Mixed Review Torn between two races: complications of a mixed identity
Racial dialogue: tough but necessary
Mixed Review Double take: recognizing the power dynamics in daily interactions
mixed reviews Recognizing our prejudices will lead to progress
mixed reviews Finding compassion and forgiveness in disagreement
mixed reviews: Finding compassion and forgiveness in disagreement
I’d like to think of bigotry as misunderstanding, that people are prejudiced because it makes sense to them to be so. In my lifetime, I have come into contact with individuals whom I have avoided associating with because of their discriminatory views. I hope that this fog of bigoted expressions that surrounds these individuals hides a genuinely kind person. Perhaps behind closed doors or in select company ignorant people are kind, loving and maybe even fun to be around. They must simply make inappropriate and inaccurate distinctions of who is worthy of their character and who deserves their disregard. Hopefully, people are revealing the concentrated worst of themselves through such conduct. I completely endorse condemning of this side of people, but I want to believe in anyone and everyone’s potential to be a humane, loving and an overall good person. When people are being prejudiced, they aren’t being themselves, or at least not their best selves. Ideally, we have the freedom to see people for their best rather than their worst. Though it may be difficult to do so, we should make an effort to remember behind every angry and hateful facade is (likely) a confused but well-intentioned and caring person.
Now, to grant this benefit of the doubt is not to sympathize with the enemy—or the oppressor. It is to envision a future in which all people can live free of unnecessary social limitations, including those who were once confused about right and wrong. Forgiveness is a cornerstone of social progress, for without forgiveness one system of hatred is replaced by another. Criticism and punishment are important in order to discourage certain behaviors and identify them as unacceptable.
However, punishment without forgiveness becomes revenge. If there is no hope of people being forgiven, if there is no place in the future for the ignorant (note: not the ignorance), then there is no hope for their enlightenment. If we cannot give forgiveness and make space for these people in our envisioned future, then we have failed them just as those who perpetuate inequality have failed us.
This past year has been full of controversy. People are very divided on various issues. Healthy discussions between disagreeing parties are rare and tensions are high. Despite the multitude of divisions, people on all sides are working to address the issues they recognize as detrimental to society. This is a wonderful thing, for communities, especially diverse ones, should identify and eradicate behaviors and beliefs that cause unwarranted stress and harm to others. That being said, we must move forward in a more inclusive manner. The success in reaching each other is impeded by our unwillingness to forgive and our craving to punish. Many voiced concerns focus on who to blame or what crimes have been committed rather than how to move forward together as a community. Our expressions must be less spiteful and more constructive. We will not make any progress if we are constantly trying to humiliate those who disagree with us. If we are to ask others to be more considerate, kind and accepting, then we must remain so through the entirety of the process, even when we don’t think we should have to be.
Too often we focus on what we shouldn’t have to do. We stubbornly refuse to tend to problems that we did not create, recognizing it to be the responsibility of the offending party to find a resolution. This is understandable, but it is, in fact, counterproductive. If we are not willing to contribute to a solution, then nothing will get done. The communities in which we live are shared spaces, much like an apartment, making all of their residents somewhat like roommates. If one roommate makes a mess, everyone suffers. If the other roommates refuse to clean up after the perpetrator (who will not clean unless assisted), then the mess will remain and likely grow. It is reasonable to hold the mess-maker accountable for their actions, but to live in filth because we shouldn’t have to take care of it is foolish. We point fingers when something is wrong. This is fine, but it cannot stop there. In order to really go somewhere with the movements to evoke social change that we lead and support, we must find a way to forgive and rehabilitate those whom we perceive as misled.
Mixed Review: Double take: recognizing the power dynamics in daily interactions
In early January, my mother and I attended a “Drunk TED Talk” in Brooklyn, New York. The event sold more tickets than there were seats, so many of the attendants had to occupy whatever standing room they could find. For two friends this meant standing right in front of the seats I was reserving for myself and my mom, who, at the time, was at the bar. One of the women clearly did not notice that she was piling her belongings on top of my mom’s purse which I knew she would need to access again before the show began. When I tried to tell her, she abruptly cut me off and in a rather coarse manner said, “Relax, I’m not going to steal the seat,” before rolling her eyes as she turned back to her friend. This irked me, and in response I assertively retrieved the bag from underneath the stranger’s things, admittedly with the intention of conveying my displeasure. I am not sure what I expected to happen, but it turns out that all this did was escalate tensions between our two respective parties.
As the show began, I started to regret how I conducted myself. Yes, she was rude, but I did not need to resort to combative tactics to protect my mom’s purse. So at intermission, I decided to apologize for coming off so aggressively. I had pictured my apology to being reciprocated by this unfamiliar adversary, but it was not. She again was rude and rolled her eyes. Initially I thought, “Well, screw her, she is simply less mature than I am and frankly, I don’t really care if I’ve upset someone like that.” The more I thought about it, though, I realized my immediate reaction was unfair, which led me to two conclusions that I had previously not considered.
The first and more obvious is that the point of an apology is not to evoke a similar sense of remorse from the engaged person in order to relieve oneself from experiencing guilt and embarrassment. I should apologize only because I recognized that my behavior as inappropriate and that I could have acted in a more constructive manner.
The second conclusion was that this woman was operating in a sphere of concern that I was and am not. Many men have the tendency (though not always intentionally) to be not only creepy and intrusive in social settings such as the one we were in, but also aggressive, persistent and disruptive. It is not uncommon for men to engage women, often rather forcefully, in interactions they neither wanted nor welcomed. I know this to be true not only because I have been told, but also because I have both witnessed it and probably have been a part of it. Now, I sincerely had no alternative motive in this instance: my sole purpose of speaking to this complete stranger was to get my mother’s bag. However, her response, though I still believe it was unnecessary, was a (likely) understandable one considering the context. Her crudeness was quite possibly a reaction to a reality that she faces on a daily basis as a woman. In our world of normalized power dynamics, those who get the short end of the stick have the burden of interpreting behaviors as specifically inappropriate or not. Not every accusation of sexism or racism or homophobia is going to be accurate. That being said, it does make sense that such claims will be made.
For those of us who find themselves in the midst of these misunderstandings, it is important to take this into consideration in our pursuit of a solution. Additionally, we must really ask ourselves if these claims do not lack truth. Before getting defensive we should be reflective. Instead of being so quick to defend ourselves we should prioritize self assessment so as to make sure we are not guilty of unacceptable action. If we refrain from doing this, we may justify and thus perpetuate such behaviors. As the beneficiaries of power dynamics, it is anyone in a power position’s responsibility to hold ourselves and each other accountable for potentially taking advantage of our positions in any type of hierarchy. Making sure the world is comfortable for those not in positions of power is part of that responsibility.
mixed reviews: Recognizing our prejudices will lead to progress
This week I had planned on writing about the responsibilities of privileged persons. I wanted to share my opinion that those who are unaffected by discrimination, prejudice and unjust biases are obligated to focus their attention on both thoroughly understanding and dismantling these issues. For whatever reason I was struggling to translate these thoughts to paper. That’s when Ivy Elgarten ’19 saved the day.
For those of you who do not know Ivy, she is a white cisgender Bowdoin student in the Class of 2019. Frankly, she is wonderful and you should all get to know her. This Tuesday, Ivy posted a Facebook status where she admitted to once having attitudes toward certain groups of people that she now recognizes as inappropriate and misguided. She went on ask others who share her position to reflect and address their own inner biases as well. She took accountability for her actions and asked for others to do the same but only after leading by example.
What Ivy did in 751 characters is what we should aim for in dialogue and our overall pursuit of harmony. The purpose of addressing these types of issues should be to generate an understanding of a different perspectives. This often results in an understanding of previously misunderstood issues. We need the receptors of these messages to be as willing to be wrong as Ivy is. For that reason, I think we as a community should applaud Ivy and others like her who submit themselves to the purpose of progress.
However, it is important to recognize that we should not be celebrating Ivy. The only reason to applaud those who overcome their prejudices is because people are not naturally compelled to do so. Not being ignorant should be nothing less than normal. Unfortunately, things are not as they should be. We live in a world full of ignorant influences. As a result, many, if not all, of us hold biased beliefs. For these reasons being educated in this regard is special. This is not to say that people like Ivy deserve more attention and recognition than members of marginalized communities and participants in movements that direct their efforts toward issues of difference as well. We still need to recognize that the leaders of any type of progress are those who are overcoming an obstacle(s). That being said, a pat on the back will not undermine progress altogether.
Acknowledging Ivy’s deed as a good one only encourages further similar behavior. Hopefully, if in the fight against inequality and oppression we incorporate positive reinforcement, more will be accomplished. Now, these are obviously my opinions. I cannot tell others how they must handle those who are ignorant to their situation. I do not feel I have the right to tell anyone how they should or can react to unfair treatment. That being said I do believe inclusive behaviors are more productive than exclusive practices in the grand scheme of things.
Mixed Review: Torn between two races: complications of a mixed identity
Racial dialogue: tough but necessary
At first I was very reluctant to write this column. In our current environment of confusion and discord regarding racial matters, sharing my opinions could compromise relationships with classmates, especially because I play basketball for Bowdoin. Getting along with your teammates is essential in every sport; unity and uniformity are usually recognized as positives. But on the Bowdoin College Men’s Basketball team, I am one of only two students of color and the only African-American. While I don’t necessarily feel culturally isolated, I do recognize that my experience, exposure and connection to various communities and cultures may be very different from many of my teammates’. Therefore our sympathies and opinions may differ as well. Race is such a sensitive topic that a simple disagreement could lead to an awkward locker room environment. I’d rather not be in an uncomfortable situation all year long, so I decided it was best to just keep my insights to myself. However, in hindsight, the decision I made to be mute indicated that I in fact had to share my opinions. Because I was so afraid of the consequences of the conversations I was avoiding, I was also preventing discussions that are necessary for progress. If we are not at a point where we can comfortably have a conversation about race—a subject that when not properly understood has historically led to severe conflict—then we are not where we need to be. The only way to make it to that point is to start getting comfortable talking about it, even when the conversation is difficult.
There are ways to have civil discussions about race and many people do, but it requires compliance by all parties involved. This summer a coworker and I had an extensive conversation about “Black Lives Matter.” We heavily disagreed on a majority of points presented and he even said a few things I perceived as rather offensive, but I didn’t revolt because I knew he wasn’t trying to be. All he wanted to do was explain how and why he came to the conclusions that he did. So I listened, and then he did the same for me. At the end of our talk there was no feeling of relief for making it through another discussion about race alive; the stress wasn’t there. We understood each other’s perspectives better and we actually made progress, not because we agreed, but because we allowed each other to explain our competing thoughts in depth. I have no sympathy for bigotry, but I do find it problematic that many people are afraid to express themselves. Prejudice and other forms of unwarranted bias are not to be tolerated, but if we can’t identify these issues (because we force them into hiding) then how do we expect to address them? If we can’t or simply refuse to listen to those who disagree with us, then how do we expect them to listen to us? Instead of having heated racial debates, we should aim for constructive racial dialogues. This is not a competition. There is not one winner or loser but rather group (all of us) success or group failure. It is a simple concept, but it is one that we can’t seem to grasp.
This past year we witnessed the reassertion of racial tension all over the country and even here on campus. We were poor communicators to say the least, but more specifically, poor listeners. If we as a community can be more mature about how we approach controversial topics such as race, the increased dialogue can have a positive impact on our growth as a community. However, if we fail to have the necessary discussion in an appropriate manner then we will continue to create barriers between us, especially social ones. It is in the best interest of not only each other and ourselves, but also in that of our education, for us to make it a priority to get comfortable talking about race.
Harrison Dunne-Polite is a member of the Class of 2019.