A few years ago, I won a writing contest that was sponsored by a bar named after a famous male author known for his alcoholism and chauvinism. My story was a flash fiction piece written from the perspective of an alcoholic, chauvinistic male author. I was not at all surprised that I won; I had written to my audience, but had also mimicked all of the authors I had been forced to read throughout my education.
Writing from the perspective of someone I had never been was much easier than writing from, say, a young queer female perspective, because it was considered the norm. Writing my own thoughts was, and continues to be, a struggle. My voice is systematically devalued by the whiskey-dripping, ego-tripping adventures and glorified failures of men.
Chancellor Carol Christ is planning to hold “point-counterpoint” panel discussions, which is inane and violent toward those who have historically been silenced. Her “Free Speech Year” proposal, announced Aug. 15, uses the same term that has been co-opted by white nationalists to justify marching their genocidal beliefs through public spaces, so let’s focus on what that means for people of color. Christ’s proposal assumes that there has not been centuries of kidnapping, slavery, rape, murder, torture, assault, segregation, murder, gerrymandering, imprisonment, harassment, attacks on culture and spirituality and psyches, murder, murder and murder that people of color in this country have faced, all while being told that a white person’s perspective is the norm, so any acknowledgement of the above crimes is abnormal — indeed, abhorrent.
It assumes that perhaps, if everyone could just listen to the other side, then an understanding could be reached. Perhaps people of color should just listen — no, more than that — defend the right, in Christ’s terms, to what many assembled in Charlottesville, Virginia, were saying when they raised their arms in the Ku Klux Klan salute, a symbol of their adherence to values in the KKK’s Constitution, which reads: “We avow the distinction between the races of mankind as decreed by the Creator, and we shall ever be true to the maintenance of White Supremacy and strenuously oppose any compromise thereof.”
Perhaps people of color should listen to KKK members and supporters who believe they can, and should, destroy lives in service of the “sublime principles of a pure Americanism,” a rationale that relies on an inarguable basis: the will of God. Maybe people of color can reach a place of understanding with a group that has gleefully murdered Americans without any premise other than skin tone, a group whose own constitution excludes compromise.
Asking people of color, or anyone, to listen to justifications for racism assumes that we don’t already live within a country with a federal government that advocates white supremacy, nor a society that gives inherent power to the words of white people because the white perspective is the norm. It assumes that both sides have logical arguments to present, and that the audience will be able to draw rational conclusions from the discussions. It assumes that the entire nation, and not just the hateful white supremacists that are gathering together to salute oppression, hasn’t been listening.
Worst of all, after a weekend of brutal, deadly violence and a year of increased racially charged hate crimes, the chancellor’s “Free Speech Year” proposal is extremely tone deaf to what people of color — which includes her students, teachers, administrators and staff — have been fighting for: to have their experiences, arguments and emotions validated in a meaningful way, rather than being told their experience with oppression are equal to white nationalists who have no experiences (on a systematic level) or arguments (with evidence) to support their theories of “white genocide” and “anti-white hate.”
Chancellor, allowing speakers with public ties to white supremacist groups, such as Milo Yiannopoulos, to appear on campus (as he plans to do next month) is not a matter solely of physical safety. You cannot hire enough security forces to prevent the mental and emotional damage it may cause members of your own campus community to know their institution, like every other in America, is forcing them to assume the undue burden of building “inner resilience” instead of literally creating a place where they can feel safe from harm. It is the same as asking them to assume white supremacists will continue to threaten their lives in “the world after (they) graduate,” while ensuring that is the case by giving institutional support to white supremacists who advocate for that future. It’s time to take your own advice and start actively listening.
Sarah Cadorette is a Berkeley resident.
A previous version of this op-ed incorrectly stated the author is a staff member of The Daily Californian. In fact, the piece was special to the Daily Cal.