Tasminn Shamma, a blogger for the Daily Princetonian, wrote yesterday about an incident that recently took place in a Princeton University classroom. It seems that someone left the following message in Chinese on a classroom blackboard:
Shamma provides an English translation:
Raphael Balsam '11, a Bloomberg Hall resident, was working on a computer in the third floor computer room when he noticed Chinese written on the blackboard last Sunday. He was surprised to learn that the writing translated to: "White people can't see this / White people can't read this / White people can't understand this" and immediately notified an RCA, Carrie Carpenter '10.
Was this a racially threatening message? A cause for alarm?
That much is suggested by the first lines of Shamma's post:
Discrimination is not new to Princeton's campus--regardless of which group is being targeted. Last week, discriminatory comments were found scrawled in Chinese in Bloomberg Hall.
But again, are these really discriminatory comments that "target" white people? If so, what exactly makes them threatening? The mere fact that they're about white people? Or perhaps, the fact that they're about white people, but written in--gasp--Chinese!
"White people can't see this / White people can't read this / White people can't understand this."
It seems to me that what those lines have to say about white people isn't threatening--it's more like a description, and a pretty innocuous one at that.
Nevertheless, according to Shamma, Princeton authorities are taking this incident quite seriously:
[RCA] Carpenter then notified the Butler College Office and RCA advisers. Director of Student Life Mindy Andino said that two students came forward to discuss the situation with Director of Studies Matthew Lazen and that there would be a meeting with the RCA's after Spring Break.
"The Director of Studies met with the students who reported the incident and addressed their immediate concerns," Andino said. "We will be meeting with the RCA’s at the start of next week to discuss the situation further. We are currently completing an investigation of the situation to learn more information."
Andino added that the College Office was trying to determine whether or not the message was a violation of the Rights, Rules, and Responsibilities (RRR).
Shamma provides the relevant part of the university's "RRR," which explains what students should do if they feel their "sensibilities" have been assailed:
Normally, an alleged infringement upon the rights or sensibilities of an individual, including complaints of discrimination, by an undergraduate or graduate student should first be discussed with that student. If this is not possible, or does not lead to a satisfactory resolution, the matter should be brought to the attention of the Dean or an Associate Dean of Undergraduate Students or the Dean of the Graduate School. If the matter is not resolved through discussion or through formal action by a dean, a complaint can be made in accordance with the normal disciplinary procedures.
What do you think? Are these lines cause for alarm? Or instead, is considering them a racist threat cause for alarm? And does it matter that these lines appeared in Chinese, instead of in English?
By the way, as commenters at the Daily Princetonian blog note, these lines resemble those on a t-shirt sold online, which in turn resembles a shirt featured in a popular online video, "Yellow Fever." Also noted is the sloppiness of the handwriting, which suggests that whoever wrote the message is a beginner with the language.