by Anna Doak
Before starting this article, I want to establish where it comes from. I am personally very liberal, so I didn’t have any problems with what Danez Smith said at the assembly. I also come from a place of privilege. I didn’t agree with everything they said one hundred percent, but I’ll explain why later. In order to write this article, I talked to a lot of people about their feelings on this assembly and why they felt this way during the following weeks. Everything written in this article is based off the assumption that those reading it are willing to learn.
Ms. Slanina, I am sorry but I only really remember three things from AP US History last year 1) Andrew Jackson was a @#$% and 2) Devil in the White City and the Simpsons was referenced a disproportionate number of times by… me
3) George Washington insisted that a party system would ruin the American Democracy.
But haven’t we seen this? As soon as the name of the current US president is mentioned, all hell breaks loose. As a population, we refuse to associate with those of a different party. I challenge all of you to recognize that their personality is separate from their political views. Yes, someone can be a terrible human being and be Republican, but they can also be a Democrat. Maybe they’re a great person, but you disagree on economic or foreign policy. However, if you tell me that my friends don’t get to have the same basic rights or respect because of an identity they cannot change, then we are going to have some problems.
When I say I didn’t agree with everything Danez said, I’m referring to when they said Republicans, as in all of them. I believe this was just an imprecision in language because Danez had been referring to Trump, Trump Republicans, Populism, Fascism, Trump Republicans and, whoops, Republicans. It may seem that Danez was lumping Republicans all together in the same category as racists/sexists/etc., but the Republican party itself is so incredibly fractured, especially among Republican students at Hathaway Brown. I understand that, socially, many of you support more progressive policy, while economic and foreign policy may be more conservative. And I don’t believe that is who Danez was referring to.
Here are some of the complaints I have heard and here is my response. Note: this is not every complaint, I’m just responding to those I heard most often.
Some people found it hard to relate to the experiences described in the assembly — whether that’s racially, socioeconomically, or due to the poets’ gender and/or sexual orientation.
All I can say to this is: “And?” Is that not what makes life so infinitely complex and interesting? Every person has their own incredible story and hardships. Diversity of experience is not a weakness. Sharing our experiences makes us stronger and offers validation that we are not alone. Because even if you couldn’t personally relate to the speakers, at least one person could, and for that, they are better off.
Some honestly just had no idea what to expect, and as a result were uncomfortable.
This is really easy to understand. Personally, I love Hieu’s poem, “Monica West is Moving to Omaha, Nebraska” but I can understand why that language was uncomfortable for a lot of people. When I was having these conversations, many students said they wish they had known what to expect. A simple solution? Why not let them know? Make a group on MYHB for all upper school students and give it a section on the upcoming speakers. Give us a biography and some of the work they may perform or have won awards with. There is no advantage to ignorance in this world.
One interesting thing I discovered was that no one believes assemblies should be optional.
Civil Discourse stems from unfamiliarity, and being uncomfortable. Would we be having this (necessary) discussion without the assembly? Almost every conversation I’ve had, with people from all points on the political spectrum, has been incredibly productive because I’ve gone in trying to learn why people feel the way they do, and many of the people have tried to understand what I’ve said. We haven’t reached an agreement, but we have reached an understanding.
Well, what about bringing in a conservative speaker so that we can see both sides if that’s what is so important?
Honestly, how many people has HB brought in to be expressly political? How many explicitly political speakers? To my knowledge? Maybe 1. (To be fair I do not remember all of junior year and large stretches of freshman and sophomore year, so I could be wrong.) The speakers brought in are not intended to be political. It just so happened that Danez (and Hieu, by association) was.
One of the things I talked about most ended up being the response.
So this is a really complex thing because there are so many parts to it and I’m gonna try to be as unbiased as possible.
Dr. Bisselle’s Email
What people didn’t like: it didn’t take a stance, and the idea that assemblies should be optional.
I don’t see how the school could take a stance. Sure, it’s infuriating that you can’t have the administration validate your anger, but that’s not their job — on either side of the political spectrum. They must remain neutral because the school’s job is to provide a setting for education and discussion. Taking sides would be counterproductive to the mission of the school.
Personally, I didn’t like that assemblies could be optional because they are important learning experiences. The best way to learn is to hear from other people. And this is HB. People are going to skip assemblies because they want to get ahead on work or have an extra free — not necessarily because they don’t agree with the assembly’s message.
How people reacted.
Many people who call themselves Republican felt personally attacked during and especially after the assembly. They felt as if it was not a safe place for them to express their views as a republican. My response? How can we look down on our friends and classmates who are Republican solely for that reason? Until something irreconcilable is done, everyone deserves an opportunity to explain, then listen and learn. However, habitual racism, homophobia, xenophobia, and classism is not something I will tolerate.
People felt generalized into something they didn’t agree with.
For all my socially liberal Republicans saying this, any generalization has latitude within its definition. To everyone who felt they were being stereotyped by the generalization of Republicans being bad, you must realize that it is a generalization. If it does not apply to you, then separate yourself and understand Danez is referring to a group of people, who all happen to be Republican, that believe they shouldn’t exist based on who they are as a person. What Danez was trying to say was that they cannot change who they are, but others can be more accepting.
Continue to be yourself, and show others that you are compassionate and more than willing to accept other identities and views.
If anything, this assembly has shown how much each of us has to improve. We cannot expect discourse without anger. We cannot expect answers without questions. We should not find comfort in homogeneity. We must do better.