Tell me the truth
Of course I attended the MLK Day assembly on
diversity today, a month and a half after Martin Luther King Day…
After the mixed reactions I witnessed on my way out of the room, it became obvious: this deserves a response. Read on for what we really should be talking about…
I went into the assembly today wondering how much of a fool I was going to turn out – Chris Lee interviewed me for this assembly some time ago.
The movie followed the status quo for every Diversity Day meeting: the quintessential I Have A Dream speech, followed by images of the Klan and various other displays of hatecrime, followed by student opinions. I was glad that they interspersed all our opinions; otherwise we would’ve all looked like fools for sure. And as usual, an expert panel discussion followed the movie, and then the assembly was opened up for opinions.
Reminiscent of the heated discussions we all had before the elections last November, a sizeable group of seniors went up to the two microphones to voice their opinions. And yes, we did hear from some people asserting that we’re making the issue of discrimination too big of a deal. And yes, we did hear the panel defend their position.
But also reminiscent of the pre-election debates, there was the occasional comment that proved insightful and thought-provoking.
We all were about to cover our faces when Steven Gunn excitedly strolled up to the microphone. But what he said had me on my seat: he confronted the panel, demanding to know why only racism had been covered; issues like “sexual minorities,” as he put it, were completely ignored.
And surprise! – Tom Hurley effectively shrugged Steven’s comments off. Repeatedly. Steven put it well as he walk back to his seat:
It’s nice to know I’m being ignored!
Oh sure, no one wants to whittle away their precious lunch period. But this is a topic that has to be addressed, whether or not it takes a second Diversity Day meeting.
Hands Across the Campus apparently chose not to cover other aspects of discrimination, instead to focus solely on racism. So we as a school have essentially agreed that only racism can be treated as a pressing issue, as an issue of any importance whatsoever.
C’mon. Tell me the truth.
How long will we as a school procrastinate? As Jim Montgomery rightly pointed out, racism is an old issue. It may still exist; it may still be a problem, but by playing the same song over and over again, we are not covering any new ground.
Do any of the upperclassmen reading this remember how, during our sophomore year, the school decided to address homophobia? And how the leaders of our rival schools – Moeller, Elder, et al. – one by one congratulated us on our effort? It wasn’t a mere PR game on their part; our “initiative” was something that others weren’t yet ready for.
How far have we gotten since that Spirit Day Mass? Nowhere. As a result, we’ve gone backwards. The underclassmen have no idea what we’re talking about, when we say that homophobia is a bad thing, in a very blasé way. They aren’t benefitting from any strong leadership in this area, either: we won’t talk about it anymore.
True, there is something to be said about tackling one issue at a time, to deal with it more effectively. But issues such as homophobia, sexism, ageism, and many other -isms affect our lives far more, and yet are discussed far less, at least with any degree of seriousness. That is the new frontier.
Even if we were to focus solely on the issue of racism… what is racism? We all know it’s not just a question of skin color; any racist feelings that I have tend to be more about lifestyle, not background.
Harjus Sethi stood up in front of the whole class today to tell us the harder truth: that racism isn’t the classic textbook topic that can be explained in all of two paragraphs and understood after simple review exercises. It’s not the ancient history that allows us to laugh at the guilty Southerners.
Racism exists in many insidious forms; it’s not just the thoughtcrime that can’t be totally erased. If that were the case, we wouldn’t be having an assembly today. Racism exists in the revenge we all wanted after the attacks on September 11th. It exists in the unwillingness to tolerate, to become numb to your aversions.
And most of all, it exists in the people-knows-people way of life here in Cincinnati. If you’re not one of us, you’ll never be one of us. You’ll never live with us. You’ll never do business with us. You’ll never be friends with us.
Maybe I didn’t state that as clearly as I wanted to during my interview. Like all of you, I’m not as prepared to talk about this as I should be. What I fool I am.