Warriors for Compassion

Last week’s America Pub drama was a shit-show, the greatest shit-show that I have ever gotten
caught up in, and—I must admit—it was a lot of fun. The general arguments were: “We shouldn’t celebrate the United States because of how fucked up it is,” “We can
celebrate the United States without suggesting that it’s the best country in the
world or touting our military capacities in the event description,” “Kappa Delta (KD) could have put
more thought into the event description, but the outcry was excessive,” and, “Screw political correctness. The event description was
perfectly fine the way it was, and anyone who had a problem with it is too sensitive to go to Pub.”

I find each
of these perspectives perfectly understandable but faulty. I can think
of many counterarguments to each perspective, as well as a counterargument to each counterargument. The Pub controversy is complicated, and that’s why it
matters: We live in a world where complex problems abound, but when we identify and face these problems, not only do we often misunderstand each
other—we don’t really try to
understand each other at all.

This is
because we don’t know how. We talk past each other, we shame each other, we
call each other names, we dismiss each other, we stereotype each other, we get
defensive—we respond negatively to criticism. And we assume that everyone else
is wrong. I cannot claim to be an expert in the constructive engagement of
conflict, but I know that this art exists. I would like to see it brought to our

The Pub
controversy reveals a lot. A certain level of knowledge about colonialism, the “corporatocracy,” and covert U.S. operations is required to understand why
World War II is not as simple as “the U.S. beat the Nazis.” Similarly, a certain
level of knowledge about the history of ethnic cleansing, genocide, and
territorial disputes here in the United States is important in understanding why some
people cringe at the thought of celebrating ’Murica. 

The connection between Pub
and oppression is not necessarily that the America Pub Facebook event description itself was
oppressive, but that it highlighted a lack of awareness. This is the same lack of
awareness that leaves most of us devoid of compassion for oppressed people and
thus unable to fight on their behalf. I personally was not upset about either
the event description or the theme, but it is somewhat disappointing to be
reminded of how much my peers do not know, and I was disturbed by the unkind words directed toward dissenting

I was
particularly annoyed by the rhetoric accusing “social activist warriors” of
being overly sensitive and useless. I disagree. We have all been socialized to
be passive bystanders, and being at Pomona College allows us to recognize and unlearn this behavior. I don’t need to become “less
sensitive because the real world is so much worse.” I’ve lived in the real
world. I know how it is. And I pick my battles more carefully when I am in it.

I am likely
to witness much more problematic language at my neighborhood
holiday celebration than what I saw in the America Pub Facebook event description. I am
much more likely to witness homophobia, sexism, misogyny, and white supremacy
when I go clubbing in my hometown than at a Pomona party. I am aware that
Pomona is a much safer and more loving environment than most places in this country.
That is precisely why it is the perfect playground for me to test my
capacity to recognize apparatuses of oppression, understand how they work, and either spread awareness or directly intervene.

At Pomona,
the gag is removed, and we don’t have to worry about our safety, our jobs, or
our families because we choose to speak up. Because of this, I am no
longer afraid to walk up to rude misogynist men at a club and ask them to be
more respectful. I am now quick to pay attention and ask questions when someone
is getting arrested. Pomona creates enlightened witnesses who are prepared to
act when the time is appropriate, and whose actions will set examples for

Because I’m an idealist, I’m going to end by imagining how this would play out in my ideal world. KD would
have easily neutralized the situation by encouraging the teach-in that was
proposed during the Facebook feud. I imagine KD saying something like this: “We can celebrate the United States and
learn about its problems at the same time. I’m sure quite a few Pub-goers and
KD members would enjoy learning for a few minutes in between dancing and
sipping on beer. If you need anything from us, let us know, and we’ll see you
Wednesday night.”

Dissenters would take a more collaborative and
understanding approach. The teach-in would happen and be a success. Someone would say: “We respect everyone’s right to celebrate the United States. However, celebration of
the United States tends to drown out the harsh realities of U.S. imperialism and settler
colonialism. So, we will be hosting a teach-in outside of Pub to teach about
these histories. We believe it is possible to celebrate the United States and learn about
its cruelties at the same time. We’ll be right outside Doms Lounge, so anyone
who has questions or curiosities is welcome to come over and talk to us for a
few moments!”

Iris Nevins PO ’14 is majoring in Africana studies. She is a facilitator of Real Talk, a weekly conversation for students of African descent. 

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