The Bates Student

The Voice of Bates College since 1873

Author: Chris Hassan

Our Lick It

The experiences of queer students at Bates are multifaceted, diverse, and vibrant. They work in every field of study and organization on campus. Our community dresses from high couture queens to thrift shop sissies. Queer students express their sexualities and identities in a myriad of ways through differing layers of privilege. My experience as a bisexual, upper-class, cis, white man is much different than LGBT+ individuals of more marginalized identities. But there is one thing that we all have in common: we’re a small minority on this campus. LGBT+ identities are in the margins of populations everywhere, but at Bates, it’s very hard to miss. Our diverse community easily gets overpowered by heterosexual and cisgender cultures. I, personally, have found my own friend circles to be accepting and accommodating, but for many others, I know this to not be the case. While events like Coming Out Week and Sex Week give us opportunities to make ourselves more known, the queer community is rarely the center of discussion for the campus as a whole. But on an infamous dance night, that (supposedly) changes. Lick-It is arguably the biggest event of the year that puts our identities up front and center. The night before Gala, Bates’ illustrious student-faculty prom, the college at-large congregates within a smaller venue for an explicitly sexual and wild dance experience. It’s fair to say that Lick-It is second only to the 80s Dance in terms of infamy for raunchiness. The night is awash with costumes, lingerie, toys, and half-naked twenty-something year-olds in general. But rarely amidst this sexually explorative environment do I see drag, leather, grunge, or rainbows. Rarely do I see my fellow queer people. More and more I find that our communities are being erased from this event, and that queer students are just another group of attendees rather than the protagonists of the evening. Lick-It has been appropriated and overtaken by heterosexual, cisgender Batesies (to say nothing of the realities of race and nationality at the event). Much of this partying excess is rooted in the caricaturization of queer expression and the harmful notion that affirming a sexual/gender identity means being excessively carnal. Since my first year at the dance, I can remember seeing queer couples and groups isolated in niches of the dance floor in Benjamin Mays. I have seen so many pregamers and party goers simply use this dance as another opportunity to get smashed rather actually acknowledge the LGBT+ community at this school. People whom I have personally heard yell f****t in their dorms and shamelessly mock transgender folx show up to this festivity jumping in jubilation. This dance is a staple Bates event, but it’s become divorced from its original mission. Queer sexualities, genders, and cultures have been drowned out at this dance, much like on the rest of campus, by an overwhelmingly hetero and cis-normative environment. It’s no longer the “queer party” at Bates, but rather a party that happens to be put on by the queer identity group, Outfront. In a way, this may have been bound to happen; loud music and heavy drinking are, admittedly, not exactly conducive to thoughtful dialogue on exchanges of culture and identity. Perhaps Outfront should make such events more private and small-scale. And yes, while sex-positive events are always worth promoting, every dance at Bates is sex-positive for straight people. The LGBT+ community does not have equal representation and access to spaces. Do not get me wrong: Lick-It is fun. Really fun. I love the pregames, the music, and the opportunities for me and my friends to express ourselves vivaciously. But it simply is not the queer-focused event it was intended to be. The solutions to this problem are simple and have long been in the works. We need more campus-wide attendance at activities and Chase Hall programs that invite all students to come, but which center around the queer experience at Bates. What I want, ultimately, is not to call-out cis-het Bates students, but rather ask them to reconsider Lick-It. Reconsider your conduct at the party (like for the love of Miss Vanjie respect consent). Reconsider how you choose at act in queer spaces. Reconsider your preconceived notions of what being queer can mean. But most of all, reconsider how little room us LGBT+ students at Bates have to act and dance as ourselves. We need our Lick-It back.

Between the Scenes of Satire

In the first years of the Trump Presidency, late-night comedians and TV shows often make headlines for mocking the president and his ragtag administration of wannabe autocrats. In one corner you have Alec Baldwin’s cruddy impression of Trump lamenting the Mueller investigation with the rest of the Saturday Night Live cast. Change the channel and you can tune into Jimmy Kimmel delivering mildly chuckle-worthy jokes about how Ted Cruz is weird. If you’re so inclined, you might even see Stephen Colbert in the shadow of his former satirical glory delivering average stand up about the latest bizarre Trump tweet.

All over mainstream entertainment, slightly left-of-center Democrats and bourgeois progressives seem to have an oligopoly on political satire. The elite bastions of both Hollywood and New York, while often critical for creating representation and innovating art, are often hit-or-miss with speaking truth to power. 

All sarcasm aside, I’d be lying if I said the jokes and skits were never funny or well-acted. My main problem with all these comedians, however, is how little they actually have to say about politics. They will always say that Trump is a gross, stupid sexist, but they never ask why; as in, why would millions of Americans continue to support this gross, stupid sexist man and his administration. They won’t go so far as to say that the institutions of capitalism and white supremacy in this country have fundamentally damaged our political system. They’ll make fun of Trump’s bad toupee and call it a night. One can’t help but think that, with SNL in particular, there’s no real political conviction beneath the surface. It’s all muzzled barks and no bite. People will often just lament that Donald Trump is too hard to make fun of because he’s already so absurd. In many ways, this is true, but it is followed by a pretty simple solution: why not make your satire actually about the guts of politics and not just surface-level observations? 

And that is why the “Between the Scenes” clips from “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah” are some of the only consistently good political humor that currently exists in popular media. These are the short segments posted online during which Noah interacts with the audience and answers their questions while the “Daily Show” cuts to commercial. “The Daily Show” itself, given the herculean task of coming up with hot-takes every night, often falls into the exact same tired, barely funny pattern of “ORANGE PRESIDENT BAD” that plagues other comedians. But when off-script (“Between the Scenes” is entirely ad-libbed), Trevor Noah not only shines in his outstanding stand-up skills, but also his political insight.

Noah, while delivering quips about news stories and answering audience questions, does what few other comedians even think of: counterintuitively, he’s unafraid to not make people laugh. When making his political positions clear and explaining his arguments, Trevor Noah doesn’t try to put a joke at the end of every sentence. He understands that for satire, your political stance must always come first. The comedy is the main tool, not the end goal. The best satire will make you laugh but does not hesitate to take itself seriously.

While covering the shooting of Emantic Bradford Jr., a black man who was shot in cold blood by Alabama police while trying to prevent a mall shooting, Noah’s grievances are nuanced but blunt. At one point he minces no words and says “the Second Amendment is not intended for black people.” In discussing the Brett Kavanaugh hearing, Trevor Noah mocks Trump’s chauvinism and voice but concisely explains how he has weaponized victimhood in the name of misogyny. When Colin Kaepernick’s Nike Ad debuted, Noah praised Kaepernick and the message while also clearly warning that we shouldn’t be convinced that “woke” corporations will ever put politics over their goal of making profits. 

To be sure, Noah is by no means especially further to the left than other late-night comedians. I, myself, am often critical of the lax ways he discusses the police state and mainstream Democrats. But in all these commercial extras, Noah perfectly balances humor with insight. He knows that his platform as the host of a satirical news show is to preach politics while being funny, not to be funny with a political twist.

Acceptance, Not Tolerance

“Political polarization” is often used as shorthand for the worsening state of politics in the United States. It’s simply assumed to be negative in connotation and in real life. Well, it isn’t. Politics is not a race towards bipartisanship; it is about survival and justice, and there are many instances where there is no middle-ground solution. In some matters, it is life or death, freedom or oppression, dignity or dehumanization, and people should be polarized against those who would marginalize them.


This is the state of our politics in 2019, and it is a fact we must live with. We should be polarized about locking Latinx children in cages, starving Yemen, and ruining our last hopes of mitigating climate change. These are not issues with which we can tolerate compromise; they can only go one way or the other.
Of course, polarization is much easier started than finished. Like it or not, we have to live together in the same country with large groups of people who enthusiastically support despicable policies. For some of people—as in those with much less privilege than me—this is an obvious reality. I have not faced any severe discrimination in my life, and far be it from me to claim any struggle that is not my own. Nonetheless, this dilemma has been weighing on me for years: how to live with entire states and populations who seem so diametrically opposed to justice?


The easy answer is anger and resentment, and both reactions are justifiable for many people. The labor of changing this country for the better should not and cannot be placed on the most vulnerable groups of people. Privileged people, like myself, thus need to start actually doing our part. That is where anger and resentment, in my opinion, are not optimum strategies. It is with this privilege that I must lift the voices of marginalized people and confront people within my own communities.


The question still remains as to what I do with such monstrous odds in a time of polarization. Realistically speaking, I can’t get anything done by picking fights with tens of millions of Trump supporters. With this dilemma, I have come up with a sort of guiding philosophy: acceptance that lacks tolerance.
I can only accept that I live in a country so diametrically opposed to what I can consider being justice, and that polarizes me. But polarization is not synonymous with animosity. The result of being diametrically opposed to the President and his surrogates is not antagonism, but activism. When I say I won’t tolerate Trump supporters, that does not mean I will refuse to try to persuade them to my side. Quite the opposite—we need working-class solidarity and the support of people from across the country if we want Medicare for All, affordable college, and green energy solutions.


But it also means that I won’t act as if I can look past their support for the Republican Party and its destructive ideologies. I can accept that they have different political views than me, but I cannot tolerate these differences and will actively work to change them. As an activist, I must work constantly and not compromise on matters that affect the existential and physical safety of marginalized people and the planet itself.


Once again, the burden of this admittedly broad call to action falls upon those of us who don’t have to actively fear for their safety when interacting with polarized parties. And sometimes, some groups cannot be persuaded and won’t be willing to join progressive causes, and those groups need to be defeated. We cannot let a lukewarm principle like “compromise” get in the way of real justice—we have to win.

A Thesis Critiquing… Thesis

As is a mandatory right-of-passage for all seniors, I completed my senior thesis for my Politics major last December. Since deliberating in February 2018, I had gone through several iterations of my thesis question, read at least several hundred pages of articles and books, and ended up with sixty-six pages of final draft material. Through endless hours of meticulous reading and dedicating (without exaggeration) every day and night of my Thanksgiving break to revisions, I bound my physical copy on December 6. Surrounded by my closest friends, I was trembling from breathing the deepest sigh of relief of my life; I had done it. My thesis journey was by no means exceptionally difficult, especially when compared to those students working on high honors and with original data. Nevertheless, from my first hour of initial research in Ladd to the very moment I printed the last page of my bibliography, I couldn’t help but wonder: was it all worth it? To write a thesis is, for us undergrads, a privilege in many ways. It is a perfect writing sample to send to future employers, allowing us to synthesize the courses of our majors, and forcing us to break apart what makes for a compelling argument. But as it is currently run, a thesis argument is catered to an academic audience. Thesis is by design meant to simulate an upper-level dissertation we might encounter in graduate school, be it for an MA or even a Ph.D. To be sure, academic writing is often insightful and very important to advancing our understanding on higher ideas, but it is anything but accessible. In this vein, senior thesis prioritizes neither a creative approach to writing nor one that is especially multifaceted. Our thesis question and the summary of our subsequent argument needs to be incredibly specific and constantly follow a precise academic writing style. You’re probably familiar with the common expression, “if you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” I don’t buy that. If my Politics major has taught me anything, it’s that good questions and arguments don’t have easy answers. More radically, one answer doesn’t need to be indisputable to be useful. Politics, the humanities at large, and even the hard sciences need to reconcile that the real world, the one outside of Bates, is full of the questions and puzzles that should be answered in ways that aren’t reduced to sixty pages. At the end of the day, these opinions are my experience and my experience alone. I knew long before senior year that I was not naturally adept at academic writing and was not much of a debater. I am still proud of the thesis I wrote. But as I said, I prefer my opinions to be general and constantly evolving, not fixed into a precise, packageable statement. In many ways, my critique of senior thesis is more a critique of academia itself, and the blame for that can’t possibly be put on any lone professor or university. However, I have come to the personal conclusion that thesis needs to be changed. That which would replace thesis, as it currently exists, is up for debate. The simplest solution would be to make it voluntary by removing it as a requirement for graduation. Perhaps capstone projects and interactive research within the local community or abroad could be given greater funding and institutional support. We could even remove the argumentative foundations of thesis and instead turn it into an exploratory exercise. I by no means have the answers to these questions. That’s the point. We don’t need to immediately and conclusively have an answer to solve and explore a problem. We are a tiny school and a close-knit community. We have the time, resources, and interpersonal rapport to come together and find new ways to foster intellectual rigor as we bid our seniors farewell.

Roses Need to Start Sprouting

This past Midterm cycle, Democrats made massive gains all across the country. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, Ilhan Omar, and Sharice Davids; all Democrats, all women of color, with Omar being Muslim and Davids being queer, all notably further to the left than Democrats of years past. Even the unsuccessful senatorial race of Beto O’Rourke v. Ted Cruz in Texas was historic since O’Rourke managed to win 48.3% of the vote compared to Cruz’s 50.9%. For a Democrat to come that close in the staunchly red state of Texas was nothing short of historic.

And indeed, O’Rourke has not stopped getting press since his noble defeat. Tons of buzz has been going all around Democratic circles in recent weeks encouraging him to run for president in 2020. O’Rourke and Democrats like him are certainly reliably liberals and against the tide of Trumpism. Indeed, I can say for sure that O’Rourke has the kind of charisma that could catapult him into becoming the Democratic nominee. Although I am more want to see a Kamala Harris candidacy, he’d have my vote if that’s where we end up in 2020.

But I fear we are not going to end up there. I fear we might wind up with another Hillary Clinton candidacy, with a centrist like Joe Biden, or if hell freezes over, with a billionaire like Michael Bloomberg. The antidote to far-right nationalism is not centrism. It is not regressive compromise for the sake of “bipartisanship”, and it is not neoliberalism. To put our country on the right path, we need to combat Trumpism with actual leftists and progressives. We need candidates, presidential and congressional, who will abolish and prosecute I.C.E. We need candidates who will push towards expanding Medicare to the point of creating a single-payer system. We need candidates who will stop fanning the flames of war abroad and roll back drone strikes in Yemen. We need candidates who will understand that a New Green Deal is our only hope for even mitigating the impending climate disaster.

To be perfectly honest, I don’t believe a presidential candidate like that could realistically happen in my lifetime. The window of acceptable dialogue for the Right has only become more extreme while it has stayed static for the Left since Bill Clinton. It would take a total overhaul for a presidential candidate to speak like Ocasio-Cortez or Andrew Gillum. While our president and the Republicans step closer to white nationalism and crony capitalism every day, Democrats remain too afraid to tap into the politics of identity and real economic anxiety that affect our country.

That’s why our fight needs to be fought on multiple fronts. At the state level, we need to pay attention to our local elections and demand that our state senators and city council people listen to our voices. At the congressional level, we need far, far more Ilhan Omars and Sharice Davids than we have. With these in our arsenal, we can at least put pressure on a candidate like O’Rourke or Harris to be more bold in their campaign promises.

Ultimately, though, the federal government at any level won’t be enough. Voting will never be enough. Big institutions like government matter, but for better or worse they will always be too mired in bureaucracy and international issues to focus on day-to-day matters. The killings of POC by police, hate crimes, declining health standards, the collapse of local economies: all of these are real issues we must help one another with. We can’t depend on big government and national politics to fully amend these ills.

For the change we want, we need to rebuild solidarity within our communities. But although the Presidency and Congress are never going to fully end police brutality, opioid deaths, or turn our economy green, they are a good place to start the conversation.

 

White Colonial Amnesia

This administration, and the American people at large, have time and again shown that they hate immigrants of color.

Trump’s administration has boisterously supported banning refugees and asylum seekers from the Middle East and, more recently, Honduras and Central America. The president recently announced his plans to violate the 14th Amendment and cancel birthright citizenship for the children of non-citizens in the US. Earlier this year, we witnessed thousands of children locked in concentration camps after being separated from their parents by ICE, a process still happening as I write this article.

In response to this white nationalist agenda has come a strong, pro-immigrant reaction. Well-meaning white liberals across the country have rightfully denounced the fascist practices of immigration enforcement. They have tweeted and hashtagged that the United States is a nation founded, built, and sustained by immigrants, of whom we citizens are all descendants. A viral photo that circulated this 4th of July showed a white woman holding a sign that read “What’s your American heritage,” to which the only answerable options were Native Americans, slaves, refugees, and/or immigrants.

This idea is echoed by pieces of pop culture like the hit musical “Hamilton.” Its most famous line goes “immigrants, we get the job done” in an exchange between Alexander Hamilton and Marquis de Lafayette, portrayed by two men of color. This narrative aims to paint the United States as a nation of immigrants, for immigrants, and by immigrants since its very beginnings in the 1700s. But these talking points omit an entirely different, much less picturesque group: colonizers.

There are still many white Americans whose ancestors came here during the 16th-17th centuries from England, France, and the Netherlands. These settlers, although often escaping adversity and poverty themselves, did not come here en masse as peaceful workers seeking to better this country. They settled and stole land previously inhabited by First Nations peoples, thousands of whom were killed by gunfire and invasive plagues. Many others were sold into slavery up and down the Atlantic.

These Europeans were extensions of a larger imperial project that continues to lead to the slaughter of indigenous communities to this day. From the perspective of First Nations people, these were not wayward immigrants pursuing the American dream. Men like George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and Thomas Jefferson were not “immigrants” or the “descendants” of immigrants, but colonizers on indigenous land.

I’m not saying every single European who came to colonial North America was a bloodthirsty conqueror. Furthermore, millions of white Americans do in fact have noble ancestry stories. Many of our ancestors came from Ireland, Poland, Germany, Italy, and beyond to escape poverty, religious persecution, and ethnic conflict to build a better life in the 19th century. Many Latinx communities were already living here, since much of the American West was Mexican and Spanish Territory during the same period.

Today, however, in our attempts to show solidarity with immigrants of color, we whitewash US history and do not deconstruct what being an “immigrant” really means. This idea that the Founding Fathers and the white Americans who came after them were all immigrants like today’s asylum seekers excludes the perspective and experiences of First Nations people.

This narrative about immigration absolves white liberals, myself included, of taking responsibility for the systemic benefits these conquistadores set up in their earliest stages. Worst of all, the viral picture previously mentioned tries to include First Nations people in the story of America’s heritage but excludes the colonial legacy that actively attempts to expunge them from this country.

We, white Americans, must do all we can to resist deportations, free all prisoners in immigration camps, and reunite children with their families. But we cannot turn immigration into a colorblind issue, as it is anything but. We cannot act like all our ancestors came to this land on equal moral footing.

 

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