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February 05, 2014 - Image 10

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 2014-02-05

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the writer's notebook: Rethinking Harry Potter by max radwin

The University offers a class
through the Residential College
called "The Trials and Tribulations
of Harry Potter." Each fall, its high
demand makes the first-year semi-
nar one of the hardest to get into. But
would you expect any less? After all,
it's Harry Potter we're talking about.
Like every other kid, I read all
seven books in J.K. Rowling's series
- and with a surge of passion as I
did so. New ones came out in the
summer, right around my birthday,
so it was always a magical stretch
of anticipation and counting down.
And when I would finally get my
hands onthelatestone, I always read
it at a freakishly fast pace.
Out of everything I've read,
completing "Harry Potter and the
Deathly Hollows" is still one of the
most strangely vivid memories I panyyouth
have of any book. I finished it in my that dawn:
backyard on a lawn chair, and when readingbo
my eyes ran down to the last page, I who lived:
stared at it with a hole in my heart, untouchab
thinking, it's actually over. I'll never it a good re
get to experience this again. I felt Definitely.

7 +(
1 P1
S p , '
ti J

Personal Statement: Naming our dual society
by Alex Winnick


hink it does - a realization
ed on me as I continued
oks beyond that of theboy
Harry Potter is not some
ly magnificentcreation. Is
ad? Sure. Is it a fun read?
But I want something

nm ewor- sou qps o i 1 Je nenemspoTtinarsp ur
*Data co/ected from Business/Insider:.
p 0
We like funny things.----^
F LOW Uas if I was saying goodbye to old
friends. It was heartbreaking. And in
that moment, like a lot of other read-
4thestatementmag - ers, I thought Harry Potter was one
of the best things ever written. That
it was the book - or series of books -
of our generation.
But I was also a dumb kid.
COVER BY ALICIA KOVALCHECK & AMY MACKENS Yes, Harry Potter has its place on
history's bookshelf, but it does not
occupy the space or share the com-

more out of the books I crack open
and, more generally, from the art I
choose to intake.
But most readers don't, seem-
ingly. Fun is enough for most, which
is why books like Harry Potter can
transcend their adolescent target
audience and reach a large adult
readership. Books are like TV now: a
distraction, an escape, a place to let
your mind go numb at the expense of
quality or depth.
In that sense, Harry Potter is
mind-numbingly good. That's
why the series still feels relevant
seven years after the publication of.
"Deathly Hollows." It's got longev-
ity - not that popularity over time
implies true excellence (see also:
Paris Hilton, or Pitbull, or the soap
opera "Days of Our Lives"). The plot
is well crafted. It's a complex, mul-
tifaceted, generally tidy plot. But
there's more to a piece of writing

than plot.
Rowling doesn't know how to
write a good sentence - not just
stylistically, but grammatically.
Many of her sentences get tangled in
themselves and, if you take the time
to really look at their construction,
don't make much sense. Not to men-
tion that they're filled with (unnec-
essary) adverbs, the part of speech
she should have learned to avoid
after completing the first story she
ever wrote.
But this isn't a critical essay in a
literary journal. I can't go through
and close-read passages from all
seven books to reappraise them in
your eyes - plenty of journals have
done that already. The larger point
stands: If Harry Potter got an entire
generation to love reading, what
kind of reading did it teach them to
love? Did it lower their expectations?
Or, let's phrase the question
another way: Did it influence kids
at this University to enroll in a col-
lege-level English class about books
geared toward 11-year-olds, but
which will be read as if they were for
Clearly, it did.

There are some questions to
which I hope I'll always answer no:
"Should we go to Ohio this week-
end?" "Do you want these old Creed
CDs?" "Have you ever seen a grown
man twerk for a dollar?"
After walking along South Uni-
versity Avenue on a windy and bit-
terly cold night last semester, I can
now only honestly negate the first
two. My answer to the final ques-
tion is now yes. Yes, I have wit-
nessed a group of cargo-pantsed,
Timberland booted, puffy-jacketed
boys crowding nearby a homeless
man around midnight. Yes, I saw
them gleefully pull out their cell
phones to record the man as he rest-
ed his palms on the freezing side-
walk and hoisted his legs against
the wall. Yes, I watched them cheer
and laugh and applaud the man,
hand him a single bill and stampede
down the street. Yes, I stood by
motionless, stuck in the middle of
the crosswalk.
I don't know the details of the
videotaping - who suggested it,
how and why they found it amus-
ing or what they did with the
video afterward. I don't know who
the boys were, or how and why
they decided to publicly humili-
ate a homeless man. I do know the
grown man, a street vendor who
works for Groundcover News,
a local non-profit. Groundcover
employs members of the homeless
community to sell its self-published
monthly newspaper. It is a smart
organization that offers its employ-
ees the opportunity to take owner-
ship of their efforts to find stable
employment and functional hous-
ing. This man's primary occupa-
tion is to sell newspapers at a dollar

apiece and he relies on his fellow
community members to invest in
his product. I don't know if these
boys were familiar with Ground-
cover and what it stands for. I do
know that this man was Black, and
I do know that the videotaping boys
were not.
In Paulo Freire's book Pedagogy
of the Oppressed, he argues that
in order to address our problems,
we must first acknowledge and
understand them - that to name
the world is to change the world.
In a recent lecture at Harvard, The
Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates has
done just that. He has named our
world as a dual society, one in which
Black Americans are - systemically
and purposefully - economically,
socially and physically segregated
from white Americans. Coates uses
the phrase "a second society" to
describe the ways in which the two
worlds are kept deliberately sepa-
rate: Black America underneath
White America. This, I believe, is
the sentiment toward which count-
less recent Michigan Daily editori-
als and articles have been reaching.
This, I believe, explains Theta Xi's
World Star party, and the appall-
ing racial statistics that define our
student body. This, I believe, fosters
an environment in which boys find
it socially acceptable, and emotion-
ally profitable, to degrade a home-
less man.
Recognizing a dual soci-
ety requires us to do more than
acknowledgingsystemic racism.
Accepting Coates' diagno-
sis means truly examining every
aspect of our society and deter-
mining the ways in which we have
created a second society. It means

identifying how, when and where You ravaged it for a 30-second video
this second society manifests in our and some laughs.
daily lives. For instance, I recognize This behavior cannot be tolerated
that only in a dual society could a any longer. We are stuck in a cycle
group of college students possibly of offenses and warnings, without
justify their decision to culturally ever taking action to eradicate the
and socially demean an impover- underlying insensitive impetuses,
ished Black man. I recognize the or unravel the dual society. The
ways in which my failure to inter- deaths of Jordan Davis, Jonathan
vene helped perpetuate and exacer- Ferrell and Trayvon Martin attest
bate this dual society. to this pattern. On our campus,
No matter what sort of mob-men- Theta Xi's party and the Da'Quan
tality, peer-pressured concoction videos remind us there are no effec-
of rationale justified their actions, tive consequences to racist conduct,
what that group of boys did is inex- even when it mocks and insults the
cusable. Even though the vendor already underrepresented minori-
obliged their request - even if he, in ties of ourstudent body. We will con-
fact, proposed it - what they did is tinue to exist in this dual society, in
inexcusable. this cycle, until we realize each one
As I walked away from that of us implicated. You are responsible
crosswalk, stunned, guilty and and I am responsible. I failed when
angry, I gravitated toward this sim- : did not intervene the other night.
ple idea. Their actions were simply We all fail when we tolerate any rac-
wrong. They were degrading, juve- ist, sexist, homophobic or otherwise
nile, repulsive, insulting, racist and discriminatory treatment.
humiliating and they were wrong. It becomes a matter of communi-
Above all, it was not in the least ty. Somewhere along the lines these
bit funny. Yet all of the boys were boys discovered that their com-
laughing. munity was built on a dual society.
I walked away with words of They found out that there are no
anger towards the unfamiliar boys: penalties for racist behavior - that
Neither you nor I know what it is cultural exploitation is encouraged,
like to be homeless. Neither you nor even socially rewarded. If we want
I know what it is like to be Black in to dismantle the dual society, we
America. But if you can find a spare need to modify our community. We
moment between your debasement need to ensure that our community
of the homeless, I hope you consider does not value this type of conduct.
the idea that this man may have We need to identify and elimi-
slept outside in the cold 20 degree sate the ways in which we create a
weather that night. Consider that iwo-tiered society, and in the daily
he spends most waking hours on the removal of these norms, in the con-
sidewalks advertising a newspaper tinuous reflection and the constant
that might be his one shot at social modification, learn to merge into
mobility. Consider that you took one even society.
this modest, humble, simple motion It begins with moments of inac-
toward equality and you abused it. tion and moments of action. It

begins with recognizing the more
nuanced aspects of our lives that
lead to the creation of separate soci-
eties, and taking action to reverse
the trends. It begins with naming
the world.
For me and other white students
at the University, understanding
and supporting the #BBUM move-
ment is only the first step. Next
comes identifying the dual society-.ow
and disagreeing with it, saying, "I
don't want to exist in two societ-
ies, especially if I'm unfairly and
disproportionally benefiting from
it." It means examining my place in
America's primary society to see if
and how I am implicated in creat-
ing the circumstances rendering
#BBUM. necessary. Asking myself
questions over and over. Why have
I never felt the way these students
do? In what ways have I benefited
from being a white American at
this school? How can I ensure equal
treatment for every student?
It would be a lie to say that the
University acts as a pioneer in this
endeavor. Until we modifyour com-
munity, until we serve as a model
for naming our injustices and act-
ing in ways to rightthem, we are not
leaders and we are not the best. We
are not victors. Until then, our com-
munity is behind.
Comedian Aziz Ansari has a
joke he tells about how Coldstone
employees have to sing every time
they receive a tip. He's astonished
at how degradingthisis, and argues
that not even a bum on the street
would stoop so low as to sing for a
nickel. Apparently in Ann Arbor,
we'll ask them to twerk for a dollar.
Alex Winnick is anLSA junior.

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