To the Editor:
For many millennia, my ancestors have used the swastika as a sacred, religious symbol. In Sanskrit, the root word “svasti” means “well-being” or “good luck.” About one billion Hindus worldwide recognize the swastika as a holy sign — and that doesn’t even include Buddhism or Jainism, in which the swastika is also extremely important and sacred. The swastika is not limited geographically — it can be found in the homes of Hindus (and others) the world over, even here in America.
In 1920, the swastika was also adopted by a racist group entirely unrelated to Hinduism. Since then, the most prominent symbol of Nazi anti-Semitism has been the swastika.
In his letter “Diaz failed to arrive at why blackface was problematic” (11/14), John Hannon states, “White vaudeville minstrels used blackface makeup as they spread vicious stereotypes […]. Anyone wearing blackface mischievously is guilty of flippancy towards the incalculable damage caused by the stereotypes blackface [it] is inextricably linked with.” By this same logic, one might well conclude: “Racist Nazis used the swastika as they spread hatred. Anyone drawing/displaying/respecting the swastika is guilty of condoning the Nazi hatred with which it is inextricably linked.”
Unlike the swastika, blackface probably has no religious significance. Both, however, are mere symbols — and symbols, as constructs within a particular framework, are not universal. It is very easy to imagine one individual drawing a swastika with pious reverence and another individual seeing that drawing with extreme discomfort or even fear.
For being part of an institution that prides itself on its diversity, Yalies would do well to remember that their particular framework is not the only one that exists in this world. There are other frameworks, in which a symbol of hatred could have no real significance whatsoever … or maybe even be a sacred symbol.
Yalies would also do well to remember that education means learning about, but not necessarily adopting, other frameworks. If you did not know that Hindus consider the swastika sacred, then I hope you found my story informative and educational — but I sure don’t expect you to begin looking upon swastikas with religious reverence. In fact, I don’t even expect you to stop looking upon swastikas with extreme discomfort or fear (if that is how you viewed them before reading this).
Blackface is just a symbol, and it is a symbol of hatred only within certain frameworks. Further, I am not obliged to adopt said frameworks. Nonetheless, I do not support the use of blackface, for the same reason that I do not, say, prominently showcase a swastika as a pendant. It is not hateful for me to trigger that symbol within my framework, but once I know that it is discomforting and hateful within other frameworks, it’s just plain foolish for me to do so.
To those very personally affected by the usage of blackface on Halloween, I respectfully implore you to remember that, in our diverse world, yours is not the only framework that exists. Hate is a strong word, and the accusation of hate is a strong accusation. Do not mistake unfamiliarity or foolishness for hate. Unfamiliarity and foolishness are undesirable, but hate is just evil.
Bandyopadhyay is a senior in Silliman College.