I hate talking about politics. This is not a simple aversion to navigate, because talking about politics is a Harvard student’s favorite pastime. You meet someone new on campus, and immediately after learning their name, you learn their political leaning. Usually, this leaning isn’t a surprise, given that Harvard is a (mostly) liberal campus.
After this introduction comes what I call the “Local Politics Tournament” where the winner is determined by who hails from the most problematic state in the U.S. If you live in a red state, you’re likely to win this round — bonus points if you’re from Florida.
While lamenting your state’s unfair legislation is the primary task in this game, it is not the only one. As one person lists their home state's worst qualities, the other competitors must prove how niche their knowledge of regional American politics is. If the speaker mentions the name of their senator and you don’t immediately respond with a murmur of agreement (“Mhm, yeah, I know her”) then sorry, you’re out. And you should feel embarrassed. Not knowing the full names and election histories of all one hundred United States senators? Rookie mistake.
However, it is still not enough to contribute passively — you must also interrupt the speaker with your own opinions. So, even if you don’t know the ins and outs of voter suppression in rural Georgia, you had better pretend like you do. For every tangentially related snippet of local history that you can more or less accurately apply to the conversation, you earn five imaginary points, and a tiny ego boost. Twenty points and you become the official moderator of the debate.
Don’t worry about any hard feelings once the game is over — any political conversation at Harvard takes place under the assumption that all participants are liberal, and by extension, kindhearted people. Therefore, when you traverse controversial topics such as abortion or racial tension, nothing you say can be held against you because you are protected by the shield of liberalism. Harvard kids support Biden, and reproductive rights, and sex workers, and the homeless, and Black Lives Matter. Harvard kids are esteemed and respectable. We are civil and objective, treating every problem with an even-handed, nuanced intelligence that lacerates like a knife.
At the end of the day, political debate on campus is too often treated as a thought-experiment. Harvard students rarely consider the traumas that some “light-hearted debate” can dredge up for members of targeted communities. For some of Harvard’s most vulnerable students, the consequences of who is elected president or appointed to the Supreme Court do not serve only as a theory in an imaginary debate.
Politics are not “hot takes.” They determine someone’s rights, their autonomy, their survival in this country. So no, I don’t like talking about politics. It’s not fun for me, it’s painful.
And Harvard students may present themselves as relatable, welcoming progressives, but that’s not an absolute truth. In 2017, two-thirds of us came from the top 20 percent of the income bracket. Last year, 63 percent of Harvard students entering the workforce post-graduation took jobs in finance, technology, or consulting, while less than five percent went to work at nonprofits, in public service, or as educators. And an unquantifiable number of us complain about being “broke” while we sport one thousand-dollar Canada Goose jackets and spend our summers lounging on the beaches of Cape Cod.
I don’t say this to make privileged Harvard students feel guilty. I say this only so Harvard students understand that they are colder than they recognize, especially when they discuss politics.
So yes, I’m from Chicago, but I’m not going to debate you on its violent crime rate. And yes, I am Black, but my identity is not an open invitation to give me your opinion on systemic racism.
That’s not an icebreaker, and you are not entitled to hear about my lived experiences.
My name is Jasmine, I’m from Chicago, and I’m a first-year. That’s all you need to know for now. It’s nice to meet you.
Jasmine M. Green ’24, a Crimson Editorial comper, lives in Weld Hall.
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