The following is an open letter to the Wesleyan community from a group of students of color. It appeared earlier today on The Ankh‘s Facebook page and has been published here with these students’ permission. The views reflected here are the writers’ own.
To the Wesleyan Campus Community:
To be black in an anti-black society is to be a commodity fit for liquidation, it is to be already evidenced as not befitting of life, it is to live under surveillance and always positioned as a potential threat, it is living under the conditions of imprisonment (of our senses of self, expressions, bodies, gender articulations, and sexualities).
So when we say that Black Lives Matter, we are not implying that other lives do not matter. We are reaffirming our existence in a country that continues to do everything it can to demolish and obliterate black and brown lives. By speaking out against institutional, structural, and systemic racism, by affirming Black Lives Matter, we are liberating ourselves from these systems of oppression.
We do not have the time, nor luxury, to be caught up in this smokescreen of free speech. Let us be clear: this is not an issue of your free speech. This is an issue of our voices being silenced, our communities under attack. Free speech is not a one-dimensional highway—white, cisgender, heterosexual men are not the only ones with the right to free speech.
When students of color speak our lives into existence, our speech comes under attack. When we defend our lives, we are harassing you. When we demand safety, we are attacking you. Our unapologetic voices are deranged screams; our open hands are clenched fists; our cellphones, weapons, our pigment, targets.
Centering this conversation on free speech, without the context of the voices historically censored and misrepresented, is the very manifestation of systemic and structural racism that continues to silence and murder people of color.
Institutionalized racism is found in the media and the education system at large. One of the most dangerous lies of the century is that we live in a post-racial society. Institutionalized racism is not only present at Wesleyan University—it is festering in the DNA of our coded language. The Argus is an institution whose history of devaluing people of color in our community proves that it plays a role in the perpetuation of institutionalized racism.
Further, within the microcosm of Wesleyan University—the lack of response from the administration on behalf of concerned students of color is reprehensible, inexcusable and indicative of its role in supporting institutionalized racism. The administration only publicly acted in defense of a privileged voice.
White Press has not and will not work for black and brown people. White Protest has not and will not work for black and brown people.
Freedom of speech, in its popular understanding, does not protect Black Lives Matter advocates who are trying to survive in a racist world, but instead protects the belief systems of dominant people—despite the extent of their heightened ignorance.
The debate has become whether members of our community even deserve, not only to exist on this campus, but simply to live. By focusing on the freedom of speech instead of students’ lives and ability to safely exist on this campus, you are practicing censorship and you are partaking in racism.
This is yet another moment that defines our resilience as black and brown people. We remain hopeful that this will be an opportunity for growth and a reminder that there is much work to be done to ensure that this is an inclusive campus.
A Group of Concerned and Unapologetic Students of Color