On the 1 Bus to Roxbury a man sat next to me and claimed to be a real live Panther. He placed his feet in the middle of the aisle, cold. I came from Alabama, he said. Power to the people, he said. I’m a real live Panther, he said. He picked a fight with the white boy behind me. The bus driver got up. The man resisted. His side sifted close then far from mine. I looked for sympathy like a wallet, lost. When I was thirteen I walked through a furniture store in Flushing with my best friend, who was a poet, and told her I’d decorate my college room like this, glossy. My fingers passed through red lamps. When we got out, she told me she saw a man talking to himself in the Au Bon Pain across the street. Later, she wrote three poems on him. She remembers him as I do, distant. When we passed through this Christmas we passed by beggars and old men with nonchalance, grace. Do you write poems about strangers anymore? I asked. We walked on, beat, because it was no longer fashionable to love strangers, to imagine their lives with care. The world had expanded since we were children, and we deemed outsiders useless, a survival tactic.
Only very recently have I come to understand my campus as a socialist construct, in every way ideal, in our security and collectivity, our concerns intangible, our focus on self-realization/development/love. Of course, this analogy is useless in the capitalism vs. socialism debate that continues among academics, since our institution exists in the context of capitalism, and our reality is shaped by massive donations to financial aid programs, the existence of cooking and janitorial staff, competitive incomes for Harvard faculty, and most importantly, the truth that our stint here is brief. But like a child, I found it useful to say that we are all happy here on a physical level, to acknowledge the privilege of existing in a society, however insular, however brief, that establishes community in its organization, emphasizes the right to be transformed, and gives us the liberty to do so, to exist how we would like to.
I wanted to emphasize this realization because it occurred to me recently the gravity of this privilege and the multiple ways it still seems to fail. I met someone the other day through a mutual friend, a white boy, who illustrated his ideal society as one where people exchanged thoughts, ideas, feelings, in common spaces, a place not unlike this campus. He was in love with a black girl, in those words, and told me the multiple ways in which this campus, as a branch of society, had failed her. Somehow, I didn’t find the fact that these two ideas existed so and equally strongly in one mind incongruous. It was, instead, a reasonable assertion to believe that social organization didn’t fail people, but society did. We could exist in a well-organized society structured equally, but still not get along with others because we choose to feel neutrally or even to hate. But is this really a problem? It is a belief commonly held among socialists, especially the fashionable, elite, college, Canada-Goose wearing type, for whom it is fair to say socialism was not made, that the major difference between capitalism and socialism is one of intention, where capitalists exchange to benefit themselves and socialists exchange to benefit others. A sense of community binds socialist societies while a sense of necessity binds capitalist ones. A socialist society is free of discrimination, hard feelings, competition, and exploitation, which makes it undeniably beautiful. But we are not gods, and community is difficult to achieve, because we organize the world positively and negatively, through what we like and what we don’t like. The call to reorganize society to counteract very human, very basic feelings of hatred and prejudice seems evasive.
How do we extend sympathy to those half-alive, incomplete, iced? And what does this sympathy look like? Do we extend our sympathy when our efforts are unreciprocated? I was faced with this question recently. The man in question, brown, was a stranger but also a Facebook friend. He posted daily about the hypocrisy, racism, and complacency of yellow females who date white men. He wrote about the documentary “Seeking Asian Female” about a white man’s objectification of his yellow female lover, and the fact that filmmaker Debbie Lum was married to a white man. He claimed that Asian women were so racist that they never considered brown or black men in the conversation of yellow fever, let alone associate with them in social scenarios. He referred to forming relationships with yellow Americans as “The Asian Game.” The claims were grounded but uncomfortable because though I recognized similar hypocrisies in my community, I approached them with the assumption of love, while he discussed them with vitriol. But what was clear to me, even refreshing, after scrolling through pages of posts ridiculing, blaming, and criticizing yellow females like myself, was a narrative of the formation of his discrimination, which was more human than I had expected. He had felt, on a fundamental level, betrayal. And because he was understandable, he was deserving of sympathy. Discrimination was a helpful survival mechanism in deflecting something more basic, because at the core, his prejudice was personal hurt disguised as social trend. But I extended sympathy precisely because I was a stranger and unaffected, because I was comfortable enough in my identity to criticize it. If I was not, however, it would be fair for me to not see the betrayal, hurt, or confusion in favor of demonization, which would be my blindness, necessary since people of color know best the dangers of misplaced sympathy. If I had been touchable, would hatred have been useful in this situation to keep myself intact? How would I have understood him if I did not feel deeply uncomfortable at first?
We, as members of society, do not all get along, which is fine. Negativity is a powerful way to organize society and has much usefulness in understanding ourselves, validating our own feelings, finding our voices. There is an incredible use of hatred, of figuring out what we dislike, that must be acknowledged before we claim community and universal, indiscriminate love, because if we ignore these negativities, we allow our sadness to turn to anger, our anger to turn to bitterness. But more importantly, we must, after acknowledging our negativities, ask why. Why was it necessary to have a n-----, a whore, a gook, or a f----- in the first place? When did you learn to hate the people around you? And what was it you wanted when you stood on your pedestal, stroking the dolls at your feet?Christina M. Qiu ’19 lives in Mather House. Her column appears on alternate Fridays.