“Mom, we can’t just do that”

· Sep 24, 2001 Tweet

It was useless. Her mind, like the minds of much of the country, was already made up: We needed to bomb Afghanistan, wipe it off the face of the earth. Then go kill Saddam Hussein. Then refuse to let any Arabs into our country again.

I didn’t agree with her (except maybe for the Hussein part), but I could not blame her either. She just wants to be able to feel safe again, and if bombing every last marketplace and tent in some faraway land she has never seen brings that comfort back to her, she is all for it.

George Carlin once said that America loves to go to war, “especially if your country has a lot of brown people.” It’s understandable: almost 40 years after the civil rights movement, this country remains extraordinarily segregated. Minorities are in the South and the Northern cities; whites are everywhere else. It is entirely possible for someone to grow up in the United States without ever having close, personal contact with someone of another skin color ? and until I came to Madison, I was one of them. If I had stayed home, I might very well have agreed that we should fire missiles and ask questions later in order to feel safe.

But I don’t feel that way anymore. I owe it to campus diversity.

I’ll have to admit, I never truly understood its importance until now. You can’t really fault me; the system simply lends itself to such a lack of understanding. Whites and race-based admissions policies are natural enemies, and you do not see very many scholarships for “middle-class WASPs from the suburbs.” I never publicly questioned these policies, but in my heart I felt they were somewhat unfair ? probably because I could not see any personal benefit from them.

It took awhile, but I see that benefit now.

It was difficult to see it in my first two years at UW, and its strongest advocates only made me more confused about diversity. The first month I was in Madison, the vice-chair of the student council, an African-American woman, had declared that all whites on this campus were racists. I couldn’t help but think, “what did I do?” Growing up in the suburbs of segregated America, I hardly even saw people of any color but white, let alone had the opportunity to treat them unfairly.

A year and a half later, these advocates formed a mob outside the door of this newspaper’s office, calling us bigots and racists, and once again I sat inside wondering, “what did we do?” We printed an ad from some guy who doesn’t agree in paying reparations for slavery; in most of the country, this would not be controversial. Then we refused to print an ad proclaiming our own newspaper to be a “racist propaganda machine.” I could not believe anyone was upset, because no self-respecting publication in the world would misrepresent and denigrate itself in such a fashion.

No, I did not learn the value of diversity from campus activists. I knew little of its importance until this argument with my mom about retribution for the deaths of more than 6,000 people. As I argued against going into war-torn Afghanistan with guns blazing, I realized I only felt this way because I had heard other viewpoints on campus first. These were the viewpoints of hawks and doves, Americans and foreigners, Christians, Jews, Muslims, those who may go to war and one whose family in Asia could be affected by it. My mom had not had the opportunity to hear any of these viewpoints, and until I came to college, neither did I.

It took more than two years on campus and one national crisis for me to realize it, but I have finally discovered that the true value of campus diversity lies simply in gaining perspective. This benefit offers itself to everyone, merely an aspect of our education and preparation for the world. I wish I had figured it out earlier.

My mom is not cold-hearted. She is simply like most other Americans who have no reason to sympathize with native Afghans and who have every reason to desire American safety. She only sees images of the victims’ families on the news and hears the words of her government’s leaders as her country prepares for a possible attack against yet another race of “brown people.”

But I am reluctant to take indiscriminate, widespread revenge, because I’ve been exposed to people who will be affected by it. This is the real value of diversity anywhere; war and violence are fueled by anger, and it is hard to go to war against someone you know. It might be too late for many of my mom’s generation, but increased efforts for campus diversity bring more hope for understanding in the future, and a hope that my kids won’t need to have the same argument with me.

Matt Lynch is a junior majoring in English and political science


This article was published Sep 24, 2001 at 12:00 am and last updated Sep 24, 2001 at 12:00 am


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