Views from the Ground: “IT’S OKAY TO BE-“

Lucas Weals ’19

Living Davidson Editor

Professor Mark Sample tweeted on Monday in support of students who tore down the posters—his words were shared by Davidson professors and students on multiple social media platforms.

On Monday, March 19, a closed Facebook group for Davidson students erupted into conversation over a slew of posters—emblazoned with the now-infamous 4chan slogan “IT’S OKAY TO BE WHITE”—which had been anonymously displayed on DCPC walkway, Chambers, and Belk, and which were destroyed and removed by concerned students.

The Facebook discussion was what you might expect from students like Davidson’s: by turns heated and hilarious, divisive and surprisingly unifying, the sprawling comment threads felt more than a little familiar, at least to those of us who’ve been around for a few of these online events already.

In response to past controversies (a word I use grudgingly), it has been the practice of this paper—and, indeed, of this school—to post a kind of point–counterpoint on the issue, often with predictably painful results: bitter exchanges in yet more comments sections; accusations that editors are conflating the anger of marginalized students with a dominant group’s smug appeals to “rational discourse,” a practice that always seems to absolve that group of its own wrongdoing; and the general (and incredibly salient) point that those very marginalized students, underrepresented to an embarrassing degree on this and other campus publications, are rarely included in whatever “legitimate debate” coalesces once the explosion ripples out past Facebook.

In light of these conditions, I’ve sourced a number of short perspectives from commenters who I feel express (1) a legitimate concern from those students who spoke out against the posted slogan, which has been linked to white nationalist and neo-Nazi groups online; (2) a complication to what we might all recognize as the “usual” points made in online arguments over race and speech; and (3) a genuine desire to educate anyone who cares to know more.

I’ve also made the decision not to include a defense of the signs, nor did I include any criticisms of their vandals. This is not a decision I made lightly, and I imagine some will find it disappointing—but it’s the only one I found morally defensible. I reject the kind of feeble equivocation that treats a moral panic over white supremacist slogans found on our campus with the same concern given to torn scraps of paper.

Such defenses can easily be found by any curious student who goes looking for them online. And while I feel no impulse to endorse them, even implicitly, under this editorial line, students with a perspective on this or any other issue should contact Perspectives Editor, Kayla Edwards ‘20 (kaedwards@davidson.edu). With that, Living Davidson presents a trial run of a new format—a section entitled “Views from the Ground.”

 

Jalin Jackson ‘19, Latin American Studies and Africana Studies double major from Camden, NJ, on “respectability politics” and smelling a rat.

Firstly, my stances may not reflect those of all students of color at Davidson, nor those of the people who responded against the poster.

No one complicit in a system of enslavement, genocide, impoverishment, disenfranchisement, generational theft, sexual assault, human experimentation, sexism, criminalization, and so on, has the right to tell marginalized communities how to combat the effects of such forms of oppression. Period. That’s it. If someone of color polices their own community so that they might appear more “respectable” or “civilized,” then that person needs to accept that respectability always reflects the dominant demographic in a given space. Analyzing the respectability of populations who are protesting their own oppression supports those responsible for it. I am sorry (but not sorry) to say that respectability politics at Davidson College—a predominantly white institution—reflect whiteness predominantly, regardless of who is doing the policing. That is not to say I discourage ideas like civil disobedience, peaceful protest, or “constructive dialogue.” Instead, I mean to say that we need to keep in mind what the real enemy is, to confront those who back that enemy; that we should judge the method of our confrontation only by its contribution to dismantling institutional oppression. Otherwise, there is no need to apologize for smelling a rat.

 

Evan Yi ‘18, Creative Writing & Asian-American Studies major from Little Rock, AR, on “erasure poetics” and a brief history of artistic resistance.

When I first saw the “IT’S OKAY TO BE WHITE” stickers, I was mildly ticked, then continued on to my professor’s office hours. I was unsurprised at their arrival on campus, given what this college and campus have been and have done for centuries. After some time, and reading both Jonathan Shepherd-Smith’s thoughtful post as well as the link he added, I decided I couldn’t leave them as is. Thinking of the nonwhite students, faculty, and staff implicitly targeted by this more insidious white nationalist propaganda, I erased.

Political erasure poetics has a long history. I won’t dive in at length here, but consider erasures of Roosevelt’s correspondence before Order 9066. Consider M. NourbeSe Phillip’s poetic collection, “composed by erasing the 1783 legal decision Gregson v. Gilbert, in which 150 Africans aboard a slave ship were drowned so the ship owners could profit from insurance” (see Rachel Stone, “The Trump-Era Boom in Erasure Poetry” in the New Republic). Consider the erasures of Trump’s inauguration speech made primarily by nonwhite and queer writers. Consider that for those who do not have access to the cultural narrative of their own bodies, erasure of that cultural narrative is the only artistic mode available. Consider that though I am not marginalized in that way and have done nothing close to the important work they have, there is a history of such resistance. And such resistance has always encountered the same tired arguments.

 

Cooper Marshall ‘20, from New York, NY, on “pride” and the dangers of feigned ignorance.

I will happily go on record saying that everyone should be proud of who they are. No one should ever feel ashamed of any aspect of their identity, especially not on a liberal college campus. However, white pride and pride in one’s identity are two vastly different things.

In 2018, nothing frustrates me more than feigned ignorance. What baffles me, though, is that at a premier institution like Davidson College, there are students who continue to feign ignorance over the most basic and fundamental issues that our community and communities around the world face daily, and have faced for centuries. Even more frustrating is students whose livelihood has never been and will never be threatened on this campus choosing to be controversial on Facebook by making false claims to incite anger within marginalized groups. While it is incredibly possible that white individuals on this campus have individually felt unsafe for one reason or another, to say that one feels unwelcome as a white person because a PoC altered racist rhetoric hung around campus with objectively racist motives to be inclusive of a larger body of people is a massive overstep.

I encourage everyone to take pride in who they are and speak up when they feel that their personhood is genuinely under attack. However, I believe that those with true pride in their identity will be adamant about defending themselves and exactly what it is about themselves that they take pride in. That opportunity has been presented to the Davidson community and I hope that everyone continues to be vocal about self pride. We all have things to be proud of and we should all want to learn more about the individuals in our community.

 

William Botchway ‘19, Sociology and Africana Studies double major from Queens Village, NY, on the myth of “intention” and why something can be wrong in more than one way.

Intention should not be at question here because either this sign is coming from someone who supports white supremacy, or that thinks it’s a funny joke to throw around casually. Both of those are wrong, regardless of which of these were the goal. Only those with the safety of whiteness can hide behind the thin veil of humor in this scenario. As for the discussion of whether or not we should “respect” the opinion and not deface the sign, it’s asinine. By respecting and validating hate speech, one implicitly supports and legitimizes it. Again, the safety and privilege of whiteness (or the strange adoption of it) allow people to believe that they can stand up to it with words and “intellectual heft,” as one student so eloquently asserted, ignoring the reality that there are students on this campus from marginalized groups who will feel unsafe with the simple fact of white power rhetoric plastered on the lampposts of our College.

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