Fighting Racism: Avoiding Vague Sentiments and Taking Direct Action

In this powerful article, writer Jude Casimir discusses the aftermath of the racist poster defacement incident on campus, and effectively uses the reality of racism to call for direct action, rather than vague sentiments

By Jude Casimir

 

By now, in early March, everyone’s probably heard about the defacement of that poster in Sheehan Hall. In case you haven’t heard, though, somehow, someone changed the word “bigger” (as in encouraging students to be a part of something bigger) to the n-word.

Everyone’s seen the “I Stand Against Hate” banners that were swiftly put up in the days following the incident. When they were up, you either signed one or walked straight past it, for whatever reason—you didn’t have a pen on hand, you were in a hurry, you recognized that the sentiment was nice and comforting, but you also knew racism isn’t going to go away because a bunch of people sign a vague banner. You knew racism is bigger than that, more sinister than that. You knew after most people signed that banner, they were probably not going to think twice about the ramifications of racism and the ugly history surrounding it we’d desperately like to bury.

But regardless of whether you saw or signed those banners, everyone’s now been exposed to the reality that racism exists even in a city like Worcester. It exists even in a school as proud of its diversity and inclusivity as Worcester State.

The only way to combat it is to take direct action against it, and the most basic direct action we can take is talking about it. Not in the “we’re all human beings, we breathe the same air, the world is actually mostly colorblind” way, either. That’s not helpful or productive. We need to be able to talk about it before things like the poster defacement happen, not after.

But people are uncomfortable. No one likes to be called out, nor does anyone want to admit they’re wrong or be accused of being something they don’t consider themselves to be, so we stay silent. People don’t want to admit privilege or take responsibility, so we sit and brew until the Big Racist Thing happens and blows everything up. Until then, we’d like to talk about anything else, please. I mean, God, can we just change the subject already?

Since the incident, though, there have been attempts to break the silence. There was a Campus Climate Committee meeting that took place the week following the incident and a student forum was held on the Feb. 8.

But that CCC meeting was at 8:30 a.m. on a Monday, which isn’t the most opportune time for student participation. The student forum, on the other hand, had a much greater turnout, but it was hardly as inclusive and comfortable as the student leaders wanted it to be. The students in attendance discussed things like their initial thoughts, their personal experiences, their feelings about the word, its variations, and who can and can’t use it, but there was always this sense that people were holding back. They were told not to, they were told the Blue Lounge in the Student Center was a safe, respectful place, at least for the time being, but most of them didn’t heed this.

These meetings are not small actions, by any means. But I don’t think they’re helpful in the long run because, for the most part, they don’t feel real. A lot of the people at the forum, for instance, attended of their own volition, but once inside, it felt structured. A question was asked to the group as a whole, people were told to discuss it in smaller groups for five minutes and then share thoughts for another couple of minutes. Rinse, repeat. Thoughts and answers were always genuine, people always clapped at something they found moving, but, at the end, I felt like I did whenever I’d walk past the response banners: The sentiment is there, but once people leave the room, the ones that didn’t have to think about it in the first place are once again free to not think about it.

As a community, we need to make race easier to speak about. It’s always going to be a contentious topic until people realize it doesn’t have to be. I’m not going to say every student here needs to take a sociology or anthropology class to graduate, but I do think those are helpful in understanding the systems of discrimination. I swear I’m not being sponsored by the sociology department, but sociology has helped me, a black woman who’s been exposed to racism, as well other forms of bigotry like ableism and sexism, put names to feelings and situations I’ve had and been exposed to. It hasn’t turned me into a victim, as many people want to claim; it’s only armed me to speak and think more clearly about the world around me.

February is Black History Month, and that should’ve opened up the conversation for sure—it’s the perfect time—but I’m not sure it has. There have been events like the African-American Read-In and the screenings of episodes of the 2016 mini-series “Roots,” but, like that first CCC meeting, those were at kind of inopportune times. President Maloney reminded and encouraged the student body to participate and celebrate this month, but that was only once or twice via email.

I have no idea how to completely abolish racism or make everyone in the world more sympathetic, but I do know that vague sentiments don’t help. I do know if we can’t even take the most basic action against it, if we can’t even bring ourselves to talk about it like people, if we’re always too scared, all we’re ever going to be is waiting for the next thing to happen.

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