communication major who isn’t afraid to speak her mind. Email her at [email protected]