Nathaniel Kublin | Brown University
Back in early June, I visited one of my friends in her hometown of Syosset, New York. One of the stops on my tour was her high school, which is rather blandly named Syosset High School. I did not expect to hear much of the Long Island public school again outside of conversations with my friend, but just a few months later it was plastered in the headlines of articles throughout my Twitter feed. “Anti-Semitic Graffiti Found At Syosset High School” read the news on August 27th, 2017.
Now, 4 months later, a new headline came to my attention: “5 Teens Arrested In Syosset High School Graffiti Incident.” Justice was finally achieved, and the vandals got their comeuppance. Celebration should be in order then, right? To be completely honest with you, I didn't feel excited when reading the headline. I wasn’t feeling happy, satisfied, or even content. I was just surprised. I live in a country where the president spoke about grabbing female genitals without consequence, and where the Ku Klux Klan- which has seen 3 iterations spread over 150 years- still exists. My amazement with the new headline came from the fact that people are actually being held responsible for their actions.
I don’t want my lack of excitement to come across as support for the hate speech. After my two decades of existence, I have been conditioned to accept hate as common place. As a mixed POC, I’ve faced my fair share of race based comments, and doing anything other than normalizing it makes for an unlivable experience.
Sarah Silverman got this sentiment across in her opening monologue of the 6th episode of I Love You America with Sarah Silverman when she said, “As a Jew with a Twitter account, I could have told you it [hate speech] never went away. Since this monologue started, 30 people online have told me that I’m a horse-faced Jew that should jump in an oven.” She was then cut off by a series of moans and sighs of dissatisfaction from her studio audience, to which she responded, “Oh right, this is new to you. It must be jarring to hear these things. I’m so dead inside. It surprises me to hear group empathy.”
Whether you like it or not, this kind of language is protected under the first amendment. None of the students in Syosset were charged for the anti-semitism ingrained in their graffiti. Rather, they were caught for trespassing and vandalism. Even though the charges were not explicitly about the hateful message the students spread, the Superintendent made sure they implicitly were. In a public address, he said, “The actions of these few individuals cannot and will not redefine the values of this community. However, this incident serves as a reminder that the work of building a tolerant and inclusive school community is an ongoing shared process between our schools, parents and greater Syosset community.”
I know I was not immediately excited when reading the headlines today, but I will say that aftermath is getting me excited. We live in a pivotal time in American culture. From high school vandalism to high profile sexual assault accusations, it may seem to be that the national dialogue is flooded with nothing but negative news. The truth is that these negative stories were the realities of many for countless years before they were headlines. We don’t live in an especially bad period of time, we are just finally beginning to talk about our problems. Looking forward, the idea that hate may no longer be accepted as common place is exciting. The idea that we as a nation are addressing our countless issues is exciting. There is a lot to be excited about, and I encourage you all to hold onto that optimistically fueled excitement into 2018, because we may be on the brink of something that actually makes America great again.