No one at this school is racist
Published: Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, March 14, 2012 09:03
As I’m sure most of you are aware, a group of students has spawned the “Tufts Memes.” The Tufts Memes page on Facebook has nearly 2,000 likes and a plethora of student−generated memes. My favorite so far has been the Dwight Schrute one about the school’s official colors.
But one post in particular has irked and offended some students at Tufts. This apparently offensive meme was a “vertical” of Leonardo DiCaprio and Cillian Murphy in “Inception” (2010). The entire point of the meme was to draw a comparison between a “cute girl at the Asian−American Center” and Leo’s face in the bottom panel. The punch line depends entirely on how you choose to interpret Leo’s face. The joke could have been interpreted to mean that Leo’s squished face and eyes looked “Asian” or that his look was one of skepticism and sent the message that “all Asians look the same.” The meme’s comment thread was filled with an apologetic Tufts Memes admin and offended students.
The meme was not intended to offend or hurt anyone. In my opinion, even regarding issues of race or culture, humor can be a very effective means of communication and opening a dialogue. I grew up as one of the only Jews in a rural area that has more than its fair share of ignorance and prejudices. I rode the bus to school with self−described neo−Nazis. A senior was kicked out of my high school for dressing as Hitler on Halloween. I knew that they knew I was Jewish. I knew that if I wanted to have a normal public school experience, then I needed to mitigate any bad feelings toward me because of my religion. The best way to clear the air and dispel those bad feelings between these “neo−Nazis” and myself was with humor. So we joked about Nazis and Jews and World War II. We probably said some things that others would find quite offensive. But the result of our shared laughter was that those kids never felt any desire to act on their prejudicial attitudes, whether those attitudes were genuine or only the result of an off−kilter sense of humor. I never felt persecuted. I never felt uncomfortable or threatened. I never felt subordinated, marginalized or oppressed. And I can honestly say that throughout high school and even to this day we were and are still on friendly terms.
But the offended students posting on the meme’s thread did not perceive any humor as such a joke. These students loudly and proudly point out that “these are the subtle things that make certain groups of people feel unwelcome and isolated on campus.” They argue that “they [are] currently located in a structure of racism that subordinates, marginalizes and oppresses them.”
Those are powerful words. To me, it seems that these people are genuinely upset about this picture and, more broadly, the racial culture on campus. But why? I can stand in the middle of the Academic Quad and look in any direction and see happy students from a variety of backgrounds that are fortunate enough to attend one of the most elite universities in the United States.
As a member of a minority group with a long history of facing prejudice, I almost feel guilty that I haven’t so publicly taken up the cause of persecuted minorities. But the reality of our diverse and happy community at Tufts is that Asian−Americans, Asian Asians, Indians, Muslims, African−Americans, Latinos, Hispanics, Africans, Jews, Israelis, Palestinians and everyone else all live and work in a kind of harmony that can’t be found in the real world. Gay pride flags hang from the windows of almost every dormitory and fraternity on our campus (something unheard of at a large number of universities in this country). We have a university administration that gives money and resources to campus groups focused on race, religion, gender and sex — money and resources that could be used to upgrade our aging academic facilities and dormitories.
Tufts University was first sold to me as an open−minded, forward−thinking institution that celebrates and encourages the individuality of its students. After I matriculated, that sales pitch was more than confirmed. I know that I will never encounter a more eclectic and welcoming group of people ever again. The Tufts student body has created an environment filled with outlets for any form of self−expression imaginable. Say what you will about the university itself and its lack of Africana studies or queer studies majors; this article is not meant as a critique of the university’s policies and academics.
Tufts is not the real world: It is an artificial, idealized microcosm that does a fantastic job of representing the wide variety of humanity’s manifestations. We Jumbos are here in our own little world, unburdened by ignorance and misunderstanding; we are a highly educated and informed group of people. Of course real racism and discrimination exists in the real world; no one can reasonably deny that. But jokes and memes are just superficial issues that aren’t worth the attention they’re currently receiving. When students make wild claims that the university is a “structure of racism,” they insult and slander the student body and disrespect the hard work and passion that students put into the activities and organizations that they participate in and care about. Getting up in arms about jokes on the Internet creates a divisive issue where one need not exist. It damages the community of acceptance and tolerance that I have come to know as Tufts University.