As my freshman year at the University of Michigan comes to a close, I have been reflecting on the racist incidents that have happened this year: There were the racial slurs written on the doors of Black students at West Quad Residence Hall. There was the video of the man appearing to urinate on the “Black Lives Matter” written in chalk on the Diag. More recently, there was a student who posted a Snapchat of her and her friend with blackface masks with the caption “#blacklivesmatter.” There have been numerous incidents, both on and off campus, and each time many people have responded with outrage and discussions about the problematic nature of such actions.
However, I’ve noticed my peers have become less receptive to such discussions as the year has progressed. People don’t really like talking about the same issues as they keep reoccurring, and I’ve found lately people have been trying to change the topic when such events are brought up. I think some students are resistant to having such conversations because they’re tired of discussing the same issues over and over again. Moreover, because the winter semester ends in a month, many students are gearing up for finals by studying for tests and starting to draft essays for their classes.
I myself feel drained, and there are admittedly times when I want to forget about issues such as shootings and racism that plague college campuses. Actually, there are a lot of times when I feel this way, even when I’m not drowning in schoolwork or the news isn’t filled with stories about tragedies. These feelings aren’t new, and my peers and I are not the only ones who have them.
In “Bad Feminist,” a book of essays by Roxane Gay, she discusses how problematic it is that sometimes things can be hard to hate. She writes, “We have all manner of music glorifying the degradation of women, and damnit, that music is catchy so I often find myself singing along as my very being is diminished.” This sentence resonated with me because it reminded me of how challenging it is to be critical of things that have problematic elements to it.
One of my favorite book series growing up was the “Little House on the Prairie” series, yet the entire series is based on a family of white pioneers who explore land stolen from Native Americans. One of my favorite TV shows is “Gossip Girl,” which has no diversity except for Nelly Yuki, who exemplifies the studious-loser-with-no-friends Asian stereotype. There is also Raina Thorpe and her father, who appear in time for Black History Month and disappear after being the focus of a few episodes. Should I feel ashamed for liking a TV show about a bunch of rich people who are completely unaware of their privilege? Probably. Do I still watch “Gossip Girl” episodes on Netflix when I’m bored? Yes.
While enjoying a TV show or a problematic song may seem like less serious offense than posting a Snapchat mocking Black Lives Matter, the truth is doing so shows complicity. I may not have created such offensive content myself, but the fact I support such media is, on some level, a representation of my surrendering to the subjection of others. When I was a child, I found joy when reading about how Laura Ingalls Wilder’s family built a home on “Indian territory,” and then continued moving West without realizing that their actions were at the cost of many Native Americans losing their homes and being subjected to the control of white Americans. I myself reside on land stolen from Native people.
I want to say it’s enough for me to be critical of myself and others, but I can’t speak for everyone. It’s problematic to support media that subject others, and it’s important to understand we are all in some capacity being complicit with the subjection of marginalized groups. On the other hand, however, if we stop supporting or engaging in some way with media that’s problematic in any way, there would be a significantly smaller amount of media left to consume. I think this is a hard line to draw, with no clear answer as to what’s the best course of action to take.
I think, at least for me, all I can do is be critical of everything and make sure to speak out when something is offensive. While this is an incredibly unsettling conclusion and makes me feel as if I am not doing enough, I also know it’s possible to like or engage with something without liking everything about it. While I like “Gossip Girl,” I recognize its faults and I don’t idolize it. I like “Little House on the Prairie,” but I keep in mind as I read it that the Ingalls’ happiness is ultimately rooted in Native American suffering (without portraying Native Americans as pitiful victims, of course). I sleep in my cozy bed in my dorm building that was built on stolen land, but I never forget the land rightfully belongs to the Native Americans who originally resided there, not the University of Michigan.
I never support or condone outrightly offensive acts, such as writing racial slurs on doors or mocking Black Lives Matter. I make sure to make my opinion known, no matter how tired or disgruntled I am, because the fight against the subjection of others doesn’t stop just because I didn’t get a full night’s worth of sleep. I am also careful when consuming new media and make sure the work I engage with aligns with my beliefs. To be honest, I don’t think doing all these things is enough, and I’m not sure if acknowledging that nothing is perfect is enough. However, while it may not be enough, it’s a part of the solution and it’s important to take these steps.
Krystal Hur can be reached at email@example.com.