Op-ed: Systems and all of us

Monday, April 4, 2016 - 6:53pm

If the University of Michigan is supposed to be one of the most liberal campuses in the country, I shudder to think what it is like on other campuses. Like many others who entered the University last fall, I came under the impression that this campus was an oasis of tolerance and diversity. A place where people from all walks of life came together with the goal of learning and growing through each other. As the year progressed, these impressions were quickly blurred. Our Diag has been covered in hateful words meant to drive fellow Wolverines away, (our racial and socioeconomic diversity hovers at some of the lowest points in the University’s history) and stories of arrogance and elitism from individuals on our campus find their way to national news.

Last week, LSA freshman Jake Croman verbally accosted an Uber driver who refused to give him a ride. In the video, Croman is shown calling the driver a “minimum-wage f****t” while Croman’s friends egg him on in the background. Many saw a privileged young adult throwing a tantrum, but stopped at that. While much has been said about the rudeness of the situation and Croman’s hypocrisy, less attention has been placed on the connotations behind the words he said. While Croman has been rightly vilified, focusing only on his actions narrows our view when we should really be examining our campus, and society, as a whole.

Examined individually, this incident is one of an arrogant individual spewing hateful rhetoric, but from a wider lens, Croman is instead a reflection of society’s deeply biased psyche. Jake Croman isn’t special. With his aggressive tone and air of arrogance, it’s easy to separate his words as out of the ordinary, but how many times do we hear this same prejudiced views expressed through microaggressions said insidiously as “a joke” or treat people with different socioeconomic statuses completely differently than our friends? Why is it only when this clip is played over and over that we challenge the vicious implications behind his chosen insults? If we are to shame Croman, we need to shame all the Cromans, including ourselves. Until we as a society change our mindset on power and privilege, incidents such as this will continue to breed climates of intolerance.

The dominant narrative in America is currently one of avoidance. Rather than address issues like racism, we prefer to think we live in a “color-blind” society. However, this does nothing except assuage our own discomfort and allow our subconscious biases to flourish. By not talking about how social identities affect everyday situations, we, in turn, passively affirm this deeply flawed system. If society didn’t view homosexuals as lesser, the term “f****t” would not exist. If we have truly eradicated classism, working a minimum-wage job would not be used as an insult.

It’s easy to view this incident as an isolated one, but a more responsible view would be to use it as a springboard to address privilege and oppression on campus. Sadly, there’s a part of Croman in all of us. The part that laughs at a homophobic joke or disrespects the service workers who clean our tables. If someone documented our own lives, how many times would we be embarrassed at what came out of our mouths? Systems of privilege and power affect every single one of us, no matter how tolerant we think we are. Everyone on our campus deserves to feel welcome and valued, regardless of social identity, but if we fail to address our own discomfort in owning up to unequal balances of power and privilege, this will never be reality.

Ashley Tjhung is an LSA freshman.