Identity: The Tale of Two Cities

I watched from behind the windowpane. Slowly, my small town materialized from the deep shadows. I was elated to finally come home—to visit the teachers in my old high school that marked so much of my development; to see my best friends and discuss our lives over black coffee in the little shop down the street; and to get gas (yes, even gas) at the station that still hand pumped your gas for you and knew every customer by name. I was absorbed in these thoughts, as my mother pulled off the main road and crawled up our driveway. After so long, I was finally home again.

Elatedly, I ran into my house. I walked into my bedroom to drop off my things, beginning to comprehend the shift in the house’s atmosphere—my music no longer echoed throughout the space, a slight layer of dust had accumulated on my desk, and even the slight scent of my perfume had left my pillow. Disillusioned, I began critically inspecting the awards, books, and articles of my past life. My stomach churned while I tried to connect with the girl plastered all over my walls, but could not bridge the gap between who I was and who I had become while at Duke.

Confused on what this meant, the following day, I went to see old friends at the little coffee house that we always went to. Sitting at “our” table, I began discussing my college experience, searching for understanding in their blank faces. They told me that I had changed, and I had. I dropped the miniscule remnants of my Southern accent and largely told people I was from the suburbs of a large city in North Carolina to dissociate from the South Carolina’s radically conservative politics, attempting to assimilate into Duke’s culture. This discussion between my friends and I stressed the distance I felt from my origin. By the end of the weekend this feeling climaxed when I told my mom, “I can’t wait to go home.” Shocked by my identification of Duke as “home”, her composed facade momentarily cracked; but it remained more than a simple mistake, as I had come to identify with Duke as my “home”.

In the weeks since this experience, I’ve come to accept that my relationship with the place I grew up will never be the same—for my space in the little town has been filled, and I have forged my own role within Duke University. Clover, South Carolina will always be an integral part of my identity; it was the place that molded me into the open-minded, constantly laughing, and overly optimistic woman that walks through Duke’s campus, perpetually amazed and inspired by the people around me. Yet, sometimes you outgrow places, and I have come to believe that a large part of growing into the person you are supposed to be includes pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone. As I’ve come to adventure throughout my new home, and yes, I have come to believe that both Clover and Durham are my homes, I’m constantly reminded of what my mom once told me, “It’s that moment—when you are right on the edge of adventure—that’s the exciting part.” I’m right on the edge of two amazing communities, engulfed in an immense amount of love, and its hard to be anything less than thrilled about my next four years at Duke University.

Is it too late now to say sorry?

Justin Bieber poses a question that introduces the controversy of apologizing. While Bieber proposes that people do not apologize soon enough, I often wonder if people are too quick to apologize. However, I am just as guilty of “over-apologizing” as the next person, which my friend confronted me about this past weekend.

        We were studying on the swinging benches when the wind blew someone’s paper over the balcony. The girl with the paper turned around with a desperate expression, and I immediately said, “I’m sorry.” It was then when my friend asked me why I had apologized when I had no effect on the paper falling to the ground. I could not answer her. I reflected on the question, and I honestly do not know what made me instantly offer an apology. It was almost like a reflex. Was it my way of sympathizing with the girl who lost her paper? Or was apologizing just the socially acceptable thing to do?

        I was again confronted with this issue later that same night. I attended an event where we took off our shoes at the entrance. Growing up in a community where we did not lock our back door, I did not think leaving my shoes unprotected was a big deal. My friends and I proceeded to add our shoes to the pile. A couple hours later when we were ready to leave, I went to grab my shoes, but I could not find them. After searching through the spread of shoes several times, I walked out of the building barefoot. My friends repeatedly said they were sorry that I lost my shoes. Even friends who were not at the event apologized to me. Thinking about the conversation I had earlier that day, I wondered why my friends were telling me they were sorry. They did nothing wrong – they did not take my shoes. So why did they feel the need to apologize? Were they genuinely sympathetic to my situation, or were they merely abiding by social norms?

        These questions sparked further questions. I started to wonder why it can be so easy to apologize when you are not at fault but so hard to apologize when an apology is necessary. I remember a time in high school when I made myself apologize to my principal because she caught me wearing leggings, an act that violated our uniform policy. I was shaking as I walked into her office, rehearsing what I was going to say when I got there. Why was it so hard for me to say sorry in this situation when it was so instinctive to say sorry when the paper fell to the floor? Was my unnecessary apology less sincere, or is it just harder to say sorry when you are actually at fault because it is a reflection on yourself?

        When you are at fault, an apology infers that you accept responsibility and admit that you were wrong. As humans, it is hard for us to admit when we are wrong. We feel that conceding takes away from our worth as a human being and fear being considered inadequate. Making a true apology forces us to acknowledge the success of someone else, which often causes us to experience a feeling of inferiority. Yet we throw around sympathetic apologies without a second thought. Does this idea of over-apologizing diminish the value of true apologies? Could over-apologizing create a sense of superficiality within society?

        If apologizing just becomes another habit, then there may no longer be any real meaning in making an apology when we are actually at fault. This could be extremely problematic and could prevent humans from having authentic and sincere relationships with each other. However, I do not intend to claim that apologizing to show sympathy is an abominable sin; I am merely advocating for us to think deeper about what we truly mean when we say the words “I’m sorry.”

A Hypocritical Take on American Exceptionalism

Many of you may have watched or heard about Jesse Watters’ Chinatown video, in which Watters, under the guise of interviewing passersby and sampling political opinions, unleashed a stream of offensive stereotypes and ridicule Chinese-Americans who don’t speak English. A few days later, a New York Times journalist and Harvard alum published an article describing his experience of being told to “go back to China.” This sparked the hashtag #thisis2016, with people taking to Twitter to recount recent experiences of racial aggression against Asian Americans.

Like most others, I was furious at this series of events. After all, this is 2016. How could anyone remain so ignorant and closed-minded in the face of ever-increasing globalization and diversity? But over the last few weeks, I began to contemplate what it really means to be Asian-American in American society today. In an election cycle when hate speech runs rampant and racial tensions are high, I felt compelled to write a piece on my own experiences as an Asian-American student growing up in the south.

I first heard of cultural appropriation while reading an article on the fetishization of “Asian” food in popular American culture. Over the years, I’ve had to reflect on my Chinese lunches in elementary school, recalling memories of shame and looks of disgust from my classmates (much like the story of Eddie Huang in Fresh off the Boat). Yet, my parents never seemed to put much thought to similar experiences. More and more Asian restaurants began popping up around town, and while my memories transformed themselves into feelings of frustration, my parents remained largely indifferent.

Now, I realize that this difference in attitude stems from a generational gap, spurred on by low levels of cross-cultural awareness in the past and longer periods of marginalization. This was further exacerbated by an underlying cultural gap. I remember how much I dreaded the question, “So where are you from?” during self-introductions. On the other hand, my parents gladly responded with China, and would laugh when the stranger then decided to show off his/her impeccable Chinese accent. My mom would always tell me to “make more white friends,” because to her, assimilation was the solution to marginalization. Living in a society where racially-based microaggression towards Asian-Americans was (and remains, to some extent) acceptable, my parents mistook interest for understanding and exoticization for acceptance.

In attempts to replace this model, I have been trying to understand my identity as an Asian-American at Duke. Yet, I remain as uncertain as ever. As much as I rejected my mom’s ideas of assimilation, at times I find it hard not to assimilate to fit in. I think that, beneath the surface, there is a sort of self-imposed segregation at Duke that can be deeply polarizing; I oftentimes find myself feeling awkward in large groups of Asians, perhaps stemming from a fear of being labeled as “one of those Asians.” As a result, I try to remedy this perhaps unfounded fear by seeking out a diverse group of friends. While these friendships are not quite intentional in nature, they do make me to question how I view my own identity and relationships.

I started to realize the irony of my mentality. I had been angry at Watters for rejecting the Americanness of Asian immigrants; yet, how can I be upset if I am guilty of doing just the same? When trying to distance myself from the Asian stereotype, am I serving as a counterexample to the mold or only becoming part of the problem? And ultimately, have these views been instilled in me by society or are they simply self-perpetuating biases?

All of these thoughts swirling around in my head have revealed to me only one thing: race and prejudice are complex issues, much too complex to resolve with anger or dismissal. And we may not have any answers now, but at least we’re getting closer, one outrageous news story at a time.


By Amanda Lewellyn and Alex Zrenner

The truth is more complicated now than it’s ever been.

In the past, the word truth meant that the statement couldn’t be argued. But today, in the midst of one of the strangest presidential elections in history, every fact has become debatable.

Regardless of what independent fact-checkers report, partisan pundits problematize the truth–not to mention the morality and context–behind the facts. We can even see it in the political ads: this election, there’s a focus on emotional rhetoric and not factual arguments.

With this growing tension between fact and feeling, the electorate is left to question how we’re supposed to know whether candidates’ claims are truth, lies, or something else entirely.

Let’s look at that disconnect from an economic perspective: according to the Democrats, we’re recovering from the 2007-2009 recession, and the economy is growing.

But according to Trump (and some Republicans), the economy is failing. China, globalization, and immigration have taken all of our jobs and everyone is out of work.

Who’s right? That depends on who you ask.

According to a number of economic measurements, the Democrats are right. The unemployment rate is now at five percent, a major improvement from its staggering 10 percent peak during the 2007-2009 recession. The stock market has reached record highs in 2016. We have almost zero reason to fear an impending recession in the U.S.   

But Republicans also have reason to believe that the economy isn’t as healthy as the Democrats say it is. The unemployment rate is an arbitrary but established measurement of economic labor performance. It is the fraction of people who have a job to people who have a job AND are actively seeking work. Any person who stopped searching for work isn’t factored into this measurement. Which means there may be a significant portion of the country that isn’t working (and isn’t looking, either).

Translation: the truth here is fraught. From a zoomed-out point of view, sure, the Democrats are right in saying that the economy on the whole is getting better. But there is reason to believe that a nonrandom group of people are not experiencing that economic recovery.

Just outside of St. Louis, there was a factory that manufactured Chrysler cars. It was shut down during the 2007-2009 recession. Now, all the factory line workers are out of a job, and everyone they knew from the factory is, too. In a workforce that is increasingly skilled and an economy that’s moving toward clean energy, those factory workers now lack the qualifications to participate in the type of jobs that American leaders are working to produce: jobs in fields like solar energy and technology production.  

Those factory workers don’t feel the low 5 percent unemployment rate is the truth. They know that they’re unemployed. They know that many of their friends are unemployed, and not of their own volition.

In other words: from those factory workers’ perspective, the Democrats’ summary of the “growing” economy does not reflect their experiences. It’s just not their truth.

That’s not to say that the Democrats are wrong or ill-intentioned, either. A five percent unemployment rate is a great sign for the economy, and the losses of factory and coal jobs are an unfortunate opportunity cost of transitioning to a clean and sustainable economy. We should create programs to ease the transition, but that’s a conversation for a later date.

So is it the statistic or the experience that defines the truth? We don’t have an answer to that. We don’t think anyone does.

What we do know is that regardless of the outcome of this election, many people will believe that the majority ignored their truths. It is the responsibility of the next leader of the country to find a way to include those voices in the creation of national policy.

Sugar Babies: Sweet or Sour?

If you’re a stereotypically broke college student who is looking for some consistent work and steady pay, you may consider dropping that part-time on-campus job and picking up a full-time job as a “sugar baby.” All you need is a “sugar daddy” or a “sugar mommy” who can provide financial incentives in exchange for your companionship – simple, right?

When I first read this CNN article over a year and a half ago about the creative ways that students have been making money to pay for college tuition, I was drawn mostly to the idea of sugar daddies/ mommies and sugar babies. At the time, the idea of online-originating arrangements seemed like a fad concept – one that would fade away with the regular tide of social networking websites. But even a quick Google News search today shows that the promotion and criticism of sugar-babies wasn’t new in 2012, and it hasn’t stopped being a short form newsworthy topic a few years later.

On SeekingArrangement.com, one of the most popular sites that has been drawing attention for its promotion of what they call “mutually beneficial relationships,” wealthier men and women (but overwhelmingly men) can find younger and more attractive men and women (but overwhelmingly women) who are looking to make some money. On the site’s general information page*, it claims to have a “solution to the problem of imbalance and broken expectations in dating relationships” by eliminating “awkwardness” and “guessing games.” It writes as fact that “older, wealthier men and younger, more beautiful women have been seeking each other out for… let’s see… THOUSANDS OF YEARS,” and that “it’s a tradition that’s not going to change anytime soon.”

If the patterns of wealthier men looking to find younger women haven’t changed and won’t change, maybe that’s the reason that sugar daddy/baby connection websites are still around. Even now, there continue to be articles written about the growing number of sugar babies at universities including Georgia State University, Miami University, and even at Cambridge University in the UK. And though I do not personally know anyone involved in a sugar daddy/ baby relationship, I generally agree that healthy dating relationships can form when there are clear expectations.

So what makes me uncomfortable about the growing number of sugar daddy/ baby relationships formed by these arrangement websites?

Though sites like SeekingArragement.com claim to set clear expectations for these relationships, these websites seem only to make clear the financial expectations, not the expectations for companionship – and more specifically, sexual intimacy. While sugar babies can clearly state their “lifestyle expectations,” which range from “negotiable,” to “minimal” or less than $1,000 monthly, to “high” or over $10,000 monthly, there are no equivalent metrics for companionship. And how could there be a set of easy-to-list companionship expectations to choose from? What would even come close? The number of nights per week expected to have dinner, or to watch a movie, or to be sexually intimate? And could you even begin to quantify the emotional commitment aspect?

Websites like SeekingArrangement.com advertise relationships that are ambiguous and imbalanced from the beginning. If we evaluate relationships on a gradient from romantic ones to transactional ones, the explicit transfer of money within sugar daddy/ baby relationships seem much more transactional but are marketed as more romantic. A sugar daddy knows exactly how much he will pay for the companionship of a sugar baby, but a potential sugar baby doesn’t know what form her companionship should or will take. When these relationships fail – at least in part – because intimacy expectations are not met, then the sugar baby will always be at higher risk for blame, because the conditions are unfair and unclear to begin with. Arrangement sites bring this type of inequality to a larger scale.

*The site has since updated its general information page and the link provided above directs to an archived version.

Too Much Baggage?

Image credit: Dave Herr via The Nerve

A few months ago, Planned Parenthood put the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation under fire for withdrawing their funding from Planned Parenthood’s breast health services. The decision was allegedly made to appease pro-life supporters.

Now, it’s Planned Parenthood’s turn to be scrutinized for their financial decisions. Planned Parenthood of North Texas recently rejected a $500,000 donation from our university’s very own Tucker Max (Duke Law School ’01). For those of you who don’t know, Tucker Max is a blogger and New York Times best-selling author who makes a living from being promiscuous with women and critiquing these encounters publicly. Tucker Max is a selfish jerk. But you don’t have to take my word for it, he tells you so right on his website: “My name is Tucker Max, and I am an asshole. I get excessively drunk at inappropriate times, disregard social norms, indulge every whim, ignore the consequences of my actions, mock idiots and posers, sleep with more women than is safe or reasonable, and just generally act like a raging dickhead.”

Spoken like a true women’s advocate if you ask me! Tucker Max admitted he was looking for a tax break through a contribution to Planned Parenthood and wanted to get some positive press stirring before his next book is released. He also claims he was genuinely trying to do some good by giving back.

But Planned Parenthood wasn’t having it, and understandably so. I mean, just look at what Tucker Max had to say about the organization a little earlier in his career. Last July he tweeted, “Planned Parenthood would be cooler if it was a giant flight of stairs, w/ someone pushing girls down, like a water park slide.” #saywhat? On March 14, he wrote, “In South Florida. This place is awful. Shitty design, slutty whores & no culture, like a giant Planned Parenthood waiting room.”

Dear Tucker Max,
Using derogatory language to describe the clients of an organization probably won’t help you get one of their buildings dedicated for you.
Common Sense.

Nevertheless, Max saw things differently, telling the NY Daily News, “I thought they’d be very excited about it.” Max also had this to say of Planned Parenthood: “Their motives aren’t about helping women. Their motives are about what they look like to their friends and signaling they’re taking the right types of donations from the right types of people.”

Tucker Max is not alone. Planned Parenthood of North Texas has faced much criticism for not accepting the money, especially since the state of Texas has just ruled to defund Planned Parenthood.

They declined the money, and are slammed for denying vital services to underprivileged women and families. But if they accepted, they’d be helping out a notorious misogynist and condemned by feminists everywhere. The decision was really a lose-lose situation for Planned Parenthood. The way I see it though, if they took the money, at least they’d have ended up with $500,000 in the bank.

Notably, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) jumped at the opportunity to snatch half-a-million dollars and contacted Tucker Max about becoming the beneficiary. Assuring Max he could still help prevent unwanted pregnancies, they proposed using the money to purchase a mobile spay-and-neuter truck for animals. They even came up with a charming title: “Fix Your Bitches! The Tucker Max No-Cost to Low Cost Spay and Neuter Clinic.” PETA clearly has a different code of ethics when it comes to its marketing. (We saw this last year with the pornography site PETA plans to launch, which Eddie discussed.)

Max has declined the offer to help PETA, blogging, “There is no chance I’m supporting an organization that wants to ban two of my favorite things: Making animals dead and then eating them.” Yep, what a jerk. And isn’t it ironic how he didn’t seem to have a genuine interest in Planned Parenthood, yet was willing to give them the money, but not PETA, who has never met a publicity stunt they didn’t like?

Should Planned Parenthood have taken Tucker Max’s money, or were they right to reject the offer? Personally, I’d have a hard time turning down money from anybody, even someone I don’t like. Then again, I certainly don’t think it would be appropriate for the NAACP to cash a check from the KKK so the Klan could get a PR boost. So how bad does someone have to be before their help should be rejected? And how bad does your own situation have to be? If you’re like Planned Parenthood and desperate for money, can the ends justify the means?