I sat in the Teachers College cafeteria with two friends - Titilayo, an African-American girl, and Rachael, a Jewish girl – talking about the bias related incidents on campus:
"Oprah's the most powerful entertainer. Obama's running for President. And people are still concerned about the color of your skin? Deplorable!" Titilayo exclaimed.
"It's the post-Seinfeld, post-Lieberman era and these people go around painting swastikas? Shocking!" Rachael added angrily.
I racked my brain. "Apu's on Simpsons!" I shouted.
Oh, wait, he was Hindu.
I thought some more. "Oh Raja!" I squealed. "Raja, the Muslim guy is on Aliens in America..." But the conversation had moved on.
"Whatever happened, I'm glad with how TC reacted." Titilayo said. "We came together as a community and really showed the person who did it that there's no place for racism here."
"No place for racism – yeah! But what about An-ti-Se-mi-ti-sm?" Rachael pronounced each syllable slowly. "TC didn't really react to the Anti-Semitic incidents. They let those pass till they felt outside pressure to react. It's only then they issued a statement."
"Did you guys know there was an Anti-Muslim incident too?" I asked. Two uncomprehending faces momentarily started at me before turning away.
"Did you go to the Socratic discussion, 'Nooses: What do we Think, Feel, Need to do?' What about the Lynching movie, did you watch that?" Titilayo was talking excitedly now, "Oh you should! And the forum 'What's All the Fuss About?' discussing lynching. All this stuff, it really educates you on the history of slavery and abuse against African Americans. Hey, I'm Black and I learned a lot!"
"I would've gone for forums AND movies AND Socratic discussions if there was anything about anti-Semiticism. But no, not a single one, not a single Schindlers List or a Life is Beautiful. Just an email informing us about what happened and that too, when it was too late. In fact, Professor Midlarsky received anti-Semitic stuff three times before the swastika" Rachael started counting off on her fingers. "An offensive cartoon, an anti-Semitic letter, some book denying the Holocaust. It took all of this for TC to react. In fact, had it not been for such a visible swastika spray painted on her door I question whether TC would have responded at all!"
"Yeah!" I made an attempt to infuse anger into my statement. "Nothing from Columbia about the Muslim stuff either!" This time I made a tiny punch in the air for added effect but Titilayo and Rachael seemed engrossed in their own conversation.
"Well, it IS race. It's a BIG issue!"
"What about religion? Just 'cuz it's changeable unlike race doesn't mean we can treat crimes against it lightly?"
And what if that religion is Islam, I thought but didn't even bother voicing this time.
Titilayo proudly said, "Race crimes are down. It's only when you stand up to these people it shows them that this sort of stuff is intolerable"