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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.

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powderhaus
Thu Mar 29 2012 22:56
The Butthurt Brigade has clearly arrived: I suppose they needed something to shout at us about this semester. This might as well be it. Enjoy being yelled at, Sammy!
xJumbo
Wed Mar 21 2012 00:35
This might shock you too but in junior high, I was the receiving end of many racial jokes by Jewish people. Of course I had many Jewish friends too (living in a mostly Jewish neighborhood). I always held my head high. We can still make progress.
xJumbo
Wed Mar 21 2012 00:32
I'm sorry but you may be a bit naive. Racism is institutionalized at Tufts. Just look who's the President and who's on our teams. The sad part is that many of today's students assume that accepting a black president, being civil and able to smile at a different person makes them not a racist. But it simply hides their thoughts and subtle biases. What happens when you leave a classroom full of students of color? Do you make friends with them? Eat dinner with them? I have met plenty of racism here and often it's denied. The administration pushing diversity isn't the solution as it equates racism with other discrimination. I'm not saying being unfair to handicapped people or being sexist is any better but many of the worst crimes in history were with racism and ethnic (national) differences. To trivialize it or group it with other wrongs doesn't do the civil rights movement justice. Even today at our best institutions we see for example at Yale, the chanting of rape by pledges only 1.5 years ago. I've seen a group of Tufts students accuse Hispanic students of cheating. Jeremy Lin was overlooked by NBA scouts. Even some administrators here have racial ideas (I tried to do something but was met with resistance and denial). Rather as a person of color, I learn to live with ignorance and racism and work twice as hard to get past it. Criminals are smart people since they have to deceive others and avoid the law. On the other hand, smart people are better equipped to make fair and just decisions. So everyone can make a choice. To make fair judgments every day requires a conscious effort. It's not easy but we need to realize that we all have biases that we need to not use to judge others. That is the first step in eliminating racism. Life isn't fair and we need to realize that first.
irenerich
Fri Mar 16 2012 19:10
"If you disagree with me you should be educated until you do agree." Oh I get it now. I love acceptance and diversity.
LB09
Fri Mar 16 2012 01:02
Have you read "Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack" by Peggy McIntosh? Do that. You must understand that it is a privilege for you as a white male to not see racism! Until you begin to understand the perspective of other people who may have different experiences than you as a result of your being a member of the majority group, you may not see another reality. Jewish people have a unique culture, but phenotypically often "pass" as what society considers "white". Therefore your day to day interactions may not be tainted with hints of oppression but that does not mean this is true for everyone. Just because there are friendly interactions among students of different races, which is a great result of uniting on this campus, does not mean that "there is no racism". I was a member of the Bias Education and Awareness Team for 2 years, we studied the results of the anonymous online reporting system for incidents of intolerance. Believe me, there is racism at Tufts, on campus, every day. There were reports about comments that were said "as a joke". That information is available to the student body, I believe, go look it up. Attend a meeting of the Black mens group or the Latino mens group. Try to step outside of your own lens, you will learn a lot.
LB09
Thu Mar 15 2012 16:05
Have you read "Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack" by Peggy McIntosh? Do that. You must understand that it is a privilege for you as a white male to not see racism! Until you begin to understand the perspective of other people who may have different experiences than you as a result of your being a member of the majority group, you may not see another reality. Jewish people have a unique culture, but phenotypically often "pass" as what society considers "white". Therefore your day to day interactions may not be tainted with hints of oppression but that does not mean this is true for everyone. Just because there are friendly interactions among students of different races, which is a great result of uniting on this campus, does not mean that "there is no racism". I was a member of the Bias Education and Awareness Team for 2 years, we studied the results of the anonymous online reporting system for incidents of intolerance. Believe me, there is racism at Tufts, on campus, every day. There were reports about comments that were said "as a joke". That information is available to the student body, I believe, go look it up. Attend a meeting of the Black mens group or the Latino mens group. Try to step outside of your own lens, you will learn a lot.
irenerich
Wed Mar 14 2012 19:30
The joke in question was probably rude but the resulting level of outrage is only possible on a comfortable, privileged, incredibly free campus. The Tufts campus has to go through these outrage convulsions roughly once a semester. It's a catharsis made necessary by the persecution complex referred to in the article. Once everyone has gotten to use their cool racism jargon, the storm passes.

The comments on this article are disturbing. Hysterical finger pointing is a great way to create a culture in which students are too scared to express opinions lest they get called the dreaded R word (rhymes with schmacist). Calls for the author to "educate himself" are inane. He is expressing an opinion.

"The populist authoritarianism that is the downside of political correctness means that anyone, sometimes it seems like everyone, can proclaim their grief and have it acknowledged. The victim culture, every sufferer grasping for their own Holocaust, ensures that anyone who feels offended can call for moderation, for dilution, and in the end, as is all too often the case, for censorship. And censorship, that by-product of fear - stemming as it does not from some positive agenda, but from the desire to escape our own terrors and superstitions by imposing them on others - must surely be resisted." ~Jonathon Green

kohara01
Wed Mar 14 2012 18:23
As a white female who is currently studying some of the issues surrounding race, this article really emphasizes for me the important of education and open discussion about race on campus. Society has a tendency to shy away from discussing race. Many whites assert that we are in a "post racial" society because, for example, we have a black president. The fact of the matter is that this just isn't true. Racism is a deeply engrained part of American society, so much so that it can be hard to see, especially if you are in the dominant (aka white) position. Yes, there is a history of prejudice against Jews but racism is different- it is not just prejudice but also power. Many whites shy away from acknowledging that we have this privilege because it is hard to accept that we are in the position of the oppressor, intentionally or not.

I didn't just know about the conditions surrounding institutional racism and white privilege in this country, I had to be taught them. I'm currently taking Race in America and so far it has been the most valuable course I've taken here. A lot of people on campus probably feel similarly to the author of this article. I'm not sure I would have disagreed with all of it before taking this course. That's why it's so important for people to educate themselves about these issues and be able to enter a conversation about race from an educated position. I hope this op-ed opens the door to more productive conversations about race on campus.

Worstanswerpossible
Wed Mar 14 2012 18:13
I bet everyone who commented on this op-ed is Jewish. Always need something to complain about.
Worstanswerpossible
Wed Mar 14 2012 18:06
Are these comments real or all just trolling? Loved the article, get out of my brain. Anyways, I wish these crazies spent half as much time as they spent complaining about Tufts, which is the most open and accepting campus possible and spent more time talking about real racism, and institutions and structures (or whatever ridiculous jargon they used) of racism like Santorum 2012.

PS: Pretty hilarious to see someone feel the need to write out the www. on a web address.

the_glitterati
Wed Mar 14 2012 16:47
Is this a joke? Why did you call the article "No one at this school is racist"? Do you know what www.reddit.com is? I have so many questions.
alumni2010
Wed Mar 14 2012 16:39
the headline of this op-ed is idiotic and factually untrue. that being said, i think we are all aware of a culture of victimization at tufts. that does not mean there isn't racism/sexism/ignorance, but it does get blown out of proportion at times. this kid's op-ed is terrible and just simply incorrect, but that doesn't mean the issues of false victim-hood doesn't exist. it does, and it makes it that much harder for those students who truly do have difficulties relating to racism and ignorance to raise their valid points without being thrown in with those who have a false sense of indignation.

on another note - does the author realize what a neo-nazi is? i SINCERELY doubt that his school would have turned a blind eye if ACTUAL neo-nazis were riding his school bus. "ignorant kids making jewish jokes" do not equal neo-nazi's. neo-nazis would have beat the crap out of him without a second thought.

thinkbeforeyouspeak
Wed Mar 14 2012 16:08
You absolutely cannot speak for, nor make such a tremendously privileged statement regarding such a highly charged topic as race relations on this campus if you have not done your research. Microaggressions occur. Divisive, blatantly racist incidents have occurred. Fun facts: it is still in the memories of some members of the class of 2012 when incidents such as the KSA bias incident occurred in 2009. Of hearing upperclassmen speak of a highly racist Christmas Carol mocking the acceptance of African-Americans to this school in 2006. Don't know what I'm speaking of? Google it. Speak to those who react to what you perceive as jokes find out why they are upset. Learn about the constructs of privilege and power. And educate yourself on how some communities in this "little world, unburdened by ignorance and misunderstanding" simply do not have the luxury nor patience to tolerate microaggressions without reaction on this campus.
s2012
Wed Mar 14 2012 15:46
Say on your bus with neo-nazis there was a fellow jewish student. He can overhear the jokes you made with the neo-nazis, maybe he gets uncomfortable, maybe not, but you don't know because he doesn't talk about it or he never mentions it. But then, one day, the neo-nazis start making those offensive comments to him, jokingly. He does not respond back. They egg him on a little more. Nothing overtly hostile, nothing physical, but definitely uncomfortable for him. He's quiet the entire time. It's awkward busride until the busdriver tells them to stop. Later that day the bus driver reports the neonazis to the administrators as bus policy states when there is a hostile (though in this case, not overtly) environment.

The next day, the neo-nazis don't bother the other jewish student. You guys continue with your normal schoolbust banter. Then they bring up to you the fact that they got in trouble by the school. Why couldn't he be like you, who just laughs it off?, they say. You agree that it wouldn't have been awkward or uncomfortable if the fellow jewish student just laughed along.

Then they ask you, "It's that jewish kid's fault that we got in trouble, right?"

What do *you* say? I assume you say no, it is their (the neo nazi's) fault for their comments, the fellow jewish kid *literally* didn't do anything, right? Again, the bus driver reported them because of protocol. Not the fellow jewish student's fault here. So lets take it a step back. What if the bus driver didn't report them because this all happened at the back of the bus, where the bus driver couldn't see/hear? The fellow jewish student, instead, reported them for the hostile environment. In this case we can agree that the fellow jewish student is at direct fault for the neo nazi's punishment. Now, was it justified? The bus driver reported the hostile environment because of protocol. It's the legal responsibility of the bus company to keep the students safe. But now, the student felt the environment was hostile from the comments being made. What should have happened?

You say, well, the student was quiet the entire time, maybe the neo nazis didn't know that the comments they were making were interpreted as hostile! After all, the same comments to a different jewish individual, aka **you**, were taken as things to joke about. If the fellow jewish student had spoken up, the neo-nazis would have realized that their comments were inappropriate, and they would have stopped! And if they didn't, then of course it would be justified if the fellow jewish student reported them to administrators.

That's where I will finish this story. The student tells the neonazis that he is uncomfortable with the comments. They keep going. He tells them that he will report them to the school if they continue. Now they accuse him of being oversensitive - "Why can't you be like Samuel Daniel, who thinks this is funny?" Suddenly the neo nazis, who started the inappropriate comments, manage to pin the fault of the entire situation on the fellow jewish student.

I know this is how the conversation would have gone because this is how it occurs everywhere, even at Tufts. The victim can be quiet and take the abuse. Or, the victim can speak up and be called oversensitive, and people like you become the tools of the abuser - you are proof that the victim is oversensitive because you, with some circumstance similar to the victim (in this case, being jewish), do not experience the same sensitivity. The abuser, rather than take fault for his comments, can instead pin the blame on the victim, using you as comparison. In staying quiet or speaking up, this fellow jewish student suffers, and you played a direct role in his suffering.

My own experience tells me this, but your article is a good, public example that can be applied to Tufts. Asian and asian american students at Tufts may find the meme offensive. They may choose to stay quiet. But the culture at Tufts is that if you decide to speak up about how you feel about something offensive, such as this meme, then you are oversensitive. Dialouge that should be "why do you find this offensive" is instead "when (X similar person) is around things that people may find offensive, (X similar person) laughs about it. Why can't you? why are you making this so awkward?"

Seeing the meme removed should have been a calling for "why do you find this offensive". Instead, you make this a criticism of everyone who don't share the same experiences that you may have seen.Take a step back and think about the implications of what you are saying. I only addressed one issue, but other comments below have mentioned other issues.

hop_frog
Wed Mar 14 2012 15:16
Panther, the piece in question is an op-ed. The author is not a writer for the Daily, but a student who submitted an opinion piece. Perhaps you should learn how to read a newspaper before you insult someone's intelligence.
Panther
Wed Mar 14 2012 14:57
You need to learn to stop writing until you know valid information. No one cares about your *opinion* here. That is what you think to yourself while on the toilet. Most of us learn to negate that and use our biologically present filters to figure out what useful things we will say. This however, has no use, no validity, and as it is your twisted ignorant opinion, has no relevance. Please step down as a writer for the Daily until you become at least mildly intelligent.
jenwang
Wed Mar 14 2012 14:16
yes this campus is comparatively very progressive.

as an asian american i thought the original meme was funny but after this op-ed i certainly do not. i do not enjoy your lazy assertion about supposedly post-racial spaces, this 'get over it' attitude, and this platform that because you have experienced some sense of racial humor everyone else must have a similar response.

ching chong, peace out

vfasha
Wed Mar 14 2012 13:12
I'm glad you got along with the kids on your bus in high school by making jokes, but I find your assertions that laughing about prejudice makes it disappear illogical and flabbergasting. Is your suggestion that the next time another one of my friends joins the I-have-been-called-a-(sand)ni**er-at-Tufts club I should tell them all they need to do is crack a joke about slavery, colonialism and Israeli apartheid with perpetrator? Your description of Tufts as being "unburdened by ignorance and misunderstanding" is idealistic at best and willfully ignorant and insulting at worst. In school that is comprised of over 50% your ethnicity and 30% your religion to class yourself as a fellow minority that has transcended marginalization is laughable.
vfasha
Wed Mar 14 2012 12:49
I was raised in an orthodox Jewish neighborhood and went to immensely diverse schools. By the time I was 10 I had more friends from more ethnic and religious backgrounds than you have probably encountered at Tufts. Tufts is where I first encountered rampant and unrepentant ignorance, coupled with the arrogance to dismiss the concerns of others. This piece is one of the many examples of this mindset. That being said I would be one of those students in a multiracial group laughing on the quad that you purport to have seen. I have enjoyed much of my Tufts career by surrounding myself with friends that do not possess the venomous attitudes that pervade the greater campus. Sadly, the fact that this is your response to the concerns of other students in regards to memes, campus climates and their experiences on this campus, shows that Tufts has a very long way to go before becoming a place "unburdened by ignorance and misunderstanding" for all students.
ashesforsunshine
Wed Mar 14 2012 12:33
PS. Headline negated.

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