The creation of Black History Month was chosen to celebrate the birth of Frederick Douglass, an abolitionist known for his treatise and memoir “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave.” But it was Richard Wright who, I think, best articulated how systemic racism plays out in Black America in his bestselling novel “Native Son.”
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It’s interesting to look back at how people’s attitudes toward COVID-19 have changed over the past year. Back in February 2020, when I was attending a boarding high school in Maryland, I was explicitly forbidden by my teachers from wearing a mask, even though my parents, a month into their self-quarantine in Shanghai, had mailed me a box of N95 masks. By March, people had begun to get nervous, though it would be another month until the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention first advised people to wear cloth face coverings in public. My friends refused to meet me at the tennis court, and the more adventurous ones were hesitant to post a Snapchat story of us hanging out, fearing that their friends would judge them for being selfish and irresponsible.
Over the summer, I had to decide between flying to the United States for the fall semester, or studying remotely in China with a 12-hour time difference. Frankly, I didn’t have much of a choice; international air travel is prohibitively expensive, has a higher risk of infection, and requires a two-week quarantine in a third country. That Penn would close after Thanksgiving makes travelling 7,400 miles even less appealing. Recognizing the unfavorable circumstances, I canceled my Fisher-Hassenfeld College House single and stayed home.
In the spring of 2018, I attended a school assembly where I listened to Rachel Swarns, a New York Times correspondent, explain our high school’s tie to slavery. I was a sophomore at Georgetown Preparatory School, which was the same institution as Georgetown College (now University) when it sold 272 enslaved people to save its plantation from bankruptcy in 1838. I’ve always taken pride in my school’s 220-year history. But never had I been aware of this troubling past until Swarns’ investigation sparked national debate.
Penn Law Professor Amy Wax is no stranger to controversy. Her remark at the National Conservative Conference, where she articulated a claim that America “will be better off with more whites and fewer non-whites,” was denounced by the Daily Pennsylvanian Editorial Board and Dean Ruger of Penn Law as “racist.” Recently, Wax made headlines again after her quote on Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg stoked student outrage after being included in a Penn Law statement on the justice's death.
One after another, activists from Penn and beyond have spoken out against police brutality. Police Free Penn, a student-led initiative, demands the disbandment of the University of Pennsylvania Police Department and “immediate severance of any future funding [from Penn]” to the Philadelphia Police Department. Citing systemic racism and continued violence against Black people, over 15,000 students have signed a petition asking Penn to end support for a "racist, fascist police state.”
Visa expiration, limited airlines, no government-sponsored healthcare —international students are especially hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. As if these students didn’t have enough trouble, the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) recently exacerbated their predicament by reversing its previous exemptions for Fall 2020.