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The Undergraduate Student Government (USG), like many governing bodies of various scopes, seems to face near-perpetual dissatisfaction. Some accuse it of failing to make major headway on myriad projects relating to mental health and student wellbeing. Fall 2020’s virtual Lawnparties led to claims that it appropriated funds irresponsibly and failed to respond to students’ needs. Most recently, USG came under fire for booking LANY for this semester’s Lawnparties, despite sexual misconduct allegations against the band’s lead singer.
At the recent Sunday Night Live Orientation event at Richardson Auditorium, a particularly discontent group of students sat in front of me. They chatted throughout Saturday Night Live (SNL) cast member Mikey Day’s performance, jeered when he requested audience interaction, and ignored fellow audience members asking them to be quiet.
Violence is quintessentially American. That’s not an opinion. There have been at least 50 mass shootings — or incidents in which at least four people have been injured or killed by gunfire — in the past month. As of writing, police have killed 292 people so far in 2021 and 985 since April 27, 2020. There is also the United States’ long history of violence against and exploitation of those deemed less valuable on the grounds of race, gender, sexuality, and ability. Violence is so American that we as a collective are largely numb to it.
This week, Governor Kristi Noem of South Dakota took to Twitter to criticize 21-year-old recording artist Montero Lamar Hill. The latter is better known by the stage name Lil Nas X and recently released his music video for “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)” and its associated promotional “Satan shoes.”
In honor of Black History Month, my elementary school teachers barraged me and the other children with random facts about the accomplishments of Black people. For instance: Madame C.J. Walker was the first self-made female millionaire. Garrett Morgan invented the stoplight. Maggie L. Walker (also the namesake of my high school) was the first African American woman to charter a bank. By the first day of March, the parade of symbols ended, and the curriculum returned to its usual Eurocentric self.
To me, Disney Plus’s “Celebrate Black Stories” watchlist seemed haphazardly assembled. There were some films directed by and starring Black people that centered on their lived experiences and futures, like Beyoncé’s “Black is King” and “Black Panther.” However, I did not consider most films as particularly representative.
A former friend once told me that she would never date a Black man because she finds dark skin unattractive. She is white. While I was not surprised by her statement, I nonetheless felt uncomfortable and frustrated. This was not the first time I encountered blatantly racist ideas about attractiveness, nor are such beliefs novel to many Black people and people of color, more broadly.
Last month, Rebekah Adams ’21 argued in The Princeton Tory that “It’s Time For Communal Accountability” in the Black community. Through a shoddy line of reasoning, Adams concludes that racism no longer exists. Instead, she pins responsibility for racial inequality on Black culture. While Adams believes her “bold” call for accountability and individualism will finally “heal the scars from slavery and segregationist policies,” she fails (or maybe refuses) to remotely address the present-day ramifications of such oppression.
Of all the phrases tossed around in the arena of politics and punditry, none brings me more bemusement than “the leaders of the Black community.” I’ve heard about these leaders in precept, in the news, on Twitter, everywhere. They are never named, nor is the community in question given any tangible bounds, which leaves my mind free to wonder: Who are they? Oprah Winfrey? Barack Obama? Serena Williams? Reverend Al Sharpton? Dave Chappelle? Lizzo? Who are the few individuals empowered to act as the singular voices of the entire Black population?
I read “What TV gets right about sex” by Andi Grene ’24 out of curiosity. I’m not a big TV person, but the cover photo was taken from “Euphoria,” a show I vaguely plan to watch eventually. While I was amused by Grene’s anecdotes of her grandmother’s horror at how “pornographic” TV has become and her personal experiences watching “Big Mouth,” I disagreed with her equating casual sex with female liberation. Any attempt to describe what everyone’s sex life should look like, regardless of whether the intention is to empower or oppress, will inevitably fall short. Any such prescription strips away agency. I will be focusing on the experiences of women in particular, but it is important to recognize that the following questions of sexual agency and choice are ones everyone grapples with.
In high school, I had a better relationship with civil discourse. I was part of my school’s We the People team, and we competed in competitions centered on debating pressing constitutional issues. At Princeton, though, I noticed that things changed. I began dreading certain classes’ lectures and precepts. It wasn’t until recently that I realized why. My relationship with civil discourse wasn’t fracturing because I was becoming more radical or college-level discussions were more complex (I got deep into constitutional law in high school, studying everything from Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to the definition of speech). It was because, in my department at least, I’ve found that “civil discourse” is “no holds barred.” Anything is up for debate, and that includes my right to be in the classroom at all.
There are numbers too big for people to comprehend: at some point, the human brain simply shrugs and says, “It’s a lot.” That’s why we have TikToks translating the net worth of billionaires into grains of rice, data visualization software, graphs and graphics and charts, all neatly packaged to try to clarify exactly how much “a lot” is.
On July 20, a white Princeton student invoked the n-word in a public Facebook comment attempting to bait a dissenting Black commenter. News of this incident spread quickly among Princeton students, some of whom drafted a petition calling for a discrimination hearing. As of Aug. 4, 2020, over 1,500 individuals have signed this petition. In response, Vice President for Campus Life Rochelle Calhoun emailed all undergraduate students, announcing that while harmful, this use of a racial slur did not violate our University’s Freedom of Expression policy.
Free speech is a bulwark of American political culture, and University President Christopher Eisgruber ’83’s recent op-ed piece states that it is crucial to Princeton’s culture as well. In its ideal form, free speech is an equalizer.