Talk to the Hand
The United States is often viewed, both at home and abroad, as a pretty racist country. We are often the butt of European jokes about racism, religiosity, and intelligence. And often times, the United States puts itself out there as an easy target, with characters like
Michelle Bachmann, who objects to evolution on the grounds that "a grain of wheat plus a starfish does not equal a dog," popular YouTube videos such as “stupid Americans,” and right-wing Americans’ obsession with Obama’s apparent adherence to Islam dominating the perception of Americans abroad.
I stare blankly at my computer screen. Several cups of coffee just aren’t doing it for me today. I’m reading the computer science code over and over again, but none of it is sinking in. At this point, I’m just flipping through the pages of past exams. If these papers are any indication of the level of difficulty of tomorrow’s midterm, then it’s going to be a rough night.
I can’t take it anymore. I shut down my computer, pour myself a glass of whiskey, and go to bed. It’s 11:04 p.m.
The online magazine “The Harvard Voice” was the talk of the town recently thanks to an offensive post by an anonymous blogger about Asian students at recruiting events. The crème de la crème of the post’s racist descriptions of Asians include, “they're practically indistinguishable from one another, but it’s okay” and that they “talk in the same sort-of gushy, sort-of whiny manner, and have the same concentrations and sky-high GPAs.”
Harvardians were outraged. The Crimson article covering the post immediately shot to the top of the website’s most read list. The editors of The Voice initially edited and later took down the offensive passage about Asians, amending the post to include the following: “We deeply apologize if this article has offended some of our readers…we have removed the inappropriate content because it is not in line with The Voice‘s mission of promoting satirical, yet inclusive, content.”
They are everywhere. They brush past you as you cross the road into the Yard on the way to class in the morning. They accost you as you duck into Starbucks for a quick coffee. Not a day goes by at Harvard without coming in contact in some way with one of the many transient residents of Harvard Square—our beloved homeless. But should the occupiers of Harvard Square be dismissed so easily, or should we be more sympathetic towards them? It is safe to say that there is a general consensus that the homeless are an integral, albeit exasperating, feature of the Square. But coming in contact with the homeless so often has desensitized students, who often ignore the significant problems associated with homelessness in the Boston area.
In December 2010, Antonio Depina, a homeless man, was arrested for exposing himself in public and urinating in front of several strangers, including one young child, in Harvard Square. For many of us, hearing stories like this is the rule, not the exception. We have all laughed at the man holding the “$ for beer plz” sign. Surely many of us have considered posing for a photo with the cutlass-wielding pirate positioned by the MBTA station. Some of us have even paid the homeless to duck into liquor stores during freshman year.
When three members of the Russian punk-rock band “Pussy Riot” were sentenced to two-year jail stints in mid-August for “hooliganism”, human rights activists in the West jumped to their feet. Everyone from the White House and 10 Downing Street to Madonna and Yoko Ono condemned what they deemed a disproportionate sentence for a 40-second protest against Russian President Vladimir Putin during a church service. But the attitude we take on the Pussy Riot debacle is hypocritical and is one of many examples of our condescending attitude towards countries we deem less free than our own.
The categorical condemnation of the Pussy Riot controversy was the right course of action for individuals and governments of Western nations to take. But Western nations taking the moral high ground on this issue don’t have a leg to stand on, given their own limitations on freedom of speech and instances of government abuse of legal authority. Rather than just criticizing human rights violations in other countries, we should see them as an opportunity to reflect upon and amend our own limitations on human rights. Our rightful denunciation of Putin’s repression needs to be taken one step further.