Rising above hate

I am not a very sensitive person. I am not offended by racial slurs or insensitive comments that are supposed to get me all worked up. My reaction is usually a smile, and I get on with my business. Sometimes, it’s a smile accompanied by a “f**k you!” if you think you will get my attention with your bigotry.

I don’t condone the use of offensive language. I even avoid music that uses racial slurs and degrades women. But I am not offended by such words because I refuse to let anyone else’s ignorance define who I am. I am better than that. I won’t let words have so much power over my identity.

When I first came to the U.S., my middle school classmates, most of whom had never seen an African before, were very curious about where I came from. They wanted to know about the education there, what I did for fun and what foods I liked. Others were cruel, and when they approached me and said, “Stupid African, you need to learn how to speak English” or “Speak to us in clicking sounds,” those around us would burst out in laughter. It was difficult, but I knew I wasn’t the problem. I didn’t need to feel inferior. No one can make me feel inferior without my consent (my apologies to Eleanor Roosevelt). When they tried to offend me with their questions, it told me more about who they were – ignorant bigots – than about who I am. When I hear people use racial slurs and call others “fags” it tells me that they are ignorant bigots who have low self-esteem and want to feel better about themselves by trying to make someone else feel inferior. It tells me nothing about the person they are talking about. I will not give such people any kind of attention, and I will not allow them to steal my joy.

I have learned that sometimes we need to give people the benefit of the doubt. Too often, we accuse someone of being racist, sexist or homophobic without taking into consideration the background from which that person came. Growing up, the women in my household taught me that the kitchen is the place for women and homosexuality is a taboo, but making racial jokes was just funny. I have since changed my views on all these issues. I do the dishes at my house, my single mother has shown me the admirable strength women have and I have come to recognize that I cannot hate anyone for who they love. But it’s not that easy for everyone to change his or her preconceived notions.

Think about how hard it is to change your mind about anything. It is just as hard for someone else. President Falk, at the gathering to protest the hate crime, declared that he wasn’t going to say the word that had been written – n****r – because he was raised in an environment that prohibited the use of such words. He further declared that the College was not a place for homophobes and sexists. Our president wasn’t going to go against what he had been taught from youth, so how can we expect students, many of whom just arrived at the College in September, to suddenly change their beliefs on such issues?

Others have been unhappy with the administration because they don’t feel it does enough to address social tensions on campus. I agree that when it comes to issues such as hate crimes we need the administration to be more open, because no one should fear for their life. When it comes to someone getting offended because someone else calls them names, it’s our job as students to take it upon ourselves to talk about our differences and see how we can get along without trying to change what others believe. We can’t be too sensitive and let what others say define who we are in these conversations.

We don’t live in paradise, and although students at the College are among the brightest in the country, that doesn’t mean we will eradicate bigotry, racism, sexism and homophobia from our environment. These are human realities that will never go away, and a sensitive heart will be very unhappy in this shaky world.

We cannot control what others say, but we can control our feelings. We can’t change the color of our skin or our sexual orientation. But we can develop strong identities and be confident in the people that we are. We can find strength in those support systems provided by groups that are meant to support gay and minority students. When someone else’s opinion turns into hate and a need to physically harm others, then we must take control and allow the administration to protect us.

 

Mpaza Kapembwa ’15 is from Atlanta, Ga. He lives in Williams Hall.

Comments (4)

  1. by Thomas Sowell

    Anyone who has ever been in a Third World country, or even in a slum neighborhood at home, is likely to wonder why there can be such dire poverty among some people, while others are prospering.

    Both politicians and intellectuals have tended to have simple answers to that question, even if these simple answers have been different in different eras.

    A hundred years ago, the prevailing answer was that some people are innately and genetically inferior. Not only was this answer thundered from political platforms in redneck dialect by politicians in the Jim Crow South, the same message was delivered in cultured and lofty tones from academic podiums in the most prestigious colleges and universities across the country.

    Nor was this unique to the United States. In Britain, a study of high-achieving families by Francis Galton, a cousin of Charles Darwin, concluded that the reason for their achievements was genetic superiority. From there it was a short step to seeing various races as genetically superior and inferior.

    More ominously, Galton saw those who were inferior as a drag on society who should be eliminated. As often happens when a big idea seizes the imagination of the intelligentsia, their strongest argument is that there is no argument — that “science” has already proved what they believe.

    As Sir Francis Galton put it: “there exists a sentiment, for the most part quite unreasonable, against the gradual extinction of an inferior race.”

    The idea that those with different views had only “sentiment” on their side, while he had science, was common among intellectuals on both sides of the Atlantic.

    Eugenics — a term Galton coined — became a crusading creed, and eugenics societies were set up by such stellar intellectuals as John Maynard Keynes, H.G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw in England. In the United States there were 376 college courses devoted to eugenics in American colleges and universities in 1928.

    By the end of the 20th century, the pendulum had swung to the opposite end of the spectrum. Now differences in achievements among classes, races or the sexes were seen as being a result of discriminatory treatment. And, again, as with the intelligentsia of the Progressive era, those with different views were dismissed with a word — often “racist” now, as compared to “sentimental” in the earlier period. But in neither era were views different from the crusading creed of the day seriously engaged.

    In our supposedly more enlightened time, it became dangerous even to express differing views on the subject on leading college and university campuses.

    A very fundamental question was seldom asked, in either the earlier or the later period: Was there ever any realistic reason to expect the same achievements among races, classes or other subdivisions of the human species?

    Could we really have expected Eskimos to have the same ability to grow pineapples as the people of Hawaii had? Could the Bedouins of the Sahara really know as much about fishing as the Polynesians of the Pacific? Could the people of the Himalayas have the same seafaring skills as people living in ports around the Mediterranean?

    On a more general level, could people living in isolated mountain valleys realistically be expected to develop their own intellectual potential as fully as people living in cities that were international crossroads of commerce, cultures and ideas from around the world?

    When the Spaniards discovered the Canary Islands in the 15th century, they found people of a Caucasian race living at a stone age level. Isolation and backwardness have gone together in many parts of the world, regardless of the race of the people involved.

    Historical happenstances — the fact that the Romans invaded Western Europe but not Eastern Europe, for example — left a legacy of written languages in Western Europe that people in Eastern Europe did not have until centuries later.

    But the innumerable factors affecting human achievements are not only complex and hard to untangle, they offer neither politicians nor intellectuals the opportunity to simply be on the side of the angels against the forces of evil. Factors which present no opportunity to star in a moral melodrama have often been ignored in favor of factors that do.

  2. Thomas Sowell (born June 30, 1930), is an American economist, social critic, political commentator and author. He often writes as an advocate of laissez-faire economics. He is currently a senior fellow of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. In 1990, he won the Francis Boyer Award, presented by the American Enterprise Institute. In 2002 he was awarded the National Humanities Medal for prolific scholarship melding history, economics, and political science. In 2003, he was awarded the Bradley Prize for intellectual achievement.

    Sowell was born in Gastonia, North Carolina. His father died before he was born. In his autobiography, A Personal Odyssey, he recalled that his encounters with whites were so limited he didn’t believe that “yellow” was a hair color. He moved to Harlem, New York City with his mother’s sister (who, at the time, he believed was his mother). Sowell attended Stuyvesant High School, but dropped out at age 17 because of financial difficulties and a deteriorating home environment. To support himself he worked at various jobs, including in a machine shop and as a delivery man for Western Union. He applied to enter the Civil Service and was eventually accepted, which prompted a move to Washington DC. He was drafted in 1951, during the Korean War, and was assigned to the US Marine Corps.

    After discharge, Sowell passed the GED examination and enrolled at Howard University. He transferred to Harvard University, where in 1958 he graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics. He received a Master of Arts in Economics from Columbia University in 1959, and a Doctor of Philosophy in Economics from the University of Chicago. Sowell initially chose Columbia University because he wanted to study under George Stigler. After arriving at Columbia and learning that Stigler had moved to Chicago, he followed him there.

    Sowell has taught Economics at Howard University, Cornell University, Brandeis University, and UCLA. Since 1980 he has been a Senior Fellow of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, where he holds a fellowship named after Rose and Milton Friedman.

    Sowell has stated that he was a Marxist during “the decade of my 20s.” His experience working as a federal government intern during the summer of 1960 caused him to reject Marxism in favor of free market economic theory.

  3. by Thomas Sowell

    With all the talk about “disparities” in innumerable contexts, there is one very important disparity that gets remarkably little attention — disparities in the ability to create wealth. People who are preoccupied, or even obsessed, with disparities in income are seldom interested much, or at all, in the disparities in the ability to create wealth, which are often the reasons for the disparities in income.

    In a market economy, people pay us for benefiting them in some way — whether we are sweeping their floors, selling them diamonds or anything in between. Disparities in our ability to create benefits for which others will pay us are huge, and the skills required can develop early — or sometimes not at all.

    A recent national competition among high school students who create their own technological advances turned up an especially high share of such students winning recognition in the San Francisco Bay Area. A closer look showed that the great majority of these Bay Area students had Asian names.
    Asian Americans are a substantial presence in this region but they are by no means a majority, much less such an overwhelming majority as they are among those winning high tech awards.

    This pattern of disproportionate representation of particular groups among those with special skills and achievements is not confined to Asian Americans or even to the United States.

    It is a phenomenon among particular racial, ethnic or other groups in countries around the world — the Ibos in Nigeria, the Parsees in India, the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, Germans in Brazil, Chinese in Malaysia, Lebanese in West Africa, Tamils in Sri Lanka. The list goes on and on.

    Gross inequalities in skills and achievements have been the rule, not the exception, on every inhabited continent and for centuries on end. Yet our laws and government policies act as if any significant statistical difference between racial or ethnic groups in employment or income can only be a result of their being treated differently by others.

    Nor is this simply an opinion. Businesses have been sued by the government when the representation of different groups among their employees differs substantially from their proportions in the population at large. But, no matter how the human race is broken down into its components — whether by race, sex, geographic region or whatever — glaring disparities in achievements have been the rule, not the exception.

    Anyone who watches professional basketball games knows that the star players are by no means a representative sample of the population at large. The book “Human Accomplishment” by Charles Murray is a huge compendium of the top achievements around the world in the arts and sciences, as well as in sports and other fields.

    Nowhere have these achievements been random or representative of the demographic proportions of the population of a country or of the world. Nor have they been the same from one century to the next. China was once far more advanced technologically than any country in Europe, but then it fell behind and more recently is gaining ground.

    Most professional golfers who participate in PGA tournaments have never won a single tournament, but Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods have each won dozens of tournaments.

    Yet these and numerous other disparities in achievement are resolutely ignored by those whose shrill voices denounce disparities in rewards, as if these disparities are somehow suspicious at best and sinister at worst.

    Higher achieving groups — whether classes, races or whatever — are often blamed for the failure of other groups to achieve. Politicians and intellectuals, especially, tend to conceive of social questions in terms that allow them to take on the role of being on the side of the angels against the forces of evil.

    This can be a huge disservice to those individuals and groups who are lagging behind, for it leads them to focus on a sense of grievance and victimhood, rather than on how they can lift themselves up instead of trying to pull other people down.

  4. For the life of me, I cannot understand how the prior 3 comments reflect the wisdom of Mr. Kapembwa

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