An Explanation: Racism, Parties, Apologies, and Restoration

Weinberg Senior, Kellyn Lewis broke news over the Facebook airwaves on Monday April 23, 2012 that he had witnessed something which disturbed him. The Northwestern Club Ski Team (A Student Group, unaffiliated with Northwestern Varsity Athletics) hosted a party for the third year themed “The Beer Olympics”. Kellyn Lewis posted a note on Facebook alluding to a Northwestern student group who held what he described to be more like the “Racist Olympics”. Kellyn could reportedly hear the festivities as he got off the Foster L stop.

Kellyn’s post reads:

But what I saw Saturday afternoon was really just the “Racist Olympics.” In this backyard were at least 50 kids dressed up as some particular ethnic group or nationality. There were 6 teams: Canada, Ireland, Bangladesh, South Africa, Uganda, and Navajo Nation. All teams but Canada and Ireland signified via horribly racist and offensive mock-ups of these cultures. The noise I had heard came from the “Navajo Nation,” although most every student in this yard participated in the “Indian call”. Moreover, these students are dressed up in headdresses, leather vests and other stereotypical indigenous garb. Uganda was represented by students wearing tribalized Kony 2012 shirts. Students representing South Africa seemed to take a much simpler approach. In my presence, a passerby asked why the group chose to wear white t-shirts and black jeans. The response, “We’re South Africa! White on top, black on bottom!” Finally the Bangladesh group simply dressed themselves in beads and painted red dots on their foreheads, (The overwhelming majority of the population in Bangladesh aren’t Hindu, but Muslim). These chants, the minstrelsy aimed at the expense of the dignity of non-Europeans, and the sheer ecstasy of the partiers was sickening and traumatizing.The party could be viewed from the street, and the Indian calls could be heard down the block. This cannot continue. It will not.

And it seems to be that this was exactly the course of events at the Ski Team party this past Saturday, April 21, 2012. We know these things to be true because the President and Events Chair of the Ski Team approached Lewis, Medill Senior, Dallas Wright, and myself the next day admitting fault, apologizing, and seeking reconciliation. The conversation was heated and particularly one-sided. The two gentlemen from the Ski Team were stridently chastised and assured that their undressing was not over. A method of recourse was planned which would include the best interests of the Student Diversity Initiatives.
However, due to a series of events and developments in between the implementation of the plan of action and the original decision regarding how to go about exposing the issue and making the most of this heinous behavior on the part of NU’s Ski Team, a lot of confusion has been stimulated by students who are angry and wanted the swift exposure of this party and the larger Northwestern student body.

It is most important for me to write two things regarding the “endorsement of the Diversity Initiatives” by the Ski Team, the withholding of their name, and the protection of the identity of those implicated.

We understand the egregious nature of this kind of ‘humor’ or ‘fun’. It is not fun for everyone; it is an act of violence, privilege-assertion, power, dominance, and humiliation. It is hurtful, disrespectful, and patently racist. Lewis, Wright, and myself had the power in our hands when we got photographs of the events and gathered enough information to totally hang the Ski Team out to dry. We realized that we were totally in control, but that our reaction to this incident had to be indicative of true, transcendental agency and not an emotive, visceral reaction to the situation. We were determined to exert a cool control over the confrontation that these racist actions had created.

We intend to use the example of this incident, and the others to be exposed, which represents a pattern of behavior by Northwestern students, in imploring the administration to make decisive strides to creating a culture of diversity and equality at Northwestern – to press for the demands of the Diversity Initiatives and to have the ‘infamous’ Diversity Report released. In the handling of past incident the administration has ducked, dodged, and used ‘culprits’ as scapegoats so as to avoid taking responsibility for their inactivity in addressing the culture of exclusion and isolation for many students at Northwestern.

First, we wish to deny any opportunity to use these students as an “out” against our calls for substantive change. The complicity of the University, in its silence, weak responses, and delayed diversity commitments, in racist abuses like this on our campus should be viewed as equally if not more so egregious than the racism of students because of the responsibility that the University has to all of its students. Our aim was not to protect the Ski Team from the guilt they incurred but to protect them from a potential transferral of guilt onto them by the University.

Secondly, this is not about the Ski Team; this is the beginning of a long process of exposing a culture at Northwestern for which the University is fully responsible for not addressing and amending. There will be more exposures to come; this event is not at all isolated, but is a part of a larger pattern of behavior that Northwestern University seems to find acceptable. For this reason, the Ski Team has cooperated and endorsed the Diversity Initiative, also agreeing to implement socially responsible programming, because this is the beginning of a cross campus alliance and cultural revolution at Northwestern.

Thirdly and most importantly, we did not attempt to air the Ski Team out immediately because we do not want to wage an individual war against students, schoolmates, classmates. We acted in the vein of powerful, transcendental love, forgiveness, justice, and restoration. By engaging in a battle with individual students we would, although be justified, would not serve the purity of justice. We would only delay the restoration and healing of our campus wide community. We realize that a student who participates in this behavior is susceptible to and a product of a racist society at large, group think, a culture of mindless youth, the temptations of supremacy; these are things which anyone could embody and to which anyone could bow, there are not “monsters” in this matter, there is only monstrosity of which humans are known to be capable.

Furthermore, if we were to wage a social war against every student group on campus who has done something like this, we would be fighting everyday from now until the University stepped in and influenced the culture on campus. This is a much larger issue than the actions of individuals, this is a matter of cultural isolation which the university has condoned by its promotion of commodified diversity wherein minority students are objects for white educational consumption; that phenomenon must end.
In fact, it is just that which we seek to achieve; The University must not lean on the demise of its students to preserve its perceived innocence, with time, the perception of the University’s innocence will erode and we will demand that the University admit its failures and promised a change in the structure and ethos of this institution.

We don’t want to enforce a culture of fear, distrust, “political correctness”, ideological homogeneity, or anything in the like. We want everyone’s right to exist on this campus without imposition to be respected and we want the University to take equality seriously with action and change, and not simply with promises and emails. We know there will always be students defending racism, insensitivity, isolation on this campus and in comment sections under posts such as this; those people are entitled to their opinions. We however demand that the University, by its silence, by its weakness, and by its inactivity, not comply with such indigestible, yet pervasive, world views, though they be the right of individuals to maintain. We demand that the University be an agent of equality, inclusion, and unity in the cultivation of an institutional culture.

We demand that the University begin this reconciliation by releasing the Diversity Report, published in the fashion of the reports which go before it.

We’re asking the university to promote a culture which maintains that all its members belong here.

If you’re going to rail against anti-racism: a. you might be a racist, b. read the whole article, c. this isn’t “radical” stuff.

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