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BEZAWADA: History shows individuals have ability to spark huge societal progress

Opinions Column: Traipse the Fine Line

Before I left for Rutgers this past Sunday, I was watching the 90th Academy Awards with my parents at home. Although I only managed to catch Jimmy Kimmel’s satiric introduction and the announcement for Best Male Supporting Actor, the circumstances surrounding my experience were more or less serendipitous, to say the least.

This year’s Oscars were held amid societal uproar surrounding sexual assault, LGBT rights, religious persecution, corrupt justice systems and racial discrimination. Accordingly, there were many nods toward #MeToo and the Black Lives Matter movement. Just as Kimmel said during the opening of the Oscars, "Black Panther" could not have been released at a better time — especially now that it has crushed the box office. Those who have seen it (maybe multiple times, you know who you are) are well aware of the movie’s due portrayal of female empowerment and people of color. From what little I have seen of this year’s Oscars, I know it is a sign that people will continue to push forward for underrepresented groups’ rightfully deserved equality, justice and recognition.

But what was more interesting was the program that the Oscars followed — a "60 Minutes special" on correctional facilities in the United States.

It is a commonly known fact that people of color are disproportionately incarcerated compared to white people. In fact, there are currently more Black individuals imprisoned, mostly for non-violent offenses such as the possession of drugs, forged identities or minor bank robberies, than the entire slave population of 1850. The "60 Minutes" program’s general coverage of the United States prison system is a reminder that this unfortunate reality continues to persist.

The fact that prominent shows like the Oscars acknowledges and owns up to this reality, though, is proof that even though so much unfairness permeates American society, it will eventually recover and tumble forward as it always has. 

The world currently faces a number of possible catastrophes. The refugee crisis, global warming, widespread hunger and poverty to name a few. America plays a pivotal role in these struggles — it must juggle global political relations and expectations while managing internal domestic rage. As the pace of technological progress and human abilities escalates, American citizens grow ever more fearful — will America be able to handle it all? Will we be safe? The thing is, this question has plagued Americans for centuries, between world wars and embargoes and depressions and protests. But like a dysfunctional family on a sitcom, America has nevertheless plowed on.

And I believe this spirit — the one that forages onward despite all the chaos — is the true American spirit.

The only reason this country was able to run forward, and continues going strong, was because its individual residents kept running ahead. Every person has their own story, their own plot lines, their own characters and conflicts. But it is the tireless pursuit of everyone’s goals regardless that keeps this society alive. It’s what makes America that much different from every other country in the world. Just like the man from the city of Marathon who ran miles straight to Athens to deliver the message of victory, it is the people of America who run ahead clutching Liberty’s torch.

It is also why Americans somehow won curling in this year’s Winter Olympics. I hope Canadians are not reading this.

Jokes aside, the fact that America only exists because of the efforts of people fighting for their goals and rights is a testament to how powerful an individual can be. All it took was the single choice of one woman not to budge from her seat on a bus that launched an entire civil rights movement. The single choice of one man to drop out of college and code in his garage jumpstarted the world’s Internet age. One of the fundamental ideas of economics is the invisible hand, coined by the father of modern economics, Adam Smith — that individuals making their own choices somehow allows the entire population to coexist smoothly and efficiently. People tend not to vote because they believe their choice does not count for much, when in fact they are the tipping point for the next four or eight years.

And Rutgers is already championing that. All over the walls of classrooms and dining halls are flyers fighting against sexual violence. For the first time last week, I heard the echoing cries of minimum wage protests miles away from the rally. People our age, now more than ever, are fighting for the well-deserved rights of the individual. It is about time we recognize how important we are — and love ourselves for it.

Several years ago in 10th grade, my history teacher yelled at us these exact words: “I’m sorry if I offend you, but none of you are important. None.” How I wish I could tell him that the very subject he teaches shows otherwise.

Sruti Bezawada is a Rutgers Business School first-year double majoring in marketing and communications and minoring in Japanese. Her column, “Traipse the Fine Line,” runs every alternate Wednesday.


*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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