Salted Wounds: On Identity Politics and Petty Antagonism

Conflicted. That’s how I’ve felt since the discussion about General Petraeus began at Macaulay last month. But not for an obvious reason. Once again, I’ve found myself at the crossroads of two very important elements of my life: namely, my activism and my academics. To be honest, I still haven’t crafted an informed perspective that can help me navigate how to feel about Gen. Petraeus. Controversies surround this man of immense intelligence, making him a polarizing figure in personal and professional circles. However, I do know that there is something inherently wrong with the contention between the Macaulay General Assembly (GA) and the Hertog Scholars Program.

I say this because I affiliate with and appreciate both. I was there when my friend Patryk Perkowski founded the organization on the heels of the Occupy Wall Street movement. My time in the GA has provided me with an indespensible insight into the difficulties in situating myself on campus. I’ve been able to make amends with Hunter students who were angry with me, and rightly so, because I was a Macaulay Honors student. This organization is distinct because it addresses the “Macaulay Guilt” that weighs heavily on our shared identities at MHC. For that, I am grateful.

And simply put, the Hertog Scholars Program has been the most academically challenging and enriching experience of my life. I admit, I struggle throughout my Philosophy and Literature courses to consume, synthesize and communicate complicated ideas. Yet this endeavor has only rewarded me. Call me selfish, but being the only black Hertog Scholar, I’m sure I related most to our nuanced reading of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. Would I like to see more diversity? Sometimes, but the general ideas of justice and love transcend the applications of old white men. Is it overwhelming? Yes, but I defer to my classmate Daniel Pecoraro, who reminded me one Friday as I was complaining, “You asked for it.”

I did ask for it, but I did not ask for the arguments that ensued. I did not ask to be caught in the middle. But I ask for it now in the form of my opinion. Why? Because I wish to address an antagonism that is, to put it bluntly, petty. As many of you know, I am a first-generation American of Ghanaian descent and a queer radical. This is a conflict that I hope to address in both my academics and activism. But many people tell me I ask for too much. Am I asking for too much when I walk through my Jamaican neighborhood at night in the Bronx and I hear gay slurs, wishing that they’d stop? And am I asking for too much when I criticize American homosexuality for purging itself of racial diversity? Perhaps I’m tired of being fetishized as the other in both circles. Perhaps I am asking to be treated as a human being, the identity that transcends every affiliation of my choice and my birth. I know one thing for sure: I certainly will not participate in such an antagonism at my University.

I hoped to develop a perspective at the Petraeus discussion from those who supported his appointment and those who opposed, but I was disheartened to see that it momentarily devolved into the ugly rivalry between Hertog Scholars and GA members. My singular comment had nothing to do with the General, but everything to do with the polarizing effect that he may reinforce: the politics of identity. This subtle, yet powerful discourse takes place at Macaulay’s center, and must be engaged carefully.

This means that in spite of my affiliations, I will disagree with people who supposedly share my political beliefs in both forums. I already have. I am not forced by my identity as a gay man to abandon the richness of my culture. I am not restricted by the laws of my culture to view homosexuality as an abomination. This is the freedom enacted by the combination of activism and intellectualism, because I am free to respect and engage an individual with opposite beliefs, even if they offend my divergent sensibilities. My hope is that the perspectives offered at Macaulay, though antithetical, are carefully considered. I strive to meet this standard because for me, my beliefs are integral to my life, my livelihood and the freedom of my expression.

Although we may not share the same beliefs, we should be able to engage one another from a basis of mutual respect. There is absolutely no need to open old wounds with vitriol, just to pour salt on them to stanch the argumentative chatter. Mutual respect and understanding affords us the chance at effectively wrestling the troublesome affiliations, events and issues of our day. So I humbly ask to let the wound mend and let the healing begin.

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