Written by a student under the label of “good minority”, “minority”, “diversity factor to the power of 100”, “person called by the name of the two other people on campus that happen to be the same race” and/or a female student of William Smith college that entered her first year recently.
Plural monoculturalism. Were it not for attempt at education in the field of comparative world politics, the phrase would be alien to myself as well. However, after my unseemly attempt, I have a simple understanding of the concept. Tagged by Amartya Sen, plural monoculturalism describes diverse communities that have no incentive or intention to interact with one another.
Within my first hours at HWS, a peer turns to me and says with the subtlety of 10-inch pencil heels:
“You speak English really well.”
When questioned on her statement she continued with:
“I’ve just never meet someone like you who can. When you were on the phone, I was worried you were a white girl.”
All kinds of alarm bells rang as her sentence played over in my head, a broken record player on repeat.
Someone like you
Worried you were a white girl
None the less, as a person of color, I was secure in the knowledge that I would fit in with her and the “community of colored people” that she believed to be solely belonging to herself. It had not occurred to me to think of the consequences of her ideology or the ideology of others for that matter.
To this person, all others unlike her were the enemy, entities different to herself and alien to her social and environmental sphere. This extreme went unnoticed to me until the reoccurrence of similar behavior in non-POC communities on campus as well. With refusals to engage, disinterest and effort-driven attempts to avoid one another, HWS was rife with plural monoculturalism.
Why is this an issue? proponents of one side or the other alongside all those indifferent to the matter will question the need to address it.
“Race relations on campus are bad,” said the professor detailing an example of an understatement to their ENG 100 class.
Atrocious, horrid, terrible, ugly, divided, poorly handled, and such on are all more fitting terms to define race relations at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. Rife with micro-aggressions, blatant racism, stereotyping and miscommunication, communities at our colleges fail to bridge the divides so clearly drawn out within the first moments we arrive.
It is in this way that conversations occurring during the initial five minutes that you encounter a new stranger include:
“Where are you from?”
(insert generic and well known city within the United States)
“Originally?” they always asking in some manner or another.
“Yes.” I always reply.
“So where do you go during the summer, to home?”
(Once again, insert name of generic well known city within the United States)
Observe astonishment for two milliseconds before the person you are speaking to, their face and the dim lightbulb powering their body turns on once again.
“But where are you really from?”
And that seems to be the million-dollar question, as there is no correct answer to it. One day, when I do figure it out, I pray god himself gives me a million dollars before harshly ripping it out of my hands for stupidly wasting a small millisecond of time attempting to find the right answer.
If I were to turn back the clock to the aforenoted conversation:
“Where are you from?” Asks the person I did not have the courtesy of receiving a name from. Points for the remarkable conversation starter.
And this time, I thought to myself, I’ll reply with (insert country that is very-not the United States). That should do the job.
“Oh, where is that?”
“Oh, so like, the middle east?”
For all of you lovely readers, the “middle east and North Africa” consist of Algeria, Bahrain, the Comoros Islands, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Mauritania, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.
A list of 22 countries, wherein-
Are. Not. A. Part. Of.
Yet despite having to provide a brief lesson in geography every time I decide to pursue the question in that manner, it is never enough.
“Are you sure?” they ask.
AM. I. SURE?
I hope you can hear the incredulity in my voice, because I can assure you the squads I was bitching about regarding this matter certainly did.
For some inane reason, I must be middle eastern, because god forbid a brown woman be anything other than “Arab” or “Indian,” the latter of which, by the way is not in the middle east if that is not clear enough.
Speaking of Arab or Indian features, I had not had the displeasure of encountering large amount of exoticism at once, until I arrived at this rosy campus.
Continued from page 8
For those of you unfamiliar with the term, the god of Knoweldge and all things knowable and correct, the Elon Musk of the internet, Wikipedia, states that it is a “trend in European art and design, whereby artists became fascinated with ideas and styles from distant regions, and drew inspiration from them.”
That is great and all, except, the overgrown children on this campus have taken that concept, and did what liberal arts colleges intend you to do, apply it to their own lives in a “productive manner.”
To be frank, this also leads to some interesting conversations.
“You know my professor said I should start being friends with more diverse people, so I guess we’re friends now,” Said a girl to a woman she had just met.
“Wow, I’ve never met someone like you!”
Which is great, until they start asking you awkwardly pointed questions about what godforsaken mystical foreign nation you were spat out of.
And this fascination with ideas and styles, rather features and traits from “distant” regions is entirely an issue of its own. Quite frankly, I would rather use the ten-foot stick stuck up the asses of these people as my method of defense for myself and other “exotic” people, as my professor had the courtesy to describe me as, then continue to be defined as just that and used for that purpose.
What is peculiar us that the lack of incentive to interact with one another only occurs at benefit to those unwilling to bridge the divides they reinforce. School wide apathy and disinterests is a wide topic of concern, but it is not something seen when concerning attendance at major events thrown by culture clubs.
You could say the idea of being unwilling to learn or interact with other cultures is thrown out of the window when attending a “cultural event”, yet what is bizarrely noticeable is often times, that is where the most significant examples of plural monoculturalism exist.
There, you have an expanse of hard wood floors and glimmering chandeliers, painting the dazzling sea of cool earth tones high on the ceiling with shimmering lights and twinkling star. Music of some sort is playing in the background, from a background familiar to many, and food of various kinds-from a background foreign to many, being devoured by the pound. These are all aspects of a successful social event-only-the purpose of the event-to bridge cultural gaps, express the diaspora of meaning within origin, relate to others and understand aspects of culture unfamiliar to yourself, is lost on several attending.
A sea of color intermingles, red, blue, orange, brown, yellow, green with an intensity of love and affection. In the background, another color looms, sticking to itself and the familiarity it has adjusted to.
There is no interaction between the two. No exchange of stores or hearty laughs, smiles or dances- just a divide between those of different shades and those of the same. Why is there not an incentive to mingle or interact? Why attend if you know you won’t really “attend”?
In fact, the only incentives to ever exist is when a person not belonging to your own culture, utilizes it as their own to express how “cultured” and accepting they are.
“I just really love cultural food so much, and I think more Americans need to understand how good it is, I just wish I could eat more of it.”
So many questions, but first-
“What do you mean?” I would ask.
“Well I can’t eat gluten, and almost all Asian food has gluten in it.”
All Asian food has gluten. Said the culturally sensitive and learned individual. Her PHD in righteous was about to make an appearance somewhere along the way I was sure.
“Wait what do you mean by Asian, what kind?” I continued.
“Like Asian food, you know.”
Here I was, confused.
Are all terms this person, and all other beings of the “I am the culture, it is me” population of privileged upper-middle class men and women use to define themselves.
What did she mean by Asian?
I am sure many of you are thinking,” you know what she meant by ‘Asian’”.
I should have, but alas, naivete is a crime I am most experienced in.
“Well, a lot of South Asian foods involve curries that are usually gluten- free, so there is that.”
Maybe she didn’t need my know-it-all-ness, as she would describe it, but I still wasn’t prepared for the inevitable –
“No, I mean like Asian food”
“No, I mean like Asian food”
“No, I mean like Asian food”
Southern part of Asia
Asia that happens to be in the south
Asia, the continent
Asian Food is from the Asian continent
South Asian food is definitely from the Asian continent
Unless I have forgotten how to do mathematical proofs, which I definitely have, the math checks out. So where did she go wrong?
This incentive to use culture takes “my culture is not your prom dress” to a whole new level. Think if your level one Pikachu evolved into a level 10000 shiny ho-oh, or think the twist in West World new kind of level, or Season 1 Daenerys to season 3 Daenerys new kind of level.
It’s destructive, great to look at for the moment, but in the long run-may get to your head and prove you to be awfully difficult to deal with and horrendously easy to label as racists or micro-aggressive.
May god provide you with blessings for not being ignorant, but it is not necessary to use your “cloak of cultural knowledge” to propagate an image of yourself that does not and should not exist. This seems to be a warning that is missing for many at this school. A yearning for a gateway into being “cultured” or more “cultured” than the next person you’re trying to “out-culture” exists, but when an opportunity to learn more by actually speaking to individuals from that culture appears, suddenly, that yearning disappears. Incentive to communicate with and interact with different communities on campus just disappear. How many people do you know act as the saviors for all “oppressed colored people”, but have no “colored” friends? I do.
The ones that attempt to save me from my oppressive culture are always my favorite.
Coming back to my initial point, these poorly connected thoughts relate thinly to the concept of plural monoculturalism, but I saw the connection, and went for it. I do hope that greater efforts to build bridges and initiate interactions occur more often in the future. Authentic and honest interactions, from and between students, staff and faculty alike.