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Think before you talk

| Monday, February 20, 2017

On Feb. 10, I attended the iconic comedy show, the Keenan Revue. The comedy skits were hilarious, but one line that stood out from the rest for me. The news skit brought up Beyonce’s recent pregnancy announcement, stating, “Now there are more black people inside Beyonce than in any of my classes.” Many people laughed at this, but instead of finding it funny, I began to think about the truth of this statement. I know that Notre Dame is not a very diverse school, but I never took the time to think about it. The week of classes following the show, I paid attention to the people in my class and was shocked to find out that the Keenan skit was not wrong.

Coming from a town called Bolingbrook, and a high school that was exceedingly diverse, coming to Notre Dame was an interesting transition. In my high school, the makeup of the school was 38.5 percent Hispanic, 29 percent black, 20.5 percent white and many other ethnic backgrounds filled the remaining 12 percent. In comparison, the makeup of Notre Dame is 74 percent white, 11 percent Hispanic and only 4 percent black. I valued and appreciated the diversity in my high school, and realized it was something I took for granted. The interesting thing is that I am included in the majority now, yet I felt more comfortable back in Bolingbrook than I do here. I could not even imagine going from a school that was diverse to a school where I was a part of the 4 percent.

Notre Dame claims that, “Campus community is rich in diversity and committed to inclusion.” Yet, I read the other day in The Observer about a group of students harassing a student in their dorm, yelling disturbing racist phrases. Many dorms have a motto containing “community” in some regard, and the fact that people brought this negativity into a space in which they have to live is unacceptable. If community really was rich in diversity here, incidents like this should never occur. Students of any race, sexuality, gender or socioeconomic background should not have to be afraid to return to their own room. I witness microaggressions every day, and most people seem oblivious of the things they say.

We cannot change the diversity makeup of the campus, but we can help students feel welcomed. It saddens me that we fail to promote inclusion and diversity in many ways. What if the roles were reversed and you were the student sitting in the class feeling isolated because of your own ethnicity or the student hiding in the dorm because people thought it was something to joke about? It sounds cliche, but it needs to be pointed out that it is not something you would find funny. While I know anything in the Revue is not to be taken seriously, these kind of jokes are not isolated to the comedy show.

Even though the University lacks diversity, as students we should not joke about this, because it is not a laughing matter. People that find these kind of jokes funny are the ones that make small comments that offend other students. Although it is only a small remark, they add up and are definitely annoying. So the next time you want to joke about diversity here at Notre Dame, think before you talk.

John O’Brien
Feb. 16

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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  • GoIrish

    You’re absolutely right, but don’t fault the Keenan Revue for making a joke about it. Much of the Revue is meant to be satirical — they make a joke in order to point out something that is ridiculous or needs to be addressed. It seems to me that they’ve succeeded in this regard, as it prompted you to write a letter to the editor and has people talking about it. The joke wasn’t made at the expense of black students at Notre Dame, but rather at the expense of Notre Dame’s lack of diversity.

  • Punta Venyage

    When evaluating a general claim, such as “Campus community is rich in diversity and committed to inclusion,” you should look at the “rule” rather than the exception. What is the community like, most of the time, or in general?

    You can find exceptions here and there (like the alleged story of harassment), but you have to ask yourself, are these exceptions the true representations of what the essence of Notre Dame is?

    Have there ever been instances of prejudice within your Bolingbrook mecca of diversity? Or was it a harmonious and frictionless utopia where no one was ever “mean”?

    Be consistent with your standards and learn how to differentiate between the exception and the rule.

    • Meghan Cleary

      The Notre Dame community is generally good at integration, but seriously lacks the strength of inclusion. I believe ND mixes up the tally of minorities as “diversity” when it should really be an immersion in minority beliefs/cultures/lifestyles. While the overt and hateful racist phrases being shouted may be an exception, I would say it is an exception to a “rule” of pretty covert failed inclusion. I speak on this as an alumni of the class of 2015. I commend John for speaking up on this, albeit the article is likely to change very little of the campus thought. It seems ND is not looking to embrace other cultures, but to snap a few good photographs of Fr. Jenkins shaking hands with black students for their diversity page on their website.

    • OGSwaggerDick

      OK hopefully this one will get approved. ND observer doesn’t like the truth apparently.

      There is an inclusion problem at Notre Dame. Consistently every year there is an off-campus house with predominately black people called “black house”. IMO dats not good. You can argue the causes of that but I can’t really see how that can be a good indicator of race relations at this school.

      Also as to the joke itself don’t really see anything wrong with it. Not praising the issue as a good thing but rather drawing attention to the issue. For more on the power of humor read Praise of Folly. It was written before copyright was a thing so here’s a link (not the best translation IMO but KNOWLEDGE IS POWER): http://www.documentacatholicaomnia.eu/03d/1466-1536,_Erasmus_Roterodamus,_In_Praise_Of_Folly,_EN.pdf

  • disqus_k1wk611jen

    Thanks for writing this article, John! This is a thought-provoking and important reflection.

  • HolyHandGrenade

    “as students we should not joke about this, because it is not a laughing matter.”

    —-> “I began to think about the truth of this statement.” (in response to the Revue)

    That’s the purpose of Revue ***satire*** such as that (besides entertainment). It was the catalyst to your self-reflection and writing this article.

  • Punta Venyage

    This might sound disingenuous but it’s completely serious:
    What – just on the merit of logic and slowing things down, tempering reactions – is intrinsically bad about the term “black house” (or “asian house”, or “latin house”, or even if we imagine a scenario like in the author’s post where whites are a minority and you could have a “white house”)?

    Technically speaking, “X house” would simply mean a house whose residents are predominantly X, would it not? In of itself, there is no moral claim or judgement here (i.e. X is “good” or X is “bad”); X is just X. Moreover “X house” is a statement about the composition of the house rather than some kind of judgment on X.

    Now you might ask, well, why talk about X in the first place? Why is that the defining attribute of the house? Well:

    Say we have a giant tub filled with 1000 pieces of fruit: 960 oranges and 40 apples.
    Now we take some buckets that can hold 10 fruits each and draw out random combinations:
    [8 oranges, 2 apples]; [9 oranges, 1 apple]; [5 oranges; 5 apples]; [0 oranges; 10 apples]

    Then let’s say we call the 4th bucket the ‘apple bucket”. Why call it that? Because the bucket is distinct in that is has a proportion of apples that is distinguishable from the proportions in the giant tub, and it’s very easy to categorize the bucket by simply calling it the “apple bucket” rather than “that one bucket on the sidewalk next to the 3rd one”.

    In other words, in the larger set, oranges represent 96% of the tub and apples represent 4%. It is therefore intriguing and noteworthy when you see a set within the tub (the bucket) where apples represent 100% of the contents and oranges represent 0%.

    Now no one is making a claim about apples being “bad” or apples being “good” (though in fact there happens to be organized explicit support of apples, but this is secondary), so calling it the apple bucket is simply saying that it is full of apples. Again, it does not mean it’s a good or bad bucket, it’s just a bucket with apples, that’s it.

    Do you see the analogy?

    4% is an estimate for the proportion of black students in Notre Dame. “Black/Asian/Latin house” just means a house with a higher than average proportion of Black/Asian/Latino residents.

    100% is a distinctly different proportion than 4%, regardless of who/what/where/when represents the %.
    Noticing that 100% is different than 4% is just a neutral, impartial OBSERVATION, not a moral judgment.

    Quite frankly this belabored analysis/emphasis is drawing more attention than the term itself deserves but I hope you see and appreciate the analogy.

    Projecting sensitivity and hidden meaning in comments that are just matters of fact is a weakening exercise that limits your personal power.

    In summary,
    if someone says “black house” that doesn’t mean they are against inclusion or being kind to others.

    Furthermore, we should set a realistic standard about what an “inclusion problem” means.

    a “real inclusion problem” would be if you tried respectfully sharing your thought/feelings with an average ND student and they respond “Shut up. No one cares. hahaha”

    A very real EXTREME inclusion problem would be if the average student violently attacks you for simply not being like them.

    So when we loosely use the label “inclusion problem”, at a certain point the concept loses meaning or seriousness, especially if it takes a microscope to dissect and find the “inclusion problem.”

    How sensitive do we need to be , in terms of our organized efforts, practically speaking? Enough to address 0.001% levels of non-nicety? Should we really obsess over things like “well maybe he meant this in a mean way to cause emotional harm, maybe he didn’t, hmm let me analyze and dissect to see if there is a grievance interpretation that confirms the filter that people have been programming me with”? Or focus on actions that have penetrate a higher threshold?

    The truth is that real, serious examples where someone’s life or psychological wellbeing is in danger are too rare to base a movement on, so you start focusing on a more and more micro level in order to keep the relevance of your movement going…

    These days anything can be construed to be offensive, and I’m sure this hypersensitivity bothers you as well.

    From a personal power perspective, it is our objective to rid traces of
    victimhood mentality from our psyche, because it will only limit us.

    life, we should be able to cope and self-pacify when it comes to
    dealing with minor inconveniences and seek help for serious threats to
    our wellbeing that are out of our control.

    If you do anything of remote importance you know that there will always be people who like/love you and people who dislike/hate you. This is just a reality of life, and once realized, you can dedicate your full energies to focusing on your life’s mission and purpose.


    • OGSwaggerDick

      Crazy how I can bring the long responses out of you and I really wasn’t trying with this one. Quick question, do you go to Notre Dame? Cuz every other off campus house is defined either by A) The complex its in i.e. legacy, crossings, etc. B) Sports/Club House or C) Minority race. Now that is a normal thing in other colleges expect for one of them (I’ll give you a hint its not A or B).

      Yes, you’re right nothing inherently good or bad with that, but coupled with personal experience of on and off campus life its indicative of a problem of inclusion. For the most part asians hang with asians, blacks with blacks, latinos with latinos, and whites with whites. Now this is not to say that there are not exceptions but specifically white and black relations here could use improvements.

      Also if the average student violently attacks another for not being like them on sight you basically have a full on race war. Just because students are not up in arms doesn’t mean things couldn’t be better. It doesn’t take a microscope to see that there are issues, you just have to walk around.

      • Punta Venyage

        “Crazy how I can bring the long responses out of you ”
        So you believe when someone responds to you it’s actually you forcing them to respond? This is illusion of control bias
        “I really wasn’t trying with this one” = “I think I’m really cool”
        Which is great if that’s truly the case, but there’s no need share your opinion of yourself here.

        Unfortunately someone has flagged my previous comment as spam. which further highlights the problem with constructive discussions today – ‘censor what I don’t like to hear and only expose myself to viewpoints I like.’

        I do appreciate that you address the main points of what I brought up…
        I still don’t get what is actually the problem in a CONCRETE sense… who bears the main burden of responsibility?

        You mention that asians hang with asians, blacks with blacks, latinos with latinos, whites with whites, etc.
        Whose fault is that? Is it actually a problem? Should we socially engineer the “optimal” allocations of race for group gatherings? Isn’t it good enough for people to simply get along and be respectful or do we need to actively diversify all social groups until we get a flourishing rainbow in every possible setting?