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Pyle File: Responding to “hate mail”: Racsism and bigotry

Published: October 17, 2008
Section: Opinions

“Now bring on the hate mail…” These words concluded my previous Pyle File. Hate mail was most certainly brought. Before getting into that though, I would be remiss in my responsibilities if I did not offer some form of an apology for not making my sarcasm clear enough for some readers. The column was meant as satire. I do not believe Nas is racist, and in fact do not know enough about him to comment one way or the other. I erred in making two assumptions, first that only members of the Brandeis community would read the article, and second that Brandeis students would be familiar with the Gravity magazine controversy and would recognize the tone of my column. Ultimately, race is a delicate topic and I should have been more careful to ensure that I effectively made my point.

The response I received from this column revealed quite a bit about diversity discussion on campus. Letters contained curse words, name calling, and even a threat. The first of the three I probably deserved, the second, arguably so, but the third? I bring this point up not for sympathy (and certainly not for ridicule, that’s never fun), but because I feel it is representative of how, too often, campus controversies related to diversity are handled.

When the Brandeis community figuratively tarred and feathered those responsible for a racially insensitive cartoon in Gravity magazine in spring 2007, who benefited? Was it the select few who led the charge and were able to pat themselves on the back? Or was it the members of Gravity?

If every time a racial, ethnic, religious, gender, whatever it may be, controversy arises we make an example of the “guilty” parties, if every time a situation like this occurs we try to motivate others away from similar errors not with respect, understanding, or genuine appreciation of our differences, but instead with fear, is our society so much better off? If in writing my last column I exposed just how ignorant I am about race then how much did I learn when I was threatened? How much did I grow, and as a result how much better equipped am I to better the world?

Of course, responding as this reader did is understandable. Bigotry is alive and very well in this country. Growing up just a fifteen minute drive from the New York county that recently sent out absentee ballots with “Barack Osama,” I was exposed frequently to racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and the like. Only at Brandeis have I been able to admit to people other than my family and close friends that yes, I am Jewish. I am not of course suggesting that I know what any one individual has endured, but what I do mean to say is that I can understand the natural urge to respond to ignorance with unbridled anger. However, if our goal is to make a world for future generations, or perhaps just for own generation, that has even a little bit less tension, a little more understanding, there has to be a better way to react.

Some of the letters I received were more in this vein. One that stands out in particular in fact included some very negative language. The writer never betrayed the fact that he thought the September 12th Pyle File