THE BLOG
11/30/2016 04:27 pm ET Updated Dec 01, 2017

The Anthropology Of Us: A Second Open Letter To Our Students

Dear Students,

I am back again with more wake-up news about the state of the society you will soon inherit. I don't know if you've heard about yet another incident of hateful violence on one our college campuses--Ohio State. the site of a car ramming and a series of stabbings. As of this writing nine people had been injured all of whom are expected to make full recoveries--thank goodness.

Here are some other incidents that reflect the state of our contemporary social relations.

1. Supermarket Hate. Maybe you heard the story spreading about on social media about a man standing in a checkout line at a New York City supermarket. As the man looked at a news magazine photo of Hilary Clinton and Michelle Obama, he shouted out sexist and racist epithets--the "c" word, the "b" word, and, of course, the "n" word. In response, the people in line looked down and said nothing, until a second man in the line had had enough. He looked up at the bigot and called him out--in a low key kind of way--for his ignorant hate.

The bigot began to reply, but the stares of the other people, who now looked directly at him, silenced his hate.

"Why don't you just keep quiet and leave?" the man suggested to the bigot.

As the bigot left, people applauded.

2. Hamilton and Hate in a New York City Diner. Did you hear about what happened in a New York City diner? A man, Frank Camino, loudly complained to the staff about minorities and the disgusting racism exhibited by the cast of Hamilton. At the conclusion of a recent performance the cast implored Vice-President-Elect Mike Pence to try to be more inclusive-an inclusiveness that would reflect not the vitriol of the Trump campaign but the demographics of contemporary America. An Asian American woman, Sally Wen Mao, asked Mr. Camino to speak more quietly. Mr. Camino reacted with ethnic slurs. Ms. Mao documented the incident in a series of tweets.

Inevitably the Trump supporter got aggressive and told us to go back to Tokyo (!), then called us cunts and whores. At which point I wasn't having it with his racism and misogyny -- I splashed my water across his face.
He just kept spewing, kept calling us whores and cunts. And I'm just like, 'Do you expect me to not react to that?' And water's not going to hurt anyone, so I just made him feel as uncomfortable as I felt.

Mr. Camino continued his racist slurs, called the police and blocked the door, effectively trapping the patrons in inside. Ms. Mao threw water at him again

The police eventually arrived, took statements and inspected IDs. No one was arrested. As Ms. Mao left, a Latino man asked if she was okay. She left but some of the other women in the diner told Ms. Mao what happened in the wake of her exit. In a Facebook post, Ms. Mao wrote:

What happened next was also extremely upsetting...the man who asked us if we were okay told the Trump supporter that he would not tolerate racism. Then the Trump guy took out pepper spray and sprayed it directly into the man's face. That man had to go to the emergency room....

According to Max Chang' reporting in NextShark Mr. Camino was arrested and charged with... "assault with intent to cause physical injury, attempted assault, and recklessly causing injury (all misdemeanors) as well as a violation for harassment in the second degree. He was released from police custody on his own recognizance and will appear in court on December 19."

3. Gold Star Booing. On a delayed American Airlines flights first class passengers apparently booed a Gold Star Family. The captain asked if the passengers could remain seated so a special military family might depart first so they could make a connecting flight to Philadelphia and eventually make their way to Dover Air Force Base (Delaware) to be present for the arrival of their son's remains. Days before he had been killed in action in Afghanistan. In response to this development, first class passengers booed. They had paid top dollar to sit up front. Why should they be "inconvenienced?"

4. Presidential Medal of Freedom Ceremony. Last week The White House live streamed the ceremony during which President Obama awarded to 21 exemplary Americans the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor. As the ceremony unfolded on-line, there appeared at the bottom of the screen a disturbing live tweet feed--an incessant stream of racist, misogynist invective about liberals, Hollywood, gays, lesbians, and President Obama. Occasionally, a number of people tweeted: "Please stop the hate," protestations that had little impact on the on-line vitriol.

Who are we? What have we become? What can you expect in the future?

If you are taking an anthropology course, you'll know that small-scaled interactions reflect larger social patterns. They present an ethnographic portrait of the general state of our social relations, which seems to have devolved into the dysfunction of selfish entitlement. Why should the pressing needs of a Gold Star family inconvenience first class passengers? Why should people like Frank Camino respect the sensibilities of people who are different--women, gays, Latinos, Asians, Muslims or Jews.

For many peoples in the world the aforementioned expressions of hate would be incomprehensible. Consider the Songhay people of Niger, who over the years have shared their wisdom with me, Like people all over the world, Songhay people can be stingy and selfish. Sometimes they say hateful things. And yet, considering the difficult conditions they routinely experience--especially in rural areas--they long ago realized that they have to share resources and extend themselves to others to remain viable. They understand this fundamental principle of the social contract.

As students of anthropology what can you do to help to restore the bedrock American values of looking out for your neighbor, of respecting difference in a multicultural and multilingual society in which the so-called minority population will soon become the majority population? In support of American diversity, you can contribute to organizations that support advocate for social justice. You can attend rallies and protest against racism, misogyny, homophobia and religious intolerance. But will that stop that hate that threatens to poison our social relations?

Not likely.

Combating hate is a slow process that requires vigilance and perseverance. As students of anthropology you can be an important part of his healing process. You can take your knowledge and transform it into practice. You can observe small-scaled interactions and ethnographically describe incidents of hate as well as examples of social tolerance. You can post these descriptions on social media to create an ethnographic record of both intolerance and tolerance that will spread far and wide on the Internet--an anthropology of us..

Information is power. If hate is well documented it can be eventually be pushed back into the hole from which it emerged, enabling you to soon enjoy the fruits of a more peaceful, vibrant and tolerant society.

Your Professor