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Lean into discomfort

The Black Student Alliance's protest against William Bennett's statement still lingers in my mind, despite the incident occurring a couple of weeks ago. I, too, was infuriated by the blatant racism exhibited by Bennett and discussed the issue with my friends online the previous night. Yet, when the opportunity arose for me to protest on Main Quad the next day, I headed to class instead.

Sure, I can reflect on this occasion and assure myself that I, like many other students that day, had somewhere to be or something to do during the time of the protest. However, I also know that once I was seated in my next class, I still had 15 minutes to spare, 15 minutes I could've spent out on the quad.

If I were truly honest with myself, I know my decision to not protest stemmed from the fact that I simply could not find a close friend out on the quad protesting, too. Plain and simple, I didn't feel comfortable. I tried to make myself feel better by e-mailing a friend that evening to find out whether or not Duke was doing some sort of a letter-writing campaign, to let her know that I supported BSA's response. Unfortunately, I obviously lacked the courage to show it publicly.

On the other hand, had the Asian Student Association held a similar protest against, say, the University of Michigan incident that occurred two weeks prior to Bennett's comment, in which two students verbally harassed and urinated on an Asian couple, I probably would've spared 15 minutes of my time, though there is nothing in particular about this incident that makes me more outraged than Bennett's comment.

While I don't consider myself an active member of the ASA, I assume that my likely choice to protest stems mainly from the fact that as an Asian-American, no one would have questioned my intentions or purpose out on the quad. That being said, I probably would have been elated to see my non-Asian friends join me in supporting ASA's efforts, just as I know that my friends in BSA would've been elated had I actually supported their organization's efforts, too.

In truth, I am ashamed that I advocate tolerance when I, all too often, let "comfortableness" dictate my everyday decisions. I choose not to go to the parties of certain fraternities, even when I know some members very well, simply because I assume I would feel uncomfortable as the only minority or Asian-American there.

On the other hand, when I'm eating dinner at the Great Hall with two or more Asians, I become paranoid that those who don't know me assume that I'm self-segregating. In order to combat this image, I deliberately choose to sit at a table that is in close proximity to non-Asians, just so that when my non-Asian friends see me, they won't feel so intimidated to come up and talk to me. You may laugh, but it's true.

While I recognize I shouldn't be compelled to think in such ways, I know my own levels of discomfort have dictated my social life at Duke and have restricted me to associate with just students who are similar to me.

But after spending this fall break on the Center for Race Relations' Common Ground retreat, I left with some very meaningful friendships with individuals whose paths I wouldn't have crossed had I just stayed in my comfort zone with my friends and my friends' friends.

It's interesting, though not surprising, that the one individual who challenged my thoughts and perceptions the most on Common Ground is an individual whose background I can't even begin to identify with, and who, sadly, I'm not sure I would've met had I just kept associating with the friends that I do.

It's tragic to think about what amazing people we haven't met and what meaningful interactions we have missed out on simply as a result of avoiding uncomfortable situations. Facing discomfort is certainly not something I seek, but I can't ignore the fact that this unlikely friend forced me to do more self-analysis in 72 hours of Common Ground than some of my closest friends of two years. And now the next time the opportunity arises for me to be an ally, I will have the courage to do so publicly.

Miho Kubagawa is a Trinity junior. Her column runs every other Wednesday. She would like to thank John Park for contributing to this column.

 

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