For those of you who were nursing a hangover Friday morning and didn't have the pleasure of reading the DP, one of my colleagues, Vinay Harpalani, voiced his opinion about the misuse of the swami image on the sports page. But instead of using his words to educate our readers on the Hindu culture, he offered no alternative to the inappropriate image that offended him, simply complaining about "the self-gratifying whims of American consumerism" and our mocking depiction of Eastern religions. While I think the DP swamis are a harmless metaphor, had I been presented with an informative column on the subject, I might have agreed with Mr. Harpalani instead of questioning his tactics. His hypersensitivity highlights the trend in this country to complain about trifles rather than act against substantial wrongs, behavior reminiscent of the absurd political correctness movement. Although the PC movement is probably best remembered for the jokes it spawned, the issues that motivate political correctness are pertinent on our campus. For even though Penn attempts to create a melting pot environment, insecurities and vulnerabilities become walls that divide our community. Indeed, Penn has its own recent history of political correctness run amok: the infamous "water buffalo" incident. In 1993, Eden Jacobowitz leaned out of his high-rise window and shouted, "Shut up, you water buffalo," at a group of noisy African-American women. The women subsequently reported the incident and soon after the campus split over the issue. Mr. Jacobowitz would explain that "water buffalo" was simply an awkward translation of an inoffensive Hebrew expression, and the women would eventually dropped the charges, but the case received national attention because of the growing tension at colleges between free speech and the regulation of hate speech. While reading through old articles, I found a comment by Martin Dias, a former head of the Black Student League, to be quite poignant: "People are spending all this time trying to figure out whether Owater buffalo' is racial slur. Black students have a lot of problems at this school. If someone calls me a water buffalo, I give them the finger and walk." Mr. Dias' comments stand in stark contrast to the dwelling nature of Mr. Harpalani's column. So I suggest Vinay flip off the next swami he sees and then walk away from the issue. People who are ignorant don't realize their flaws. Complaining to them and demanding that they change only makes them less willing to listen, no matter how valid the point. The only way ultimately to debunk misconceptions is through education and exposure. Our time at Penn may be our first and possibly only chance to gain insights from people of such varied backgrounds. But our campus remains fractured and self-segregated, minimizing our interactions with those from whom we could learn the most. Institutional support for minority groups, such as W.E.B. DuBois College House, only reinforces this segregation, and one must wonder if the new cultural centers on campus will not simply further cement this environment. As a white male, I can only begin to understand the struggles people face because of their race, religion or sexual preference. Their dilemma is difficult -- either suffer the pain of arrows by working to slowly defeat our ignorance, or stay out of the range of an undiminishing problem. This is an unfair choice to ask anyone to make. But the problem will persist; consider the unfair portrayals of homosexuals in Hollywood, which will continue to exist until average Americans gain exposure to homosexuals and reject their own homophobia. As a community, we must strive to make integration an easier choice by extending ourselves to minorities and educating our uninformed friends. And I laud performing arts groups like Onda Latina, African Rhythms and Penn Masala which, by sharing their love of song and dance, expose us to their respective cultures. While their actions may seem inconsequential to some, these groups give many sheltered students their first glimpse at the beauty of other cultures during freshman performing arts night, only days after they arrive at Penn.Comments powered by Disqus
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