Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Diversifying Perspectives

Another day of great weather here in Philly, taken just outside the Quad

After a weekend of relaxation, it's back to the normal, stricter schedule of weekdays. However, I don't mind this, as this is one of the few classes I've actually enjoyed, although that can be partially attributed to being relieved from the pressure of maintaining good grades. To start out this morning, we actually deviated from our normal procedure, so instead of Professor Hanson delivering his usual lecture to start the class, we divided ourselves into four discussion groups, although not our usual ones, in an effort to save time. This time, the faces in my group were most unfamiliar and the discussion leader was Dr. Salmanson. However, while there was diversity of race and gender, I was disappointed in the seeming lack of diversity of thought, which I consider to be more important. Instead, they all seemed to agree or share common views on almost everything we discussed, so I ended up playing the devil's advocate, which I've felt compelled to do more frequently in these discussions, to provide another perspective among the otherwise homogeneous views.

While I do agree that these instances of police brutality resulting in the deaths of innocent or unarmed black people is an issue that needs to be resolved, I don't think quite so much weight should be placed on the police to perform perfectly to satisfy all of their critics. In my group, they discussed changes to the police organization that included shooting to wound rather than to kill, undergoing more training to be less biased, and limiting the amount of equipment they are given. However, I ended up disagreeing with most of those points. In situations where a police officer feels that his or her life is in danger, he or she should not have to further endanger themselves to wound, not kill, the perpetrator. In addition, most biases are subconscious and although police officers certainly need to be aware of the biases they hold, it's not an issue unique to them, as everyone should be aware of those biases, not just police. I found it ironic that we are subconsciously biased towards others for being subconsciously biased, as the people in my group seemed to be aligned against the police, criticizing them for their prejudices. That being said, I too believe that the people that are supposed to be protecting us should not be harming us instead and that measures do need to be taken to eradicate any rewards system associated with catching more people breaking the rules because that results in more people getting apprehended for minor offenses.

Once our discussion was over, Professor Hanson began his usual lecture, this time about the movement of people as well as pluralism, or the coexistence of multiple groups. The movement of people typically coincided with change in demographics in certain areas that often resulted in nativism, which was seen with each immigration surge throughout U.S. history. He also talked about Flushing, in New York, which has the greatest religious diversity of any place in the world, proving that they can all coexist peacefully, as shown by various religious being practiced in very close proximity to other religious areas. It also raises the question of melting pot or mosaic, or assimilation or pluralism. I personally prefer pluralism, because assimilation results in a homogeneous group, and I enjoy diversity.

After Professor Hanson's lecture, we watched Divided We Fall, a movie made by Valarie Kaur with the help of her cousin and some volunteers, as well as the donations of supporters. Essentially, the movie showed the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on various groups, even those only remotely similar to the image of terrorists. In particular, Sikhs received backlash after the terror attacks simply because they wore turbans, had brown skin, and thick beards, although they were completely unrelated to the attacks. They began to become victims of hate crimes and violence simply due to the ignorance of their harassers. It seems, to this day, people are woefully unaware of the differences among people from the Middle East and South Asia. Although I typically am not an emotional person, seeing innocent people beaten or killed under false assumptions angered me, an injustice that needs to be resolved as quickly as possible.

We took a break for lunch before resuming with our normal discussion groups, at which point we discussed what we had seen in the movie as well as racial disparities in the criminal justice system and in wealth. We ended up talking about racial profiling in airports in an attempt to find terrorists, as well as the "random" checks that security does. I argued that racial profiling was ineffective, as it is based on superficial appearance rather than anything that could substantiate the possibility of a person being a terrorist. I also believed that the random checks, even if truly random, would not be very effective at catching terrorists either, as it only screens a small minority of people, although someone argued that it could serve as a deterrent. We also looked at racial disparities in various aspects of society and found that blacks were more likely to be sentenced to death for capital crimes, while whites were more likely to receive life sentences. It also showed that white victims would more likely result in a death sentence. The data also showed that blacks were hurt more by a criminal record, in addition to lower employment rates in general, that blacks were likely to end up in the bottom two economic quintiles, while whites had about equal chances of upwards mobility. The wealth inequality by race is also apparent, as whites had numerous times more wealth than their minority counterparts.

After our discussion, we returned to the McNeil building for the Skype conference call with Valarie, who was unhappy that she was unable to be with us in person. Although there were some technical difficulties with Skype, Professor Hanson and Dr. Salmanson were able to resolve them quickly and we were soon back on the call with her. Students asked her various questions, first about the making of the movie itself and later general questions raised by her movie. For instance, people asked if she had been subjected to any discrimination along her journey across the United States, to which she responded in the affirmative, saying that there were many occasions where she and her cousin were told to "go home." She also spoke about her numerous experiences, including her maturation process and restored faith in humanity. She encouraged us to pursue social activism, although she warned us it would be difficult and arduous, but also offered to provide us with any resources she could help us with, and delivered an inspirational message that we would be the next generation to produce change. She seemed very genuine and hopeful, and her stories were very compelling, so I really enjoyed getting the chance to meet her, even if it was through video chat.

Once class had ended and we returned to the Quad, although we hadn't signed up for it, Serina, Trisha, and I ended up going bowling at Lucky Strike with Steven by waiting on standby. We took a trolley downtown, where we ended up going in circles for a while before an RC got oriented and was able to successfully guide us to the location. We climbed several floors before reaching the right one for bowling. It was somewhat dimly lit in the area, which seemed like a mix between a bar, a lounge, and a bowling alley. We played some ping pong and later bowled, although none of us were very good. I actually ended up being a better bowler with my left hand than my right, although I am typically right-handed, which I found rather curious.
The ping-pong table at Lucky Strike
The bowling lanes
After watching Divided We Fall and the Skype conference with Valarie Kaur, I feel like I have now been able to expand my perspective, as before, I held some of the very same biases other people did, so I'm glad she pointed them out so that I was able to recognize them in myself and make efforts to avoid being biased. I also have greater sympathy for the groups that have received backlash for attacks they were not even a part of, and a greater desire to participate in social activism. All in all, I was glad to have this opportunity to diversify my perspective more.

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