Most of us commonly — and rather fondly — remember him as Beck from Nickelodeon sitcom “Victorious”. Some, such as myself, have noted him in other television appearances such as Freeform’s short lived drama “Twisted” and Ruben Fleischer’s upcoming film “ZombieLand” starring Woody Harrelson and Abigail Breslin. But what Canadian-American actor and social activist Avan Jogia brought to Storrs last month surpasses stunning on-screen performance. In his debut publication “Mixed Feelings,” Jogia’s collection of poignant and culturally relevant poems and short stories paints an America that many people are still afraid to admit exists. In light of our current political and rising social climate, the exposé that “Mixed Feelings” provides begs the question: Is the United States as culturally and socially tolerant as it claims to be?
The answer? No.
In fact, the US is seriously backsliding. Not only do we see this regression taking shape in violent and hateful ways, but in more subtle and honestly more damaging, microaggressions that locate their origins within the intricately woven fabric of this country’s ideological and political foundations. Now, it would take a book longer than the Mueller Report to fully encapsulate why our current political climate not only encourages but perpetuates intolerant American ideals and in turn normalizes them, so we won’t go into it.
However, two of the most pressing forms we commonly find within American society are the fear and sexualization of people we do not understand. Take 9/11 as a prime example. As terrible as this act of terror was, the important fact that everyone should take out their Sharpies and underline is that the plane hijacking and destruction of the World Trade Center was committed by an extremist group of individuals that just so happened to affiliate with a certain religion. In other words, not all Muslims are terrorists, and it is extremely ignorant and grossly unintelligent to discriminate against everyone else who just so happens to also refer to their God as Allah.
The fact that in 2019 our beloved Jogia still feels the need to write “‘cause it was dangerous to be brown after 2001” is just … sad. To hear about stories of hijabs being ripped off of the heads of Muslim women, and children being told not to play with a certain little boy who happens to pray five times a day is even sadder. Despite my best attempts at not getting political, it is nearly impossible to not at least mention the bigotry that accompanies much of the ethos the Trump administration relies so heavily on.
Within just weeks of his inauguration, Trump puts forth the first iteration of Executive Order 13769, also known as Muslim Ban 1.0. This discriminatory order was wrapped up in a pretty little national security guise, but the truth is that more acts of terror and hate on U.S. soil are committed by people born in America. Between 2011 and 2017, there were over 7,000 incidents of hate crimes and on average, 51.9% of the perpetrators were white. In comparison, a whopping 26% of terrorist attacks between 2001 and 2016 —an even broader time frame — were committed by non-white radicalists, whereas far-right individuals made up the remaining three quarters. This goes to show the Nation of the Free still holds captive those that they don’t understand. What America fails to realize is that in the case of humanity, a few bad apples does not justify condemning the entire bunch.
On the opposite end of this warped spectrum, we have a gross objectification of people of “exotic” race or phenotype — especially those of mixed descent. This is what we call fetishism. Now, I understand that fetishes, no matter how weird or what some may view as ethically backwards, are the prerogative of the individual and no else’s freaking business. However, when it comes to people, taking all of that complexity, intelligence and potential and squashing it down into one attribute to define their worth is dehumanizing.
Not only is it psychologically damaging for the individual being fetishized, but it perpetuates social divisions such as colorism and prejudice, and further disenfranchises the social group or groups that said individual identifies with. Not to mention it’s just disrespectful. Sentiments such as “I only date Asian women”, “I want to marry a white man so my kids can have certain characteristics, or “I love you because you’re black” are all extremely damaging objectifications. Finding someone attractive solely because of their racially ambiguous background or aspiring to procreate outside of your race simply so your children can look a certain way is a silent manifestation of racist ideology. It takes away their humanity and therefore their worth. Saying someone is “exotic” or has “the good mix,” as Jogia so eloquently quotes, is just as bad as telling someone they’re ugly because their skin is too dark.
Now I’m not beyond admitting that this doesn’t always happen on purpose. But my lamentations are rooted in the need for western society to wake up. The way we go about the differences between us is not healthy; it’s socially, politically and psychologically damaging and it’s tearing the human race apart. Jogia claims in his book that America is not inherently racist. If that’s true, then we need to stop acting like we are.
Thumbnail photo courtesy of @jogia Instagram.
Camryn Johnson is a contributor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at email@example.com.