Is There Light at the End of the Tunnel (of Oppression)?

*You can find most of this year’s Tunnel in the video above. However, due to a technical issue, the last scene of the Tunnel is not included.

There are few bonds on campus that run longer and deeper than my bond with the Tunnel of Oppression. Having proudly participated all three years that it’s been on campus, I think that I come as close to being a Tunneler Expert as any man on campus. As such, it is my duty- Nay! My solemn privilege- to provide, yet again, a brilliant and insightful commentary on this year’s Tunnel.

My greatest disappointment this year was a lack of a theme for the Tunnel. Personally, my favorite was last year’s Willy Wonka Theme, but this year there wasn’t one. Really disappointing. And there’s so much to pick from, Twilight, Hunger Games, Dr. Seuss… so sad.

First up was the “Privilege Walk” (take one step forward if you’re a privileged white, heterosexual male, take one step back if you’re not). This was more or less consistent with what they’ve done in the past, so I won’t comment too much on that. Though, they really could have gone wild with a Hunger Games theme here (“everyone with white, heterosexual, Christian parents, battle to death!).

However, they did modify the Disabilities Awareness Room. Last year, if you’ll recall, they had a student with Dyslexia sitting at a desk, taking a test, with a teacher screaming at her to hurry up. As several people pointed out, such a situation was highly improbable mostly because it was very illegal (kind of like the love between a vampire and a werewolf). This year, they had the same student, but instead of a teaching yelling at the student, they had another student complaining to the teacher about the special accommodations being provided to the Dyslexic student. While this is a slightly more plausible situation, I’m not sure that it’s all that plausible. Assuming we’re talking about college students and not 8-year olds, I’m not sure that your typical college student is going to go up to the professor and whine about how the girl with Dyslexia gets extra time to finish her test. Realistically, who wants to be known as the person who throws a bitch fit (pardon the French) about it because the girl who can’t read gets a few extra minutes on her test? I think it’s one of those situations where peer pressure can actually act as a reinforcement for more charitable action. Besides, it’s also my understanding that students with learning disabilities have the option of taking their tests at the Disabilities Center, where they would not have to worry about any negative, external pressures from their peers. So, again, a non-issue.

Illegal Love?

Next up was a body image scene. I think what was most interesting about this bit was some of the stats they had posted around the room, things like 8 in 10 children are afraid of become fat, etc. Of course, when you’ve got the First Lady of the United States running around telling everyone that they’re fat and need to lost weight, these resulting mentalities shouldn’t really be all that unexpected. Perhaps if the government wasn’t so keen on forcing everyone to live what they deem a “healthy lifestyle,” people wouldn’t be as obsessed with how they look. Of course, pop culture also plays a role (which I believe the Tunnel covered pretty well), but we mustn’t underestimate the effect of things like the Let’s Move! program.

The Religion scene was a bit better this year. It consisted largely of a group of students (each representing a different religion) discussing different religious stereotypes (e.g. Jews are rich, Christians are Bible Thumpers, etc.). Nothing terribly controversial here, though given the rather condescending attitude that often greets religion on campus, it’s definitely an area worth covering.

We finally got some fireworks in the Homophobia Room. Now, I’ve always thought that the word, “homophobia,” was always a bit of a misnomer. I have yet to meet a person who’s legitimately scared of homosexuals (unlike, say a tree’s Thneedophobia). Though, perhaps if more people were homophobic, it would make the homosexuals quest for “equality” a little easier. They could just hang out near polling places and scare all those bigoted homophobes away from the polls. You know, kind of like the Black Panthers are apt to do. Anyway… The scene starts out with a couple students studying. A few more students wander in, one of the male students kisses his boyfriend, and the other students then proceed to gossip about the apparently homosexual student on the other side of the room. The other students get up and knock a few books off the homosexual student’s desk on the way out. Finally, this student relates a couple stories about abuse gay students receive off campus, mostly notably being picked on in bars and the like (he relates how, in one instance, someone threw an orange at him in a  bar). Supposedly, these stories were based on actual events at UNC. But I kind of have a hard time believing that. Particularly with regard to homosexuality, UNC is one of the most tolerant places on the planet. While it’s conceivable that maybe (a very big maybe) something like the bullying evident in the scene occurred, in my four years here (a large time of which was spent hanging out in more conservative circles, where supposedly such obnoxious bullying would originate) I have yet to see anything that remotely approaches the malice presented in the Tunnel.

As far as the anecdotes regarding the bars go, I also have a hard time that a bouncer (or bar owner or other responsible party) would sit by while someone attempts to start a food fight in his bar. Aside from the fact that I don’t think I’ve ever even seen an orange in a bar (except for a small slice in my Blue Moon, which I highly recommend), bar fights aren’t exactly good for business. But let’s assume it did happen. It’s a little presumptive to think that just because someone throws an orange at you, it’s because he hates you because you’re gay (or a vampire). More likely it’s because he was drunk and wasn’t really thinking clearly. Or maybe he wasn’t even aiming for you (I myself tend to have rather terrible aim and have a tendency to hit everything except what I’m actually aiming for- part of the reason I don’t play baseball). But then that would ruin the story wouldn’t it? You can’t very well cast yourself as a down-trodden victim of oppression, if your supposed oppressor was just drunk. I also realize that this is all taking place with Amendment 1hanging out in the background, so I understand if some people want to push an agenda, but I don’t believe that the scene, as presented, is an accurate depiction of the environment at UNC.

Beware the Oranges!

Human Trafficking was next. I think the most interesting aspect of this scene was the bit where the illegal alien relayed some of the financial difficulties she was having with her boss (e.g. receiving less than the minimum wage, watching her entire paycheck disappear in a flurry of employer deductions, etc.). While her situation is certainly tragic, it’s not entirely unpredictable. When you enter this country (or any country really) illegally, you can’t really expect to have the full protection of the law. While you can certainly make appeals to human justice, etc., those don’t really have the same staying power as a cop with a gun and handcuffs. In my humble opinion, this is one of the largest problems with America’s current immigration policy, which doesn’t merely condone illegal immigration, but outright encourages it. The people who are here illegally are often not protected by any sort of law (because you can’t very well wander up to the Department of Labor and file a wage complaint if you’re not even supposed to be here in the first place), so they open themselves up to exploitation (from capitalist Thneeders). This, I think, is the greatest tragedy of illegal immigration, and one that often goes unappreciated by the open borders types.

We will definitely be having a conversation.

The Relationship Violence scene was fairly similar to previous years’ presentations, so in the interest of space (and holding your interest), I shall proceed to the final room, the Race Room. Unfortunately, this was the only room I was unable to record (my spy camera has limits apparently, I’ll be having a discussion with James Bond about that), so I’m having to go completely off memory on this one. From what I can recall, there were four (or maybe three) girls in the room, one black, one white, one Asian, and one Indian (I think). The Asian girl largely complained about how people look at her funny and make fun of the way her mother talks and what she eats for lunch. Personally, I found this kind of amusing. When I was in China, I got stares (literally) from the natives all the time. I don’t think they even realized they were doing it half the time, but it was kind of amusing to go walking down the street and have scores of Chinese people turn their heads to look at you. The toddlers were always the best, because they would point and then get these looks of utter bewilderment on their faces- kind of cute in a way. This happened nearly every time I went out (though it occurred more frequently in Anyang, where the white man rarely treads, than in Beijing). I was never really bothered by it. It was kind of amusing. That and I could always swap stories with the other foreigners in my program (the best one I heard was of a guy riding his bike, who turned to look at one of the American students, and then proceeded to ride right into a wall). I can’t even imagine what my Chinese sounds like to a native (though my teachers did make me do some rather interesting tone exercises in an effort to purge my accent).

A Cross Stitching of Mao? Weird

I don’t think whatever gawking (here intended more broadly than just physically looking at someone) goes on between Americans and Asians is due to racism, but due more to the large differences between the two cultures. We’re just very different from each other and have completely different cultural underpinnings (and they eat weird things that we would never dream of eating and vice-versa). I think the gawking results more from a genuine curiosity about the other culture more than anything else. And I think when someone goes up to you in the cafeteria and asks what that weird, noodlely concoction in your lunchbox is, it isn’t because they’re trying to make fun of you (though maybe they are), but because they want to learn more about what you’re eating. It’s an invitation to share cultures. If we all just pretend that nothing’s unique and are afraid to ask questions because we’re afraid of being labeled a racist, that doesn’t make for a very interesting world and does nothing to bridge cultural divides.

The other girl who stood out was the white girl, who apparently was the embodiment of white guilt. She talked about how she’s been pulled over three times and never given a ticket, easily got into college and found a job, etc. Well, as the stereotypical white male, I’d like to know her secret. Personally, I find the suggestion that everything I have I have simply because I’m white offensive. I’ve worked hard to get where I am and have had nothing handed to me on a silver platter. I haven’t the slightest guilt (racial or otherwise) because everything I have is the result of hard work and determination.

And I don’t think that is true simply for me. The idea that white people have some sort of advantage over other races is absurd. This actually came up in the post-Tunnel discussion group, specifically concerning Affirmative Action. Several members of my group brought up the point that racism, properly defined, is simply a situation where race factors into a person’s decision about how to act. Affirmative Action, which is solely based on race, is nothing more than reverse-discrimination. It offers preferential treatment to applicants who are non-white and non-Asian, racism in its purest form. Of course, when the group raised this point, the moderator quickly attempted to redefine what Affirmative Action “actually” is. Apparently isn’t a form of reverse discrimination (California begs to differ), but it’s merely an attempt by university administrators to put together the best possible class from a group of students. This is quite funny, because that’s still racism! In this case, administrators are simply making the determination that it is better for the university to admit certain racial classes than to admit the most qualified applicants. Needless to say, the moderator didn’t quite have a response, and the discussion wrapped up rather quickly after that.

That about does it for the Tunnel of Oppression. I’m sorry to say that this will be last commentary on this fine event. I’m sure that my wit and wisdom will be sorely missed, but alas, I must move on to bigger and better things, like chronic unemployment and a small mountain of student debt. But never fear, I hear a recovery is just around the corner.

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4 responses to “Is There Light at the End of the Tunnel (of Oppression)?

  1. -E-

    I'm not wasting my time by reading your entire post but I am surprised that being the "Tunneler expert" you claim to be, you haven't yet figured out that Tunnel has never had a "theme". The decorations in the lobby of Cobb where the check-in table is are simply Cobb's decorations put up by their RAs at the beginning of the year and they've never had anything to do with Tunnel. Skimming through to your comments on the Homophobia Room: Yes Carolina is a tolerant campus but Tunnel informs people (who like you are naive to what can happen here) that even the most tolerant places can house oppression. Whether you want to believe it or not I can tell you that every scene indicated as a true story was indeed a true story, what you see in Tunnel isn't based on lies. I skimmed over to your comments on the Asian monologue in the Race room and it amazes me how you manage to misinterpret such obvious things. The Asian actress never said that people crinkling their nose at her lunch were racist or that actions like that exhibit racism. She simply explained how these actions affected her, how they made her feel, in an attempt to make people aware that there can be significant differences between what you intend to do/say and the actual impact that it has on people, to show people ways in which they can be oppressive without meaning to be. What you said regarding the differences between cultures is true but this isn't new info that you are wisely informing us of, this is what was portrayed throughout Tunnel. I would also suggest that you start getting permission from the people shown in a video before posting it online. Anyone who read Marc's comments but haven't gone through Tunnel yourself, you are making a mistake. Attend Tunnel (it'll be back next year) so that you can form your own opinions and discover what isn't shown here – that participants really do gain a lot from this experience. You'll then discover how ignorant, logically unsound and downright laughable some of his comments are.

    • It’s called sarcasm. Look it up.

      My point regarding the homophobia was that it’s pretty easy to feel like you’re being victimized when, in fact, you’re not being victimized. For example, the orange incident (as unlikely as it is) could simply be the result of drunkenness, rather than malice. There’s not really any way to know. As the story was relayed in the Tunnel, there’s no way for us to know why the person chose to throw the orange.

      Regarding your points about the Asian girl, I honestly don’t know how you are able to reach that interpretation based on the presentation in the Tunnel. The girl was wedged in between a black girl and a white girl talking about how (for lack of a better word) race gets them down. The black girl was talking about all kinds of societal racial prejudices and, the white girl was talking about how all the advantages she has because she’s white. I didn’t see any sort of intention vs. actual impact discussion in either of their monologues or the Asian’s. So, if that was the intended message, it wasn’t really clear.

      And anyone who questions my interpretation of the Tunnel is free to watch it for himself via the video at the top of the post (that’s why it’s there). I’d also encourage you to read the entire post, rather than just skimming it. I’d be cautious of calling something “ignorant, logically unsound, and downright laughable” before you’ve actually read it. Who knows? You might just learn something too.

  2. Evan

    You really honestly think that white people have no advantage over other races?!? You must be a white guy b/c only a white person could be naive enough about the world to say something as dumb as that. A dominant group, no matter what categorization you're looking into, always has an advantage over minority groups. Those of the majority group are considered normal, the average, while others are deviations from that. The Asian American and Indian American voices in Tunnel gave great examples of this. They were made fun of by classmates and made to feel like outsiders b/c of their race. Whether the perpetrators realized it or not, they were judging them based on their race. Those are the kinds of subconscious factors that give whites an advantage. People didn't judge you growing up when they looked at your skin color so right there you have an advantage over others. There are people of every race that start out with nothing and use hard work and determination to make their own opportunities but by the virtue of just being white, white people absolutely have an edge. Sociology has shown that individuals like to think that they are in their current position due to their hard work and skills. No one wants to admit that they are at the top of any kind of social structure, that they are provided an edge in any way and you have really proven this correct. You have got to be blind not to see this or are perhaps just one of those people who think too highly of yourself to see your own privilege. Get off your high horse. It's absurd to think that African Americans, for example, have on average lower education levels and socioeconomic statuses b/c they don't work as hard as whites. Nope, that's bulls**t, there's a plethora of underlying societal factors that have created and continue to reinforce the racial divides we see today. Whites have an advantage b/c as the dominant group, laws, institutions, cultural expectations, etc are catered to them. 50-80% of a given individual's current good fortune is the result of opportunities and advantages provided in past generations. Statistics have long ago proven the sad truth of the matter, as portrayed in the white female's monologue, that a minority male is much more likely to get pulled over by the police than a white male. Is this b/c you as a person have necessarily done anything different with your life? Nope, it's because the dominant group, the white people, enjoy the privilege of being largely exempt from judgmental suspicion. I mean I could go on and on, it just baffles me that you actually consider that white privilege doesn't exist. This is like trying to explain the way a car functions to someone who doesn't understand how a wheel works. How can anyone, a Carolina student at that, still be that naive? And really focusing a discussion of racism on affirmative action is largely missing the mark. That is a complicated issue in itself and it doesn't address the main issues at hand. Perhaps the processor of your discussion group wrapped up the discussion after affirmative action was brought up b/c he/she recognized that this was a beeline away from the topic at hand, b/c he/she saw the talk heading towards politics which is a beast I believe Tunnel chooses to omit in order to be able to better comprehend broader issues without political biases shaping participant's perceptions, perhaps b/c the limited discussion time was simply over. I've noticed that you tend to read into things that have no substance with which to be read into and that you tend to conveniently ignore things that shouldn't be ignored in order to attempt to make your point more convincing, or remotely feasible in most cases. What I find most amusing is that throughout your commentary you state things as if they are fact, as if you actually know what you are talking about. Ha!

    • I find it amusing the ease with which you make assumptions about my background and supposed privilege. I LOL in your general direction.

      As for all of your (curiously un-cited) sociological mumbo jumbo, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but this country has already had two black presidents. The first, of course, was Bill Clinton. But I don’t know if you’ve noticed that the current occupant of the White House is also a black man, which kind of throws a wrench in your whole white people suck meme.

      Also affirmative action is entirely relevant to the discussion on race, as it is nothing more than legal racial discrimination against whites (and increasingly, Asians). When you use race to determine whether to admit a student or not, that’s racism, pure and simple. Particularly when it comes to college admissions, white students are at a considerable disadvantage when compared to their “minority” peers, largely because of racist policies like affirmative action. The processor’s refusal to address this issue was disappointing, particularly when the Tunnel made such an effort to discourage people from cowardice when they are confronted with oppression.

      In short, you’ve largely manufactured this myth of white privilege. Maybe if you got your head out of the 1930′s and rejoined what the rest of us like to call “reality,” you’d see that a person’s relative success in life is not determined by the color of his skin, but by the content of his character, his hard work, and his determination.

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