In a mass of students, there was a conspicuous lack of one thing: Canada Goose coats. On a normal day, any student walking through campus, eating in a dining hall or simply existing within the vicinity of Northwestern is confronted with a bevy of students wearing coats that cost almost a thousand dollars. At a walkout held on February 1st, hundreds of students gathered in front of Northwestern University’s multicultural center to protest Donald Trump’s Executive Order halting immigration from seven countries where the majority of the population is Muslim. What does the lack of these coats, an almost ubiquitous sign of economic privilege, mean?
The students who were primarily affected by this ban were students of color. These students were from or had family from the countries mentioned in the ban. The organizers of the ban asked for speakers who were personally affected by the ban to be able to speak, to center their voices as opposed to any allies, who were given a chance to speak at the end. In the cold, those who were there the earliest were huddled for warmth while people wearing coats made for the arctic continued their normal schedules. When it does not involve actual action, it may seem easy for people to show support by clicking a button, but when a student group attempted to raise awareness and raise money for local organizations assisting those affected by the ban, those who were most able to donate were absent. The freezing temperatures called for heavy jackets and yet those present were mainly the ones who could not afford the heavy winter clothing needed for standing and marching for hours. On a campus that preaches diversity, support only runs so deep.
“We’ve got another Asian.” – John Cho on casting decisions
Diversity for the sake of diversity is rife with its own problems. In the film industry, Asian Americans could not be included without qualifications. The women especially were cast into one of two roles: a “dragon lady” like in The Thief of Bagdad or as passive women such as in Sayonara. These films and others like them continued to stereotype Asian American women into the same type of roles, providing surface diversity but supporting the institutional hierarchy that is inherent in Hollywood to this day. With films like Better Luck Tomorrow, an Asian American director, Justin Lin, was able to create a film with an almost completely Asian cast. In a film industry where diversity is very purposefully crafted as to only have the minimum amount deemed necessary, Better Luck Tomorrow was a huge departure from that. Aziz Ansari’s Master of None episode “Indians on TV” also criticized the same narrative. In the episode, Aziz Ansari’s character is trying out for a part in a film but inadvertently reads an email thread from a producer asserting that there can only be one Indian on the show. This is the same beliefs that actor John Cho has had to contend with in Hollywood, being told such phrases as “We can’t cast an Asian because this other person is Asian,” or “We’ve got another Asian.” While the difference between one and none is substantial, stopping at one is not nearly enough. Superficial support for diversity is only slightly better than no support at all.
With Canada Goose coats, there is an inherent privilege associated with being able to afford the coats and being able to be warm while protesting in the cold. Northwestern students must extend their support for affected communities through activism. The danger of surface-level diversity has already manifested itself in Hollywood, with actors being either relegated to certain roles or being restricted in terms of the amount of actors and actresses in a certain racial category that can be present in a movie or television show. This is not a condemnation of everyone who wears Canada Goose coats. This is simply a reminder to those that do wear these coats that they have economic privilege that they should recognize and utilize it for social equity.