Among my most fulfilling accomplishments this summer was finally getting around to watching the animated Disney movie “Zootopia.” (Six times, to be exact. In three languages.) The film has obvious, widespread appeal with its adorable anthropomorphic animals and heartwarming celebration of platonic love. More importantly, however, it delivers a powerful and nuanced message about prejudice.
“Zootopia” follows the unlikely friendship between a rabbit police officer and a fox hustler in a utopian metropolis where predators and prey coexist. As they investigate a sudden rash of violent crimes all seemingly perpetrated by predators, the city succumbs to an epidemic of fear that engenders in prey an ugly hostility towards predators. Even the beloved bunny protagonist is shown to be guilty of bigotry, unjustifiably pulling repellent on her fox friend in a heartbreaking scene. The film reveals an uncomfortable but urgent truth about the dangerous capacity to alienate and otherize that lies within us all — and our concurrent responsibility to overcome it.
As this school year begins, heavily overcast with the political conflicts of last term and the impending presidential election, I find myself returning again and again to “Zootopia.” Its message comes at a critical moment of tension in our nation’s increasingly fraught dialogue about identity and prejudice. This year has been a hard lesson in misconstrued identities and the dangers of failed communication. Never before has the issue of identity — national, political, ethnic, gender — been the crux of so many conflicts as it is now. Never before has it been clearer that the implications of identity are far more elusive than what can be captured by an affiliation, a vote, a label.
Under these pressures, the narratives to which most of today’s left subscribes are being exposed as untenable stereotypes. One cannot assert that conservatives hate the poor and mock uneducated, low-income Republican voters in the same breath without being guilty of elitism. One cannot claim that the left is the true advocate of the marginalized when it clearly isolates and rejects many members of the very groups it purports to care about. One cannot believe that the left values compassion when it leaps to validate every single cry of “triggered,” but stridently denies the pain of minorities who have the misfortune of identifying as conservative.
And this sort of casual bigotry undeniably, unforgivably exists at Yale.
Last year, a transgender freshman named Lauren Lee ’20 penned a brilliantly insightful column (“Coming out at Yale”, Aug. 26) expressing anxiety about how anti-conservative hostility and a lack of intellectual diversity might compound the marginalization she already faced. The response from much of the left at Yale was utterly appalling. Liberal Yalies on social media groups such as “Marginalized Groups’ Safe Space” gleefully mocked and even parodied her column, outrageously accusing her of hating the poor. Besides the fact that such public antagonism toward a freshman was completely inappropriate, they outright refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of the author’s “lived experience,” a concept ostensibly important to them. Instead, the left betrayed its own highly reductive assumptions by mocking the notion that conservative struggles are similar to those of black students — an argument that no one, least of all Lee, had been making. Far from engaging with or even attempting to refute Lee’s points, this disgraceful reaction confirmed all of them.
Somehow, in attempting to secure acceptance for all identities, certain strands of the left at Yale have become obnoxiously self-satisfied with dictating experiences to individuals and the terms that can be used to articulate them. I am disturbed that my peers who claim to value inclusion and compassion can so thoughtlessly — and comfortably — dismiss individuals who don’t suit their ill-fitting narratives of who does or doesn’t qualify as a victim. This closing-ranks mentality is self-defeating and entirely bereft of the nuance and acceptance that the left must exercise now more than ever. We cannot allow our desire to be right to prevent us from admitting that we can be even a little bit wrong. We do not get a free pass on bigotry because we call ourselves liberals and leftists.
Our conception of diversity must evolve with understanding and humility. We can no longer afford to buy into a comfortable cast of stereotypes instead of expanding our awareness of the real, myriad identities that animate all of our interactions.
The diverse, inclusive Yale we desire must start with each one of us.
Sherry Lee is a junior in Ezra Stiles College. Her column usually runs on alternate Tuesdays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .