Monday, February 22, 2010

Hatred, Prejudice, and Freedom of Speech

Today, an old friend of mine in UCSD told me about a certain incident that occurred at his college where one of the fraternities held a frat party called "Compton Cookout" during Black History Month.
The invitation urged all participants to wear chains, rapper-style urban clothing by makers such as FUBU and speak very loudly. Female participants were encouraged to be "ghetto chicks" with gold teeth, cheap clothes and "short, nappy hair." The invitation said the party would serve watermelon, chicken, malt liquor, cheap beer and a purple sugar-water concoction called "dat Purple Drank."
In this college, black students only compose 1.8% of the entire student population and when they protested against the party, a student magazine called the Koala commented by saying that the black students are "the ungrateful n****** who were not thankful for the party that was thrown in their cause". Later, this was taken down and replaced with a less racist but still hostile message: "The Koala would like to condemn the organizers of the Compton Cookout.  If history has shown us anything, you need more black people at your party to have enough black-on-black violence to actually justify the  name "Compton."  Shame on you.  SHAME."

Looking through the website and immediately noticing one of their covers with the title of "Night of the Horny Asians" and a picture of dead Haitian children, I can immediately say that for a student magazine, this has got to be one of the most tasteless, offensive, and insensitive magazines I have seen that is distributed to students, funded by the college administration. People who actually find this funny at the expense of other people's ethnicities and gender infuriates the crap out of me and makes my blood boil. Though I'm growing older and hopefully wiser, I'm still a hothead and it takes a considerable amount of effort to calm myself down and be rational when I come across racist ish like this.

There have been several UCSD students that have mobilized to take action against the Koala magazine and many are in favor of shutting the magazine down completely, while others are requesting that the school stop funding the magazine altogether. As much as I want this magazine to go away from the face of this planet, we are in a country where the First Amendment grants us the freedom to say whatever the hell we want, as stupid/ignorant/hate-filled it may be.

But the First Amendment guidelines aren't so simple. You can't yell "FIRE" in a public facility nor can you publicly declare that you want to assassinate the President. These things will immediately get you in serious trouble. However, the KKK can rally in a neighborhood even if nobody wants them there, anti-abortionists can wave around bloody fetus dolls...and the Koala can make the former statement mentioned above.

While universities and colleges are designed for students to grow and learn in a conducive, open environment, it becomes an issue when student-run publications and organizations can do the opposite and target a specific minority and express their belligerent ignorance and hatred. Do these people have the right to do that and make students (in this case, the black students in UCSD) feel like they don't belong?

In my honest opinion, they do.

Yet when I say that, I am grinding my teeth because as a person of color and as an Asian American, ignorance and prejudice are no strangers to me. When you are a minority group that is underrepresented and have no voice, it is hard for anyone to take you seriously. More often than not, you are chastised and told to have a sense of humor and learn to take jokes. We are in a country that is broiled with systematic and personal racism and as such, the topic of race and racism still ignites strong emotions from people. More often than not, people are tired of talking about race and would like to sweep it under the rug. As easy and convenient that may be, sweeping your mess under the rug will not solve anything because you still have that mess.

If there is something great to be learned from our past, as murky and troubled as it may be, the greatest leaders who have effected change in the face of hatred did so not with anger or violence. They did it with kindness, the kind made of unyielding determination. The haters have the right to say what they want but our responsibility is not to give in to what they want and react with violence or insist that they have no right to express their opinion. Because once we do that, we are setting ourselves up on a dangerous slippery slope. We will be no better than they are.

Not too long ago at the College of William & Mary, the college that I graduated from, a student brought a Serbian nationalist speaker to present a lecture declaring that all Muslims are violent and incapable of love. The fact that the student brought such an outrageous speaker infuriated many of the W&M students. These infuriated students at W&M reacted in the same manner as the students are doing in UCSD; to shut this speaker down and prevent him from talking. Emotions were high and these students did not realize that they were only fueling the fire to what the speaker believed in. And as such, the hard truth of the matter is that this speaker had the right to say whatever he wanted, as hate-filled and ignorant as it may be.

To this day, the matter in which this speaker was dealt with makes me proud to be a W&M alumni.

After much debate, the Muslim Student Association in my college decided that the best response was not through anger but with tolerance and love. They got together and baked heart-shaped cookies and cake for the speaker. In addition, they brought Professor Tamara Sonn, a beloved professor extremely knowledgeable in Islam to be their spokesperson. As the speaker ate the cookies and cake quietly, the meeting began. The speaker made his points about how devoid of love Muslims are and Professor Sonn responded back with knowledge of Islam that exceeded his. It was clear to see that she effectively made the speaker look like a fool for every ignorant "facts" that the speaker provided. While the speaker didn't leave the room a changed man, the victor of the debate was obvious. This was quite possibly one of the most effective counters I have seen when dealing with hatred and ignorance.

If people have the right to use the First Amendment and spread their hate and ignorance, then we must use the First Amendment back to counter their hate with knowledge and love.

Fight ignorance with knowledge. Fight hatred with love.

1 comment:

Will said...

I totally agree with you message Eddie. I recently heard about the Compton Cookout and was equally outraged. I have some Fraternity Bothers at UCLA that are taking a stand against the ignorance. "Fight ignorance with knowledge, and hate with love" is definitely the truth Eddie. That fundamental is so powerful...words to live by