Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg gave a commencement speech at the University of Michigan
where he railed against colleges that cave to pressure for “safe spaces” for students because of “microaggressions.”
At one point, he turned his attention to graduating senior Omar Mahmood to commend him for not caving to political correctness.
“I know that one of today’s graduates, Omar Mahmood, has faced threats and intimidation because he dared to write political satire about being left-handed in the Michigan Daily and he refused to apologise for it,” Bloomberg said during the speech.
“Omar, wherever you are out there, I’m glad you stood your ground,” he continued.
That piece drew the ire of some students on campus, and the door to Mahmood’s room was vandalised with hate messages as a result. He was even fired from a position at another college publication.
We’ve printed the essay in full below, with the permission of Mahmood, who was the editor-in-chief of The Michigan Review.
It was one of the coldest days of this winter past, and I was hurrying along the Diag to class. The blistering cold did not turn my eyes from all the white privilege falling around me. All those white snowflakes falling thick upon the autumn leaves, burying their colours. Majoring in womyn’s studies, I’ve learned that oppression comes in many forms. Sometimes we fail to notice it because it’s just everywhere — just like that white snow.
As I walked, I slipped on a patch of wet leaves lining the steps of the Hatcher, and I fell forward headfirst onto the steps of the library. If it hadn’t been for the left hand that I thrust out right before my fall, I would have ended up just another statistic in the war on coloured people. As it were, a white cis-gendered hetero upper-class man came down the steps just as I was falling. He looked at me with that white man’s burden face that I see too often on this racialized campus.
“Cold, isn’t it?”
Behind his words I sensed a patronizing sneer, as if he expected me to be a spokespersyn for my whole race. He offered his hand to help me up, and I thought to myself how this might be a manifestation of the patriarchy patronizing me. I doubt he would have said those violent words had I been white, but he would take any opportunity to patronize a coloured [email protected] or womyn. People on this campus always box others in based on race. Triggered, I waved his hand aside and got up of my own accord.
He was taken aback. Suddenly I felt I was taking back some of that lost agency that colonialism had robbed my people of. I felt like Aamir Khan in Lagaan. That’s right, that white man wasn’t about to tax me. I didn’t even want to be that white. I turned on my heels and showed him my back.
He shouted after me, “I was just trying to do the right thing!”
The right thing… The right thing… I became so aware at that moment of the left hand that I had thrust out before falling, and suddenly my humanity was reduced to my handydnyss. The words rang in my eardrums, and my blood throbbed. This was the microaggression that broke the gender-neutral camel’s back. But unlike other microaggressions, this one triggered a shift in my worldview. All this while, I had been obsessed only with the colour on this campus. All of a sudden, though, that became a side issue. All those race-based microaggressions now seemed trivial. I had, I realised, forgotten to think intersectionally.
The biggest obstacle to equality today is our barbaric attitude toward people of left-handydnyss. It’s a tragedy that I, a member of the left-handed community, had little to no idea of the atrocious persecution that we are dealt every day by institutions that are deeply embedded in society. So deeply embedded, and so ever-present, that we don’t even notice them.
But then I think to the word
sinister. In our English, it means
evil. But that’s because it used to mean
left-handed in the Latin, and left-handyd people, especially those of colour, were considered evil. In organic chemistry, we are taught R and S distinctions. I realise now that whenever we came across a left-handyd enantiomer in the coursepack, I could just feel the patronizing gaze of the right-handed members of the class on the back of my neck. And now I finally understand why.
And the University of Michigan does literally nothing to combat the countless instances of violence we encounter every day. Whenever I walk into a classroom, I can hardly find a left-handyd desk to sit in. In big lecture halls, I’m met with countless stares as I walk up the aisle along the left-handyd column. The University cannot claim to be my school while it continues to oppress me. We need to find allies with other minority groups and work against the establishment. This campus must be at the forefront of progress in America.
Yes, our president might be left-handyd. But that does not represent the pathetic living conditions of so many left-handyd people around the world, and even here in the United States, who are constantly threatened simply because they write or eat with a different hand. Even today, left-handyd individuls are paid 68 cents to the dollar that right-handed individuals are paid.
It is 2014, people. Still, change starts with awareness. Until right-handed people, especially cis-gendered hetero white males in salmon shorts, do not start checking their privilege, we will continue to live in inequality.
No longer will I persevere in patience. No longer will I suffer in silence. I am a left-handyd [email protected], and my humanity needs be respected! The next time someone tells you to Do the right thing! turn around and flick them off with your left middle finger.
Do the left thing.
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