White supremacy is the force that has worked since the genocide of indigenous bodies and continued into trans-Atlantic slave trade by justifying the slaughter and subjugation of non-white bodies. It is the force that pervades institutions and systems by asserting an inferiority of ability and intellect in black and brown minds, and one that criminalizes black and brown bodies by funneling them into the prison system for further submission (slavery was outlawed in the constitution except in the case of prisoners, so free/cheap labor is still a thing). White supremacy is not just a personal view, but the foundational ideology that permeates our society that white people are superior and therefore dictate conditions for everyone. Further, it is not simply as blatant as waving confederate flags and using the n-word: White supremacy also encompasses the implicit bias of how people should talk, think, and act, and the notion that blackness and brownness never conform to these ideals.
I write this piece at this time not because I want remorse, nor because I have given up the fight, but because hindsight has shown me a lot. I understand that it is not easy for a person not of color to fully grasp how white supremacy affects people of color on every level. I also acknowledge that there are white people who get it and people of color who don’t. It is about who is conscious of the systems of oppression that function throughout the globe. Still, this gap of understanding must be bridged if we ever hope to live in a society that is truly equitable for all. This was one of the goals of the efforts of Black Lives Matter activists, and frankly, conversations about race and inequality were the ones that should have taken place after the publication of Stascavage’s article instead of conversations about the alleged infringement of the free speech of a privileged white man.
With that being said, I also do not write this to educate. To those who wish to engage in discourse on why the Black Lives Matter movement is a viable movement, pick up a copy of The Ankh, Wesleyan’s student of color publication (or follow it on social media). Attend a Black Lives Matter event organized by your peers. Read something online (joincampaignzero.org is a great resource) and educate yourself! I am not here to educate you on your terms. I am here to amplify the thoughts and voices of myself and those I have worked with on a platform that reaches the masses, because no one else has tried to do so. Primarily, my goal in writing this is to redirect the conversation to the ways in which white supremacy, without fail, devalues black and brown lives and voices.
White supremacy allows Stascavage’s “opinions” to be commonplace. Those who don’t experience racism (and therefore don’t truly understand it) are somehow allowed to have a say in how (not) to combat it, which is just as ridiculous as someone standing on an island telling someone drowning in the ocean with weights tied to their ankles how to swim to the island. Outcries of the oppressed are met with excuses or aberrations from the oppressors, undermining the foundation of the movement. Bringing up distractions like “black on black crime” or “but police are killed by black people” shows how little one understands about the conditions of blackness: the ways in which blacks are kept poor and offered limited mobility, how racial profiling in the criminal justice system works, and how black people aren’t the only ones who commit interracial crime (crazy, I know!). These “opinions” basically ignore that white supremacy even exists and imply that everyone is equal with the same opportunities and conditions of life, which is just false.
When faced with this article that reeked of racism between its lines, I, and others who organized and shared that pain with me, did not feel that anything but a boycott would work. Here’s why: A boycott is a refusal to support an institution. Those who cried, “Well why don’t you just write a response?” missed that the entire point was trying to change The Argus at its core. If students of color are only encouraged to write when our lives are under attack, why should we write at all? In addition to issues between Black Lives Matter student activists and The Argus just last semester, there were many alumni of color who reached out to activists saying that The Argus also failed to be inclusive during their times at Wes (which, fun fact, is why The Ankh was founded in the 1980s). We wanted to end the cycle of The Argus not being what its mission claims, which is a student publication. Students of color are students, too. If there is no meaningful representation, then you are not fulfilling your mission.
Given this, the widespread claim that the petition was a call for censorship is grossly misrepresenting its core intentions. This claim implies that the petition was formed primarily with the goal of silencing one voice instead of stimulating positive change for an entire institution. The petition’s demands only had to do with structural change within The Argus, such as creating work-study positions and having open and active recruitment. How did a conversation that began with how The Argus can be more inclusive turn into one about censorship and harassment? Is it really that difficult to see why people who are being killed for their skin color are upset whenever their fight for humanity is questioned? Of course that does not warrant harassment, or censorship, but here’s the thing—none of those things actually happened.
Here’s what happened:
1. The conversation was able to be redirected from “How and why is this article extremely problematic, and how does The Argus have a history of being un-inclusive to students of color?” to, “Why can’t this white man say whatever he wants without consequences?”
2. The feelings and experiences of the black and brown students who were upset by this article were invalidated because black and brown people’s anger is automatically portrayed as threatening. It’s a ridiculous notion that because students went to the Argus meeting they were “harassing” the editors of The Argus. The editors of the Argus themselves asserted that they never once felt harassed, so that claim is nothing but a lie.
3. The President and Provost of the University, along with the Vice President of Equity and Inclusion, set this redirection in place when they somehow found it appropriate not only to reach out to Stascavage, but then to also publish a blog post titled “Black Lives Matter and So Does Free Speech.” The misconception that it is somehow valid to have a conversation about who is included and whose voice is targeted by censorship without historical and present-day societal context was furthered especially by VP Farias’ signature. Whose voice was valued here? Certainly not mine or those of any other Black Lives Matter activists.
4. Outside media had a field day with the President’s blog post and spread misinformation while still speaking only to The Argus and Stascavage, not thinking that it would maybe be a good idea to get the perspective of the students in opposition. It wouldn’t be useful to fact-check with its opposition because then people would actually have to get to the nitty-gritty of how and why students of color are saying that racism and white supremacy are demonstrated in their campus newspaper.
In each of these steps, while people were trying to protect Stascavage’s right to spew hatred, who was protecting activists’ right to call that out? White supremacy does not value the voices of its opposition, because doing so would make it available for destruction. The majority of the campus, the President and Vice President of Equity & Inclusion, and outside media were worse than complacent; their actions (however unintentional) upheld the norm of white supremacy, and silenced students of color. The irony of it all is extremely hurtful.
Once outside media initiated the shit-storm, the rhetoric was no longer in control of the organizers of the petition and boycott. White supremacy proved very successful. Now pinned against the wall, other activists and I find ourselves unsure of how to proceed.
We refuse to allow white supremacy to go unchecked, but a lot of damage has already been done. I acknowledge and am happy that The Argus has already begun implementing some changes to its treatment of race, but we need meaningful representation and actual equity for the rest of The Argus’ existence as the student newspaper. In the coming years, I want students of color and other marginalized students to be enthusiastic about sharing their experiences with the rest of campus. I am excited to see whether we are able to ameliorate misunderstanding and have two-way conversations that refuse to honor white supremacy.
James is a member of the Class of 2018.