Tufts University is a wonderful place. But that doesn’t mean that it is devoid of racial assumptions, inequalities and prejudices.
This is what exists on Tufts’ campus more than anything: micro-aggressions and indifference. Yes, race gets talked about, but it is not uncommon for these conversations to elicit eye rolling and sighs rather than genuine interest. Tufts likes to label itself as an open and welcoming environment, and students do not like it when you question this.
Racism, sexism, homophobia, ageism, classism, ethnocentrism, transphobia and more broadly xenophobia (to name a few) are all ingrained into our society. Unfortunately, this is not changing any time soon, which means these are all ingrained in us as well. Coming to Tufts, we all grew up in very different environments. It is human nature to be wary of anything new or foreign. I do not blame Tufts University students for having traces of racism ingrained within them. I blame students for denying its existence and not working to combat it.
Racism is a loaded word. Being labeled as a racist connotes a close-minded, unsympathetic individual. But racism can take on many less extreme forms. For example, in one of my classes, my professor (of course, white) was showing a picture of students eating and pointed out the Asian girl’s facial expression, explaining that Japanese are picky. He went on to talk briefly about Japanese culture, lessening the pointedness of the comment slightly, but to me it felt like the damage had already been done. Now, this may not cause anyone physical harm or lasting pain, but at that moment I was sure glad I was not a Japanese girl in that class. This type of comment can be argued to be harmless, but every assumption laid on an individual purely because of group membership (in this case, being Japanese) chips away at one’s right to individuality.
My argument: Micro-aggressions are far worse than overt racism. Overt racism is inherently obvious to those who experience it. We all know when someone says something that is clearly rooted in prejudice. We can argue against these, standing up for ourselves and for our friends. I will spare you the examples. Micro-aggressions, on the other hand, are different. They are the little things that at any given time may or may not be linked to race, class, religion, etc., and most likely are not done with hurtful intent. It is the job interview you get and the job that you are denied from. Is this because you have a white-sounding name and a not-so-white looking face, or is it just chance? It is the image that shows up on your Facebook feed which assert that Mac users are gay and the slew of comments implying that this is insulting to Mac users (wait, homophobia ALSO exists at Tufts?!). When you point out micro-aggressions you are labeled as too sensitive and told you are overreacting. You are made out to be experiencing paranoia when you know that not all of the jobs or apartments you are denied are purely because of your qualifications. There is something going on and no one else around you seems to be able to see. The little things are the most important. Because here is the thing with micro aggressions: one may not be perceived as all that hurtful. Nor two, nor ten. But micro-aggressions don’t come in ones or twos, they come in hundreds and thousands over years and years. One Tufts Meme may not be hurtful, but it is never just one.
I know it is impossible to always be watching what you say and always steer clear of anything that might be offensive. I know that it is even more impossible to void ourselves of the assumptions that have been ingrained in us since birth. As I stated earlier, I am not suggesting by any means that having prejudices makes you a bad person: It just makes you human. I have my own that I am working hard to combat. Accepting that you cannot control some of the prejudices that you may have unconsciously picked up, and that no matter what you do they to some degree may always be with you, allows conscious personal reflection and room for dialogue. When someone gets offended, just apologize and don’t do it again. Or, better yet, start a conversation about why your comment was hurtful.
For those of you that have never encountered prejudice against you, you are lucky. For those of you who have encountered it and have persevered, you are strong. For those of you who may have experienced it and say it is no big deal, I caution you, for words and actions all have a complex history, and what may not matter to you may be attached to an intricate web of hurt for another.
Kay Salwen is a senior majoring in biopsychiology.