As of this September, I am an official freshman at Boston University. My acceptance into the university was one of the happiest moments of my life. This transition has brought about many new experiences: sharing a room with three other girls, communal bathrooms, new freedoms and independence. However, new to me as these things were, they were not unanticipated.
As an incoming freshman, I was lucky enough to participate in BU’s First Year Outreach Program (FYSOP) and at the end of the week, the program directors put together a wonderful performance that featured many local artists and performers. The last performer of the night was Latrell James, a rapper from the Boston area. He was energetic and talented, but there were three words he said that completely floored me.
With a wild grin and a laugh, he raised the microphone and said, “Fuck Donald Trump!” And then he said it again. And then again, and again, and he asked the crowd to say it again and again.
The sentiment was, to me, understandable. It was understandable to many others as well, demonstrated by their compliance to repeat the chant with vigor and enthusiasm. And I won’t lie, I was also caught up in the energy. More than a few ‘Fuck Donald Trump’s fell from my lips. James finished his set, did the post show interview, and then FYSOP program directors came out for an impromptu post-show discussion and damage control. But many students, myself included, thought nothing of the event and were far too tired for a late night discussion in a room with hundreds of other students (those 6am-10pm schedules were pretty draining).
But the next day, many of us had new feelings about what had happened. Some of us were in support, others of us felt uncomfortable, and some of us remained indifferent. But we all recognized there was a question to be answered: despite how we all felt about Donald Trump, was it okay for James to say what he did?
Arguments abounded. One student cited the classic freedom of speech: James was perfectly allowed to exercise his first amendment right. Another student argued that James violated the inclusive space FYSOP was trying to cultivate and that as a guest he was expected to uphold. Perhaps, one student offered, it was the crowd's fault; as a performer, James latched onto the energy his statement raised and rolled with it.
As the conversation continued, I realized that I myself did not quite know how to feel about it. I’m no fan of Donald Trump, and to be honest I have little patience for his followers. Donald Trump has proven himself to be an ignorant bigot, and to support his ideologies is to spread the harm those ideologies create. And yet, despite getting swept into the energy, I do remember feeling distinctly uncomfortable. Sure, some of the performers before him touched on what could be considered political topics (spoken word poet Jonathan Mendoza spoke about his experience of being half Latino and how his heritage influenced his opinions on the presidential election), but James dragged us to a polarized edge without warning. I was surprised to find myself feeling sympathetic for whatever Trump supporters were in the room because this was an outright attack on their views and they had no means to defend themselves.
Ultimately, I realized that even though I agreed with what James said, I did not agree with how he said it. Beyond the fact that he very suddenly and with no warning dragged a group of people into a conversation by polarizing one side, he did so as a performer who held all the power. He removed any opportunity for conversation because we, the audience, had no way of really engaging, whether it was to agree or disagree. I believe that discomfort is, for the most part, inevitable in conversations that challenge ideas, morals, values, and political standings. Conversations about race, discrimination, and inequality can be uncomfortable. I myself have become squirmy during such conversations, unsure of what to say, if anything at all. Never has discomfort been a good reason to not have the conversation, to walk away from it, but what do you do when the conversation isn’t even there?
Conversations are exchanges of ideas and ideologies, and are crucial to growth, as an individual and as a community. It is the only way we progress and move forward. When we are faced with ideas that challenge our own, we must not run from them.
McDuffie is a contributor for The Millennial Times.