I messed up. I realized this when my phone began to update me with Facebook messages from people that I had never met saying that they thought my last column was racist and ignorant, among other qualities. I’m going to be honest with you all: I burst into tears each time; it didn’t matter that I was in the library, in class or even at the CoHo. Each one made me realize how many people I had hurt through my column. This was never my intention and the very least that I can do is apologize to those that were affected by my words and take it upon myself to learn from this experience.
Obviously, word choice throughout the column was flawed, to say the least. While reading through the many responses to the column, I decided to contact Dr. Halifu Osumare, an African American studies professor, and Lori Fuller at the Campus Unions center, who works closely with the Black Student Union, to better understand the implications behind my words.
The term “jungle fever,” as I learned from Dr. Osumare, refers to a time in which African American men and women were killed for having interracial relationships. Dr. Osumare also mentioned Spike Lee’s movie of the same name, and the racial stereotypes that have formed about what the black male represents.
My understanding of the term prior to this was solely in a colloquial sense because I had heard people use it when referring to a general infatuation with African American men and women. In the same way, I used the word “ghetto” to describe certain rap music in a way that is sadly common. Also, when I said that I “came out,” to my fraternity, I did not think about the associations that were made with the struggles of coming out for the LGBT community. My use of these phrases was sheer ignorance on my part, and I apologize profusely.
I also received e-mails and responses asking me how I would feel if someone had written about the Indian community using such blatant stereotypes.
I spoke to Lori Fuller at the Campus Unions center and when she asked me the same question, we discussed the portrayal of different cultures in the media.
There has been such an obvious display of stereotyping Indian culture that I, personally, had become somewhat desensitized to it. If someone assumed that my dad owns a Kwik-E Mart like Apu from “The Simpsons,” that all I eat is curry, or even that my entire life is like a Bollywood movie, I wasn’t too bothered by it because I had become so used to it.
As Ms. Fuller and I discussed this more, we talked about how there is more to Indian culture than convenience stores and curry and in the same way, African American culture is much more than rap music. The way that my column was written, associating culture with solely one genre of music, was far more hurtful than my intention.
My conversation with Dr. Osumare taught me that corporations utilize stereotypes about African American to sell products, and even some rappers play into those stereotypes to make money. She went on to say that people, including myself, don’t realize the complex history behind such stereotypes and we are educated with omission of so much information that we become culturally illiterate.
Dr. Osumare encouraged me to continue my research, and I certainly plan on enrolling in African American studies courses in the near future.
Words hurt. Whether they’re written by me or to me by someone else, they do. I never intended to hurt anyone through my words and I deeply regret doing so through my ignorance and lack of understanding. However, I am glad that this turned into an opportunity to educate myself. Even though this is a work in progress, this is by far one of the best learning experiences I have had.
Contact MEDHA SRIDHAR at email@example.com.