Saturday, November 26

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Two-way street: Integrating majority, minorities

Integration is a myth. It isn't a reality. I'm at a loss. Growing up biracial has been anything but easy in a country that is still extremely segregated. While different groups outwardly champion diversity, inwardly the promise of integration has yet to materialize. And somewhere in there, amidst everything, the extremely deceptive principles of American society are falling apart.

Being biracial has offered me an interesting perspective on the reality of race relations in America. In some ways, I am the product of integration. At the same time, I get reminders from members of both races that I am not one of them. Navigating the color lines, while in the position of being both and neither, is perplexing. When I was little, I saw myself as an ambassador between the races. Maybe I still do at times.


Biracial children go through the unfortunate experience of having to pick between cultures. I grew up in two worlds, one black and poor, one white and affluent. One realizes the paradox when repeatedly surrounded by reminders of persistent racism despite claims of color blindness. The gross disparity between two extremes has been the reality of my existence. Many black and Hispanic citizens continue to bear the brunt of joblessness, recession and inadequate education, and I'm increasingly frustrated with people of all races who are unconcerned with the depth of racial inequality and the persistence of discrimination in America.

It often occurs to me that some whites would be significantly enlightened and invariably more sensitive if they were put into the shoes of their black counterparts. Both in America as a whole and at Princeton, racial insensitivity goes unchecked. I've heard white acquaintances complain about the dining halls and "all black" tables and black self-segregation. But my colleagues fail to acknowledge that whites at this school are often guilty of the same. Paradoxically, eight tables full of white students is fine, yet one table of minorities is questionable.

Similarly, I have heard many whites complain that blacks aren't working hard enough to integrate into Princeton society. Those same whites have yet to set foot in the TWC. The faulty logic can be found in the assumption that integration equates to assimilation. Perhaps a better way to explain it is individuality as opposed to fitting in. Asking others to conform in an effort to fit in is not the best solution to the problem.

I have also noticed that the burden of integration, in both America and Princeton, mainly falls on the shoulders of minorities, regardless of race, with little or no outreach from the larger white mainstream. The efforts that are put forth often come under heavy scrutiny from more conservative, less welcoming factions of the majority – people who never noticed that only two or three blacks made it to American history texts, people who refuse to acknowledge present conditions as direct results of discriminatory measures of the past.

At the same time, I will not be naive by saying that the segregation is one-sided. Through my own experiences, I have found racial prejudice is deeply embedded in most groups in American society. Consequently, we are all products of our environment. About a month ago, a young lady was nice enough to deem me a "whitewashed halfbreed." Needless to say, I didn't take that well.

Similarly, a friend of mine who happens to be white, wrote a somewhat controversial article about diversity at Princeton a while ago. Unfortunately, he encountered a lot of extremely hostile responses from minorities who implied that he was out of place in a discussion about race. I suppose that in a world that is so extremely unequal, it is easy (though not necessarily justified) to despise a perceived enemy, even if that enemy is a liberal white guy who's trying to help the cause. From that sense, reverse racism does exist, and self-segregation can be a reality.


The myth of the melting pot is not terribly upsetting to me. I'm glad it's a myth. I don't want a melting pot. Pluralist by nature, I would be much more happy with a pot of stew, where different ingredients enhance and accentuate the flavors of all the other ingredients. But that might be too much to ask of an extremely conformist Princeton.

The very nature of the social scene at Princeton is conformist. Which clique do you fit into and why? Which stereotype will you espouse on a regular basis? For people with cultural backgrounds outside of the traditionally waspy Princeton norm, fitting in may be an exceedingly difficult task. Bending to pressures of socially constructed nature is a tragic right of passage here, and it comes with a high cost. For those who have yet to find their place at Princeton, fitting in may mean losing the person you were before you came here.

Some days, when I'm feeling more cynical than usual, I feel like the butt of a big joke. I'm a part of two worlds that often seem diametrically opposed and completely misunderstanding of one another. When Princeton students mock the culture of the ghetto, they reflect how much they see the ghetto as a foreign world. If they'd ever been to the ghetto, if they understood some of the culture in the ghetto, if they had more sense than to engage in offensive stereotypes, they'd probably realize how incredibly disrespectful it is to mock a culture that has arrived out of the continual isolation and oppression of various racial groups.

So I'm still at a loss. I have Asian friends and Hispanic friends and black friends and white friends and blue friends and orange friends, etc. I know it calls for a lot of courage for minorities to attend a school that is so historically racist and conservative – a school whose hero is Woodrow Wilson, quite possibly the most racist American president of this century. Choosing to attend a predominantly white school, as opposed to Spelman, Morehouse or Howard, is a conscious choice towards integration. So maybe it's time for people to visit the TWC if they haven't been there before. It's a pretty cool place.

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