Apr 222012
Authors: A collective voice for a common purpose

Fellow students, faculty and community members,

This column addresses last week’s Collegian column “Screwing racism, if you know what I mean.” Carried within this response are the voices of CSU students whose experiences and identities were undermined by the messages within this column, and who are standing up today to challenge the ideologies of the piece and the reality of its impact on our community as a whole.

This response is not concerned with addressing the character of the writer herself. Rather, it seeks to address the larger underlying issues that the column propagates, issues that have a very real and dangerous presence within our community. It’s important to note that we are not discouraging interracial relationships, but are instead interested in discussing why targeting people of color for sex is problematic.

Apart from the column’s disregard to several tenets of the Rocky Mountain Student Media Corporation Code of Ethics, which Collegian journalists are obligated to uphold, (most glaringly the violation of criterion #23, Use of Negative Stereotyping), this column dismisses a much larger, more critical responsibility that is not only carried by Rocky Mountain Student Media, but by each and every one of us as aware, perceptive and considerate human beings.

The Collegian is meant to be an outlet for students to exercise their First Amendment liberty: the Freedom of Speech. That being said, with this right we carry the responsibility of owning our words and actions once we cast them out into the world. Words carry weight; with words, people wield the power to name and enforce their own version of reality regardless of the experiences of others. As much as American politics and the nation’s foundational texts would like to believe otherwise, all American citizens are not treated as equals. Everyone has the freedom of speech, yet whose words dominate the media?

“Screwing Racism” was presumably not meant to be hateful; it was simply someone’s perception of the world. It’s clear that these perceptions have come as a result of a lack of any experience of oppression, and are justified to that end. However, we challenge you to think about the experiences you have been “saved” from due to whatever form of privilege you have, and please take that into account before discounting another’s viewpoint about the effects of this column.

This is not an issue of “political correctness” or the desire to avoid uncomfortable topics. This is a matter of society’s continuous process of “othering” individuals who walk through life being labeled as “less-than” because of their so-called deviant identities (“othering” is the process of creating an “us-them” mentality in which white becomes the norm and people of color become deviant from said norm, or the “other”).

The problem with the column is that it contributes to seeing the body of a non-white individual as an object of conquest –– a commodity useful only in its benefit to the white user.

“Screwing Racism” could potentially come off as “progressive” in its encouragement to seek out interracial relationships. Yet the motivational factors outlined behind the relationship described is not based on mutual respect and attraction. Comparing the desire for a Mexican boyfriend to wanting “drunken Mexican food” characterizes behavior which seeks to objectify people of color, rather than engage in authentic relationships. In Mayo’s narrative, the author is engrossed with consuming a Mexican person for her own appetitive desires to absorb and appropriate this man’s new and exotic culture and body.

Historically, white people –– particularly white men –– have been able to gain access to the bodies of people of color through colonialism or ownership, and so Mayo is obviously painfully unaware of her power and privilege within her relationships with others. A real answer to eradicating racism would be a healthy, genuine relationship that goes against the status quo of seeking sexual gratification and the appropriation of another’s culture and body.

This phenomenon is analyzed by black feminist bell hooks in her column, “Eating the Other.” hooks states that, “Unlike racist white men who historically violated the bodies of black women/women of color to assert their position as colonizer/conqueror, [these individuals who desire to have sex with someone because of his/her ethnicity] see themselves as non-racists, who choose to transgress racial boundaries within the sexual realm not to dominate the Other [people of color], but rather so that they can be acted upon, so that they can be changed utterly. Not at all attuned to those aspects of their sexual fantasies that irrevocably link them to collective white racist domination, they believe their desire for contact represents a progressive change in white attitudes towards non-whites.”

In the Collegian, the author titled the column “Screwing Racism,” yet proceeded to only speak of screwing members of other races. This column continues the process of “othering” people of color to the position of being no more than a potential sexual conquest.

Turning to a statement from our President Tony Frank, written two weeks ago in response to the incident allegedly involving some members of the football team, “The issue I want to reflect on here is language. As a community committed to providing a safe and welcoming learning environment for all people, we must recognize that language has power, and the careless use of harmful language has no place in an academic community. Ours is a community that includes people of many different races, ethnicities, religions, political ideologies, physical capabilities and sexual orientations. This diversity is our greatest strength as a university, and it can also be a challenge. Living and working together in a collegial, peaceful environment requires that we commit the respect, understanding and effort to understand each other’s experiences and perspectives. It also requires that we think twice about our choice of words.”

“Screwing Racism” not only reflects poorly on the writer, but also the Collegian and CSU as a whole. In his statement, Tony Frank reminds us that as educated members of society, awareness of language and its consequences on a greater scope is something we should know, understand and practice.

There also exists a difficult relationship between “comedy” and “satire” when discussing marginalized people. Although individuals often try to make jokes about racial and ethnic minorities, our country and in this case, our campus, is simply not racially conscious enough to understand humor without (either actively or passively) replicating inequalities, stereotypes and pain. Therefore, people with power, such as the author of “Screwing Racism” need to tread carefully when attempting racial humor. Racial and sexual humor cannot be produced by everyone and for every audience, and in this case, the lack of insight into historical and contemporary racial and sexual issues has resulted in offensive, rather than comedic and insightful, satirical writing.

We are reminded of another important statement by Dr. Sam McKegney, a professor at Queen’s University in Ontario, “The wise person may well recognize that she or he knows nothing, but the wiser person takes this as incentive to learn.” With as many resources as we have on campus to gain awareness about identity, race and sexual violence, including the Ethnic Studies and Women’s Studies Departments, there is no excuse to wallow in ignorance. For those individuals and institutions who claim to be genuinely interested in the inclusion, safety and respect of individuals from all different walks of life, it’s no one else’s job or responsibility to provide the initiative and education they need to understand their position within the world, and the implications of their identities in a broader context.

In order to learn, we must be able to humble ourselves by listening to and respecting the voices of others, and by questioning our perceptions and understanding that each of our identities mold and shape what our experiences and realities look like. To learn, we must not only be open to accepting when we are wrong, but must also take the initiative to learn from those wrongs to bolster justice and equality in the future. “Screwing Racism” is an opportunity for each of us to learn how to recognize the ideologies that can potentially challenge racism, rape culture and the objectification of others, and which ideologies only work to perpetuate them. Calling each other out and holding one another accountable is not personal. Calling name to injustice is the only way we can truly recognize the complex nature of social inequality, and begin to work toward real change.

Let us take this opportunity to not only stand up against shameful publishing in the name of humor, but shameful discourses and language on campus as a whole. The same platform that we saw abused last week by “Screwing Racism” can be also be realized by students who are tired of seeing these sorts of things in our university. We have a voice as well, and our voice is more powerful.

 Posted by at 4:13 pm

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