By Lin Yi Wei ’20
The other day, I overheard something in passing in the library. Two students, one standing and the other seated, were having a casual conversation that went a little something like this:
“Why didn’t you say hi to me the other day,” asked the female student.
“What do you mean? I did say hi,” is his response.
“No, you looked at me and gave me the finger.”
“I don’t know … That’s how they say hello in China.”
At this point, I realize that neither of them realizes that I’m in front of them. I make a loud gesture and they look startled, as if my presence appears from thin-air. The girl looks at me and she has nothing to say while the other, a football player, makes some remark to sweep it under the rug. I hear nothing even remotely resembling a sorry so I tune him out. I lock eyes with the girl and feel my shoulders drooping beneath me. My eyes narrow and I can feel every muscle fiber in my body let go. It’s funny because she’s my friend and she can’t even spare the effort to say something.
It’s crazy because in my three short years here, I’ve heard more people say things like “why are you playing the race card” or “why do you gotta make it about race.” I hear various iterations of this for other marginalized communities on campus too. I’ve realized that the same people who say these types of things are also the type to be your friend. They’re amiable and most of the time, no one has anything bad to say about them. They could come from wealthy families, play sports, enjoy the nightlife scene of Geneva, or even have a black best friend. But behind closed doors, when there’s no one around but others who share the same pale complexion, they’ll just go on complaining that people talk too much about race, sexual discrimination, feminism, etc. These are also the same people who will look around when Drake drops the n-word in a song and repeat after him.
Repeat after me:
HWS is not a socially-conscious or safe space. It takes what energy you have as an artist, an innovator, a dreamer, a realist, and a humanist and siphons it to fuel its already self-inflated ego.
A couple weeks later, I find myself in a bar downtown; the scene is no different from how it usually is. There’s a combination of beer and cocktails on the floor in the shape of footprints while everyone is sloshing past each other. As I try and make my way into the bar, I bump into the football player whom I overheard. We stare at each other for a moment, placing the other while everyone else slides by irritatingly.
“Hey you’re that racist guy who said that China thing,” is the first thing I say.
His brows furrow and the neutral expression he was wearing a moment ago becomes clouded with anger. I can him clench the cheap, clear plastic cup in his left hand, spilling liquid over to accommodate the pressure. His hazy look focuses onto me and I know that the next thing that he is going to say shouldn’t surprise me. It really shouldn’t. I’ve heard everything at this school, but somehow people still manage to surprise me.
“What the fuck are you going to do about it? You wanna fight?”
All I want is an apology. A sincere one telling me that you’ve owned up to your mistake and are willing to learn how to change. See, that’s the thing about HWS. When the institution or the individuals who comprise it fuck up, they pretend it never happened. More than that, they make it a problem that doesn’t involve them, as if the feelings and sensitivities of those marginalized are what make it a problem. For them, it’s a matter of being politically correct so that the colleges maintain that veneer that makes them so appealing to prospective students, parents, and alumni.
I lied. I don’t just want an apology. I want to hear an apology and I want to see responsibility being taken. Anything less than that is worthless. I saw a distinction recently between guilt and responsibility written by Kyle Korver, a basketball player for the Utah Jazz. He says:
“As white people, are we guilty of the sins of our forefathers? No, I don’t think so.
But are we responsible for them? Yes, I believe we are.”
Please do not feel attacked by this. This whole thing sounds pretty harsh and it is, but I don’t mean to attack people. I want you to do better for yourself and for those around you. Just keep in mind that even if you’re not directly part of the problem, you can still be problematic. Look at HWS and you’ll see that.
I’ve never really felt comfortable in this space. I used to think that it was my fault and that my trouble adapting to this environment is because I just don’t get it. Lately though I’ve realized that the problem isn’t me. The problem is that we live day-to-day on a campus that feeds and inflates the egos of students, faculty, administration because of the small inconsequential shit that they get recognized for. We have failed as a community to address the big problems. We look away and leave the mess for someone else to clean up. We can do better than that, but only if we realize that we are responsible for the shit we’re in.