Re: a plea from a moronic 18 year-old

[I got a long and impassioned email from a Tulane student this morning. After thinking about it for a while, this is the response I sent him.]

Hey, thanks so much for reaching out.

Presumably you’re [asking that I delete the article I wrote about the bewilderingly racist video you made and showed to your entire Spanish class last semester] so that future employers won’t find out about this whole debacle. I googled “Harry Rothstein” and “Harry Rothstein Tulane,” and my article is certainly not the only one out there that’s going to call your conduct history into question. Those are questions you’re going to have to keep answering in the next ten years, regardless of my article’s existence.

You obviously weren’t thinking about your job prospects when you made the video, but I considered them when I wrote my piece. I intentionally kept my description of your video brief and vague, quickly moving on to the grander and frankly far more important point of my article. Future employers won’t have any additional details or evidence from my writing that will hurt you any more than you’ve already hurt yourself.

Like you, I’m also a white kid from a diverse, working-class, public high-school, who came to Tulane on scholarship, and funnily enough, I’ve also struggled with pretty bad depression and anxiety.

I think the difference between you and me is that I came to New Orleans with the acute awareness that as a scholarship student with my background, Tulane was baiting me into enrolling at a school where I would be an outsider, and for good reason. Tulane brought me here because they want students who are equipped to combat our campus’s blind, overriding culture of white, elitist privilege. Your video was, intentionally or not, a perfectly emblematic product of that culture, which was why I was moved to speak out against it.

I genuinely feel for the trauma [you say] you’ve gone through in the aftermath of the video. College is tough enough to get through as it is — I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to have something like this happen during my freshman year. But it’s important to realize that there are first-generation immigrants, Pell grant students and Posse scholar students at Tulane who are made to feel stupid, dangerous, inferior, immoral, and maybe worst of all, the butt of the joke, every single day on this campus as they try to get their degrees.

You say you don’t have the luxury of parents who can bail you out when you fuck up — these students don’t have the luxury of a society that can bail them out when they fuck up half as much as you did.

This is all to say that, on a basic level, it’s deeply unjust that you’ll likely get to cover up your transgressions and move on, but last year a black freshman on an athletic scholarship at Tulane was expelled and had his future prospects ruined overnight because his friend tried to steal something from a dorm room — just to name one example. I’m sorry that the burden of this happens to be landing on you, but I personally can’t be complicit in that injustice.

I didn’t really have to write all of this, but I decided to do so because of the last thing you said in your email: “I humbly ask that you remove the article, or at the very least  my name, so I have hope in my future.

Harry, you can’t let this event make a victim out of you. You have so much more agency to change and grow than you can even fathom. You can let this mistake haunt you forever, or you can take some major strides to demonstrate to the world that the mistake you made when you were 18 didn’t define you. 

Hope has not been lost for you. You can educate yourself. You can get involved in anti-racist activism. You can work to support politicians, Republican or otherwise, who genuinely want this country to be a diverse and inclusive home for everybody. Your future success and, more importantly, your happiness, does not and will never rest on my shoulders.



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