Sunday, November 2, 2008

The more things change, the more they stay the same... Reflections on the Effigy Found on UK last Week

If you haven't heard about the effigy, check this out.

I went to the forum on Wednesday night and was sadly disappointed in the outcome. A visceral part of me wanted an honest discussion about the incident. While I am glad that so many leaders spoke out about the act, I left the building wanting more. It was like the speakers assumed a lot of things, and just wanted to speak their piece about how "they" aren't racist and the "others" that did the act were horrible.

Having done diversity work on campus I have grown accustomed to the lack of a dialogue between students, faculty and staff on campus. While I don't think that we as a campus are doing less or more work than any other campus, I feel that we as a community do not assess our efforts in an honest way and work from there. I believe that if you hang an effigy of a black person from a tree, presidential candidate or not, it speaks not only of that specific person but also of the history of racist violence in the United States. Yes, Sarah Palin was hung from a roof in California, but there aren't people out there saying "I don't want a white person running this country." Watch this video. Pay attention to the first statement "The black will take over". As a woman, she does face sexism (how big were her beauty pageant photos?) and they have hung women as witches in the past but they aren't alluding to Sarah Palin actively being a witch. I'm not trying to create a hierarchy of oppression here. Sarah Palin experiences her sexism in different ways. I feel that the symbolism of Obama hanging from a tree were stronger in comparison of the two effigies.

Lexington has struggled with race in the past, but as a long time citizen of Lexington, I have noticed that it is often a silent struggle. People either agree with racist ideas that they have grown up with, disagree with them but feel too guilty to talk about the reality of them or are affected by them and can't speak because they are in the minority. I hoped that Dr. Todd and others would speak to institutional racism that affects people on campus; that someone would acknowledge that while there are people outside of campus that are filled with ideas of hate, there are people and structures on campus too that believe the same thing. I wanted a space, as a student and a staff member, to listen to others in their struggle for acceptance and feeling ok on campus. What I feel like it came to was that students have to make themselves feel better. Too often, this message has been given at the University of Kentucky. There is going to be a march on Wednesday, November 5 for students to speak out about this event. It makes me sad that it wasn't offered by the Administration.

I want to help start the conversation on campus, but I don't know how. I try and do diverse programming on campus, and work with the students that I serve but I feel like I am doing little to nothing. What do you suggest for ways to talk about racism surrounding the political election?