A comment elsewhere

One of the first things I learned when working in Washington my sophomore year is that I couldn't understand what it was like to be a minority until I was one. I lived in a majority-black neighborhood, and was the only white on my bus until we crossed the Potomac. (I also dealt with the poor infrastructure of DC every day, with roads so clogged I could often get out of one bus and walk down the street for 15 minutes to catch the one ahead.)

But in any case, there was something unique in walking every day to the bus knowing that I would be the only white person at the stop, and something unique feeling "different" each day in that bus. But that was an hour-long commute each day, and the moment I got to Eastern Market in DC, other white people appeared everywhere.

My point is that I noticed it - it was a part of my experience - and that I could not have understood that feeling from a description, because it was new. I am sure that if I felt something for an hour a day on a bus, that black Williams students feel something 24/7 on campus, where they are often the only black students in a room or around a table.

But I can't tell you what that is, because I'm not a 11% minority here. I can't understand or really describe to you what it feels like to be black, and why my classmates can get so fed up with Williams that they head back to the BSU to regroup. I don't understand, and I can't help you to understand.

So to your question:

I don't know. My guess is yes, but not having been in that situation, I can't tell you, because I know how hard it is to communicate that sort of feeling from my experiences elsewhere. There are black students at Williams who do fine, and black students that do not.

But let's take a look at the historic policies. We know that blacks in this country (and especially in my native south) suffered discrimination through Brown vs. Board and for some years thereafter. We also know that blacks were denied many of the benefits of the G.I. Bill, and I have heard other students state (but haven't looked at the sourcing myself) that national policies were destructive to the black family in the 50s and 60s. Those were our parents.

The result today is that where I went to school in Decatur, there were three black and four white elementary schools, which some black kids were bused to. The black schools had chronic issues and two were closed down during consolidation. The white schools became the administrative offices, the 4/5 academy, and two others remained open as elementary schools.

In my school system, blacks were generally not prepared at the same level as whites, with an "achievement gap" that started at birth. This meant that the Honors and AP classes at my high school were accordingly white dominated. The best and brightest blacks from my school, who took AP Calculus, went to Florida State.

Williams has a hard time finding qualified minorities because of the structural achievement gap. Part of that gap's effect is cultural - blacks who studied in my school were called "oreos" and often bullied. I never had to deal with that. Additionally, the public schools I went to were improved if you could eat breakfast at home and had a good dinner ready, something many blacks didn't have because of the different socio-economics. So there's a mixture of factors, some of them tied to money, and others tied to skin, that work against black students.

I would argue that the issues about money and class are more problematic, because blacks of means can find private environments for their children to learn, but both are aspects that would have made my life more difficult in Decatur had I been black. Not because Decatur was a bad school district - indeed, its one of the best - but because of a wide variety of factors that made stereotypes into reality within my high school's cafeteria.

So when you take the top 1% of white students and the top 1% of black students, they are probably going to look different. Add various factors that make being aware of one's blackness a liability in standardized testing and you make that 1% look worse than it relatively should.

One of the problems with our current policies (we being society) is that we pluck out that top 1% or 5% of minorty populations, and provide lots of resources - the national achievement scholarship for one - but there are two structural issues here. First, when you take that top percentage out, you are ignoring the greater mass, which is where the momentum needs to be shifted. Second, when you create special programs, you give an implicit message that "you aren't good enough for the *real* program so we have this special one." That doesn't mean such programs are bad, but rather that there is no perfect bullet to resolving the legacy of discrimination that my homestate and others unleashed on minorities.

So when a black student comes to Williams, I'm willing to state that they run a risk of being less prepared. Their school might not have had the same high standards; other factors can underlie this issue. But Williams throws them in, having recruited them, and expects them to sink or swim in a brand-new environment where they are, often for the first time, a minority. Unsurprisingly, it can be difficult, and they might have a lower GPA their freshman year.

I know this narrative because it also applies to me. Deprived of my friend group, I languished a bit in my freshman fall, and my freshman GPA was significantly lower than my other years at Williams. That one year can doom you from achieving PBK when going against others who walk into Williams intending Med School or Grad school.

So yes, I think there are issues at Williams that relate to people's backgrounds, and please note that the issues raised in Stand With Us aren't even a piece of this post. I'm only telling part of the story, whatever it is. There are issues relating to class (poor white kids are very underrepresented here relative to the country), and issues relating to race. Both are not positive, and Williams isn't on top of these issues yet.

Stewart's Closing Words

Because I don't think he'll mind my appropiating them to this blog:
And now I thought we might have a moment, however brief, for some sincerity. If that's okay - I know that there are boundaries for a comedian / pundit / talker guy, and I'm sure that I'll find out tomorrow how I have violated them.

So, uh, what exactly was this? I can't control what people think this was: I can only tell you my intentions.

This was not a rally to ridicule people of faith, or people of activism, or look down our noses at the heartland, or passionate argument, or to suggest that times are not difficult and that we have nothing to fear--they are, and we do.

But we live now in hard times, not end times. And we can have animus, and not be enemies. But unfortunately, one of our main tools in delineating the two broke.

The country's 24-hour, political pundit perpetual panic conflictinator did not cause our problems, but its existence makes solving them that much harder. The press can hold its magnifying glass up to our problems, bringing them into focus, illuminating issues heretofore unseen. Or they can use that magnifying glass to light ants on fire, and then perhaps host a week of shows on the dangerous, unexpected flaming ants epidemic. If we amplify everything, we hear nothing.

There are terrorists, and racists, and Stalinists, and theocrats, but those are titles that must be earned! You must have the resume! Not being able to distinguish between real racists and Tea Party-ers, or real bigots and Juan Williams or Rick Sanchez is an insult--not only to those people, but to the racists themselves, who have put in the exhausting effort it takes to hate. Just as the inability to distinguish terrorists from Muslims makes us less safe, not more.

The press is our immune system. If it overreacts to everything, we actually get sicker--and, perhaps, eczema. And yet... I feel good. Strangely, calmly, good. Because the image of Americans that is reflected back to us by our political and media process is false. It is us, through a funhouse mirror--and not the good kind that makes you look slim in the waist, and maybe taller, but the kind where you have a giant forehead, and an ass shaped like a month-old pumpkin, and one eyeball.

So why would we work together? Why would you reach across the aisle, to a pumpkin-assed forehead eyeball monster? If the picture of us were true, of course our inability to solve problems would actually be quite sane and reasonable--why would you work with Marxists actively subverting our Constitution, and homophobes who see no one's humanity but their own?

We hear every damned day about how fragile our country is, on the brink of catastrophe, torn by polarizing hate, and how it's a shame that we can't work together to get things done. The truth is, we do! We work together to get things done every damned day! The only place we don't is here (in Washington) or on cable TV!

But Americans don't live here, or on cable TV. Where we live, our values and principles form the foundation that sustains us while we get things done--not the barriers that prevent us from getting things done.

Most Americans don't live their lives solely as Democrats, Republicans, liberals or conservatives. Americans live their lives more as people that are just a little bit late for something they have to do. Often something they do not want to do! But they do it. Impossible things, every day, that are only made possible through the little, reasonable compromises we all make.

(Points to video screen, showing video of cars in traffic.) Look on the screen. This is where we are, this is who we are. These cars. That's a schoolteacher who probably think his taxes are too high, he's going to work. There's another car, a woman with two small kids, can't really think about anything else right now... A lady's in the NRA, loves Oprah. There's another car, an investment banker, gay, also likes Oprah. Another car's a Latino carpenter; another car, a fundamentalist vacuum salesman. Atheist obstetrician. Mormon Jay-Z fan.

But this is us. Every one of the cars that you see is filled with individuals of strong belief, and principles they hold dear--often principles and beliefs in direct opposition to their fellow travelers'. And yet, these millions of cars must somehow find a way to squeeze, one by one, into a mile-long, 30-foot-wide tunnel, carved underneath a mighty river.

And they do it, concession by concession: you go, then I'll go. You go, then I'll go. You go, then I'll go. 'Oh my God--is that an NRA sticker on your car?' 'Is that an Obama sticker on your car?' It's okay--you go, then I go.

And sure, at some point, there will be a selfish jerk who zips up the shoulder, and cuts in at the last minute. But that individual is rare, and he is scorned, and he is not hired as an analyst!

Because we know, instinctively, as a people, that if we are to get through the darkness and back into the light, we have to work together. And the truth is there will always be darkness, and sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel isn't the promised land.

Sometimes, it's just New Jersey.

But we do it anyway, together. If you want to know why I’m here and what I want from you, I can only assure you this: you have already given it to me. Your presence was what I wanted. Sanity will always be and has always been in the eye of the beholder. And to see you here today and the kind of people that you are has restored mine. Thank you.”

Why the Rally Matters

Talking to a friend this evening, I mentioned my glee that the Rally to Restore Sanity (and/or Fear) drew over 250,000 people. Her question: why are you so pleased? For a moment, I was stumped. Why this number, so large it's not possible to really comprehend how many people were there.

But here's why. For many Americans, Election Day is the extent of their involvement with politics. Yes, they get robocalls, and yes, they see political ads, but these are actions of consumers, not participants. To be involved, they vote, and this is enough for many. The problem is that voting (and the sampling that tries to predict it) doesn't do enough.

Polling and voting tell us preferences for or against a given person on a given day under certain conditions, one reason why there can be large swings between polls and results. People's thoughts at home can differ from their thoughts in a voting booth, and their thoughts in a voting booth can differ from their intentions and actions outside of the booth.

In short, voting is an imperfect way of expressing our thoughts, especially given how buggy our voting system is, and accordingly, I think many elites don't care too much about votes as a signal of intentions and the character of the country.

Instead, I think the record demonstrates amply that politicians respond to a lot of things: a plumber with a simple question, a gaffe from an opponent, but relevant to this conversation: the thoughts and feelings of those around them. And those who are around politicians tend not to be representative of everyone. For one thing, given the low pay / high work ratios of working in the public sector, those around politicians tend to gather some sort of "pay" from being close to power, or from feeling like they are making a difference and helping people. But most importantly, these people are also elites, interested enough in the public sector to interact with it much more than the average person. Those are the workers.

The citizens who voice their opinions also aren't representative. Yes, they are of every sex, orientation, color, and hue, but they all care too much. They (or I should say we) are often polarized, and are motivated to contact offices in DC with specific wishes for or against bills. There's nothing wrong with these interests, but I've found in my experience that such interests come from two places. Either they are from people with a personal focus (like the parents of children with cancer who lobby congress for more research funding), and whose political interests are focused in that area, or they care about dan near everything. Those with personal focuses are more like the rest of us - they are involved because of what happened to them or their loved ones, but they only sound off on one thing. The people who care about everything sound off on 10 things. Or 20 things. And so the partisans (good people that they/we are) get an overinflated power over every politician and of that politician's positions.

And logically, too, I should say, since these are the same people that contribute to campaigns. But these people are not everyone - I am not of the same level of political interest as my collegemates - and as a result, our leaders stop representing everyone and they start representing US - the interested class.

This event is important because it brings more people into the sphere of influence on politicians. Their words and actions will differ now, because 215k+ people showed up to the Rally, and if they don't, people will be more likely to hold them to account. So in the long term, I might push for process reform, but in the meantime, I will celebrate rallies that are about countering the insane games that politicians and those that surround them play in the search for power.