One of the things I value most about America is our unique level of diversity. Our diversity entails more than just having a large portion of non-white US residents. Rather, it relies on both the breadth of different cultures as well as the depth of the personal connections in which we can experience these different cultures. On a practical level, this mean that races, ethnicities, and religions that differ from our own are more than just concepts that we read about in books. Our melting pot in America gives us the unique and direct ability to see, and in some cases experience, other cultures instead of just reading about their eccentricities.
Every day we are surrounded by a diverse array of people and cultures and because of this, I see the United States as a palette of cultures from which we each can personally sample. What I find most valuable about this is that in some cases, we may create a color that we find more beautiful and that we love more sincerely than any one color alone.
In this process of cultural integration, it is true that some of the original culture’s authenticity thins. And it is also true that there are some people that exploit integration or, in poor taste, take it too far. But this is hardly enough to even come close to canceling out the more positive aspects of this integration. Namely, that we are given the gift of being able to share parts of countless cultures in our daily lives. And because we can share in these cultures as a routine and not just a once-in-a-decade trip to a foreign country, we are able to internalize cultures that differ from our own constantly and on a much more profound level.
Many of the students upset about cultural appropriation at CMC suggest that the only way to solve the problem of racism and misappropriation is through intense discussion. These students are fixated on the minute realities of every possible sect of every race and every culture. I would argue that practically speaking, this is not the most effective solution for several reasons.
First, it is a privileged solution in the sense that it assumes everyone has the time and capacity to engage in an endless number of discussions. That is simply not the case. Second, tolerance is something that must be nurtured, and forcing people to sit through lengthy dialogues that are only one-sided may actually leave them with a distaste for diversity. Furthermore, if these dialogues are channeled in a way that is overly detailed, students will leave with a sense of confusion and with no real personal connection or love of the cultures surrounding them. What I have witnessed are methods of politicized discussions and angry protests to promote cultural sensitivity, but these methods depend on always creating a new attacker or oppressor who is worthy of being shunned. All this does is create fragmentation.
In the process of fragmentation, groups turn away any potential outsiders. In the height of protest, for example, student activists rejected and laughed at the CMC administration for pledging to do its best to heed the students’ requests and accused President Hiram Chodosh for trying to “derail” the movement by sending an email of support right before the protest. Student activists also created a students of color-only Motley event, and they even went so far as to say that white students hadn’t done anything to help promote diversity and tolerance on our campuses.
However, what is equally disturbing is that in addition to turning away alleged outsiders, student activists have also turned away members of their own “marginalized” groups who didn’t wholeheartedly agree with the movement’s opinion. In a dialogue that took place on the CMCers of Color Action toward Dean of Students Facebook page, a student of Latino descent from Cornell University expressed the opinion that he did not find the CMC students’ Mexican costumes problematic. He was soon scolded for participating in a conversation that he could not understand since he was not present at the 5Cs.
Interestingly, an earlier Facebook post for this event featured screenshots of messages from students from other countries which were meant to show that CMC protesters were gaining international support. This was, of course, met with pride as it was seen as a symbol of validation. The hypocrisy is evident. If a Latino student from the United States was excommunicated for being incapable of understanding the campus-specific struggles of the group, why would people who are not of Latino descent and not from this country have any greater ability to understand and support this group?
We are not fighting for the support of a marginalized group, but rather for a political ideal that attempts to expand the traditional definitions of racism and oppression. The fact that certain members of the group disagree with one another does not mean that the expansion itself is incorrect, but attempting to silence dissent should not be viewed as a means of achieving tolerance. It is creating a fragmentation that is contrary to the value of experiencing our American melting pot, and it will ultimately divide us not just between groups, but within groups as well.