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Protests Amount to Little More Than Posturing and Bullying

Column by David Kelman

Reading the column by Teresa Huang '97 ["Protesters Claims About Racism at MIT Are On Target," May 9], one gets the impression that some people feel we are floating in a sea of racism here at MIT. Recently, I have seen several demonstrations and letters asserting that grievous racist acts and attitudes are being inflicted upon several different minorities at MIT. Upon closer examination of Huang's column and several recent demonstrations, however, I have become convinced that the reality is quite different. In the end, many of the recent protests are amounting to little more than shameless posturing and bullying.

Huang asserts that she has felt "plenty" of anti-Asian sentiment and that both discrimination and racist "things" exist in the MIT community. Through the course of Huang's column, however, I find little example of MIT's racism. Huang spends the first half of her column on a diatribe about the perceptions and misperceptions within American society as a whole. As far as I know, however, people at MIT have little to do with who anchors news casts, who gets more Olympic media coverage, or who is chosen for what roles in Hollywood movies.

When Huang finally tries to present some semblance of an example as to the supposedly rampant anti-Asian sentiment at MIT, she resorts to the now infamous example of "Rhino Man." The best that Huang can come up with here is that one of the heroes, Professor Atama, has a mustache of which she does not approve. Huang asks us how many old Asian men we have seen that look like Professor Atama.

I admit that I have not seen any, but as I understand it, Zachary Emig '98 specifically fashioned his characters in such a manner that they did not look like anyone in particular. Additionally, I have not seen any talking rhinoceroses in the real world, either (nor in cartoons; perhaps they, too, are being discriminated against). Huang continues her column by informing me, and all other readers as well, that I would draw a typical Asian man with "slanted eyes, buck teeth, and a karate robe."

Huang seems to have prejudged a lot of us. At least in my case, her prejudice is quite off the mark. Ignoring the fact that my artistic ability does not rise above the level of stick figures, if I were to try to draw a typical Asian man, he would have none of the features Huang lists. In fact, Professor Atama has neither slanted eyes, nor buck teeth, nor a karate robe. I similarly have not seen any depictions matching Huang's description of any person, Asian or otherwise, anywhere on this campus. I have seen buck teeth by themselves, but only in "Dammed for Life."

After a brief digression back to movie-makers, which I assert that MIT students have little control over, Huang informs us that "Rhino Man" is not MIT's worst offense, but the characterization of her concerns as oversensitive is. How convenient! If I do not specifically agree with that Huang's concerns are extremely important, then I must be racist. Thus, only opinions similar to Huang's are valid. This whole type of rationale is quite similar to the bullying style of the McCarthy hearings during the Cold War.

Finally, Huang insinuates that people who do not agree with recent protests have not, perhaps, done their research. She urges people to "try asking us." Well, Zachary Emig stated that when he tried just a tactic, he received no response. Similarly, when I politely tried to talk to people that were carrying out the April 29 protest, I was summarily ignored for a full minute and a half before one person finally acknowledged my presence when it became clear that I would not just go away. I do not think that either of these situations were signs of protesters who were willing to engage in rational dialogue. While I do not want to throw Huang in the same category as these instances, I want to make clear the fact that most of the individuals carrying out these protests are not saying "try asking us."

I certainly understand that some people on this campus feel that they are being discriminated against. Believe me, I am sorry that people feel this way. A community where everyone feels equally happy is certainly an appealing prospect. However, sometimes, one person is not going to like what another person says or does, despite good intentions.

To those people that complain that everyone is so insensitive to your concerns, perhaps you should ask yourselves why so many people seem to be so insensitive. Perhaps everyone really is so insensitive, but I do not think it is likely. Has anyone been turned down for a UROP on the basis of their ethnicity, gender, or choice of lifestyle? If they have, that is wrong. However, if you are upset because other people have drawn people in comics with strange mustaches or because they have not agreed with your views, then I urge you to tone down your indignation and grow up. Expressing your views is one thing, but insinuating that everyone else is racist is neither productive nor mature.

I do not want to see MIT descend into some kind of McCarthyist environment where anyone who dares to speak risks unending scorn from those who find their actions to be improper. Let us stop this kind of downward spiral before it starts. I do not think that I need any special names to try to raise my indignation above anyone else's. I'm a human being, and I'm angry. If you have a problem with that, fine; just don't call me racist.