The Boy Who Cried Ignorance

By Saniya More

How one night captured a harsh cultural divide.

Photo by Hanna Benavides.

Photo by Hanna Benavides.

It started out as the perfect Halloweekend night. Costume? Check. Party playlist? Check. An irrevocable urge to dance all night? Check.

My friends and I were ready to go all out and hit one of the many parties that were taking place that night on campus. Needless to say, we were excited because for some of us, myself included, this would be our last Halloween at SU.

We started off the night with freshmen tendencies— we had no clue where we would be going. We wandered the streets, battling Syracuse’s bipolar rainy weather with heavy coats and hoods.

After a good walk, we arrived at a seemingly open fraternity house. A horde of white girls in interesting costumes were ahead of us, and the boys at the house ushered them in, no questions asked. My friends and I decided to go to the party as well, it looked open and ambient enough.

Imagine our slight shock when the hosts took one look at our faces and bulky coats, and asked if we were in a sorority. “No,” we replied, a little surprised because they hadn’t asked the girls in front of us.

“This party is only for sorority girls,” they told us. Although they didn’t say it outright, it was subtly obviously what they were getting at: three out of four of us were of Asian descent, and didn’t exactly fit the typical sorority girl profile.

We turned back around and squeezed past a few dozen other girls. None of them said anything. As I turned back, I saw more girls enter the house, no questions asked.

A little annoyed but nevertheless determined to have a great night, we surged on, walking towards a house we’d been to before.

Our path was rudely cut short by a guy who sauntered up to one of my friends as if he was about to hit on her. “Hey,” he said.

“Hi,” my friend replied with some uncertainty. We watched on, not predicting what the guy would say to her next.

“Wait, you speak English?” he asked her, without even a small speck of remorse in his voice. My friend asked him if he was being serious. He just laughed loudly in response. The whole time, I was frozen. I couldn’t comprehend what was happening in front of me. I couldn’t believe that he was targeting my friend, a now-American citizen from Hong Kong who speaks fluent English.

Above all, I could not believe he had the audacity to correlate her skin color and appearance with her ability to converse in the global lingua franca, especially because English isn’t even an American language to begin with.

Our world is no stranger to social inequality and ignorance, and we have proved this time and time again with our disgusting slavery laws, destructive colonialism, and discriminatory  segregation of people based on their caste, color, religion, and lifestyle. As an Indian raised in Thailand, I have witnessed social bias where I was raised and where my parents are from. But to me, the United States has always been a far-off haven-- a place that promises opportunity, freedom and equality to those who enter its golden-crested gates.

Two years have passed since I travelled thousands of miles away from home to New York, carrying with me dreams of changing the world for the better. Before I arrived, I knew America wasn’t perfect: Slavery had divided society, racism was definitely still plaguing it, and I knew the world was still dealing with the effects of colonialism and neocolonialism. But I grossly underestimated the scale of impact these movements have had on the public and everyday life today.

For that reason, what happened to my friend and to us at the frat house did far more than just disturb me. I felt discouraged, disgusted and disappointed.

Social ignorance and cultural insensitivity are very real problems that affect society, and I think it really rests on this generation to stand up and fight for those who face discrimination and unequal treatment.

The boy’s cruel mockery of my friend’s ability to speak English, especially given the fact that she was initially raised in a former British colony, revealed his huge gaps in cultural awareness.

If the boy had even a shred of social knowledge, he would know that (1) there are only 22 countries in the entire world that the British empire did not invade. He would know that (2) Most former British colonies have English as an official language or one that is, in many cases, taught to children from a young age. And (3), he would know that his own country was once governed by a society that did not speak one word of English.

Halloween is fun, frat parties can be great, and Greek culture may have its merits. But you know what’s not okay? To judge someone and make assumptions about them because of the way they look or sound. It is not okay to make ignorant statements and not take responsibility for their consequences. It is cowardly to say something cruel to someone, to belittle them and simply walk away.

If you’re the boy in this scenario or if you’ve been the boy in the past, I forgive you. Maybe you really didn’t know. Maybe you weren’t aware. Maybe you were raised to not care about people outside your bubble of familiarity. These things may have been out of your control.

But regardless of whatever your reasons may have been, there’s no excuse for your behaviour now, because you are your own person.

Think beyond who you are and what you have been exposed to. Embrace diversity, because you’re not going to make it in this world if you can’t. Ask rather than assume. Above all, don’t think for one second that you can define someone’s value or worth.

And if this all sounds too difficult to do, I’m truly and genuinely sorry, because it only goes downhill from here for you.

Saniya More, a junior at Newhouse, speaks five languages and squeals over every dog she meets. She enjoys capturing candid yet poised photos of everyone she meets. If she’s not juggling news wraps, internships and homework in organised chaos, she can be found cooking up a mean Thai dinner.