Yalies get offended. That’s simply a fact, and I don’t think many would dispute it. Many things offend us — and often, with reason. Even if you view this oft-offended campus as lacking thick skin, or being too sensitive, I think it’s fair to say that most things that offend probably shouldn’t be said in the first place.
Don’t worry, this article isn’t about getting offended. What it is about, however, is our tendency to judge those who offend us. All too often, we place the blame of offense on the individual; we make judgments about the person who offended us. We label them as “insensitive” or sometimes just downright “not a good person.” We’re quick to assume that those who aren’t sensitive to certain issues are that way because they’re terrible human beings, who deserve to be taught a lesson about morality.
I have a good friend here who is a local of New Haven. I spend a good amount of time with him and take him to campus social events — we are friends, after all. However, I often find that people make judgments about his character because of the way he acts. Admittedly, he may often say things that at Yale, would not be deemed “politically correct.” He uses words we may not always use, he makes assumptions that we may not typically make and he often acts differently in social situations than we would.
Let’s get one thing clear. I’m not defending those actions as right, or good. Ideally, this wouldn’t be a problem in the first place. What I am defending, however, is the right of the actor to fair judgment — to a fair trial, if you will.
All too often, we forget our privilege when it comes to issues of political correctness. Attempting to eliminate the use of gender-normative and heteronormative words is important. Getting rid of the stereotype that Asians are good at math is important. After all, I’m not necessarily thrilled when people assume I’m a STEM major — I’m a philosophy major so the closest thing to physics I’ve ever done is metaphysics.
However, I’m fortunate that those are the biggest issues that confront me. My friend in New Haven, on the other hand, isn’t so lucky. While I attempt to dispel the assumption that all Asian people are Chinese — trust me, it still exists — he worries about needing to run through particularly dangerous neighborhoods in order to get home without being assaulted. His concerns, his “issues,” are different from mine, and if I have the liberty to say so, most of ours. His calloused knuckles bear the weight of a past wrought with violence.
I’m not attempting to belittle anyone’s issues here. But I think it’s understandable that someone who faces problems so alien to many of us wouldn’t be aware of politically correct standards for behavior. We certainly shouldn’t hold him or his character accountable if he breaks from campus custom.
So if he happens to cause offense or contempt, think again. Because his intentions are always good — I like to believe most people’s intentions are. People are often unaware of social expectations or norms in a new setting. It may be that they don’t have the privilege of being able to prioritize the issues we face over those they face, and that should be understood. Don’t immediately judge the individual and label him or her. Rather, try to understand.
I believe this attitude should be extended to all people, including our fellow students. Everyone has a right to be offended by certain things. However, I don’t believe that anyone has a right to judge another’s character before attempting to really understand. We should fight to separate our right to feel offended from our right to be offended by someone.
The righteous anger that so many Yalies feel about so many things shouldn’t be directed against people without warrant. Rather, we should try to educate when possible, and above all, understand where people are coming from and why they may have done or said what they did. Yes, maybe some people are just jerks, but I don’t think most are. It may be a result of different priorities, or maybe even plain unawareness, that makes them act in a way contrary to your ideal mode of behavior. It’s not the player who’s always at fault; it’s often the game that they were set to play.
Leo Kim is a sophomore in Trumbull College. His column runs on alternate Fridays. Contact him at email@example.com.