The October 2016 issue of Oblivion is finally available online! You can download it HERE.
This past April 20th, Oblivion hosted a performance showcase as a part of Bard College’s 2016 Teach-In. Watch footage of some amazing talents at work by clicking here.
Over the past couple of days, reports have resurfaced of a June 22, 2016 police crime in Atlanta, Georgia, which resulted in the unwarranted murder of 22-year-old Deravis Rogers. Suspicion that Rogers was guilty of crime, which in turn, lead him to be shot, was consistent of practically every media account of the incident. This presumption allowed for a range of speculation by the public in regard to whether or not his murder was justified.
Because it is apparently so incredibly difficult to believe that an officer could have killed an innocent young black man. As if it had never happened before. As if it isn’t a regular occurrence that is being widely protested nationwide. As if race isn’t a factor. As if it’s easier to just concoct some sort of absurd justification for why this sort of injustice ensues, rather than acknowledging that our country is in crisis.
The genocide of the black community by law enforcement under the perilously ambiguous terms of United States Law may be a hard pill for non-black people to swallow. But persisting with this sort of resistance is only going to further enable the killing of black persons in America (and, due to our strong ‘Western’ social influence, potentially globally).
According to Rogers’ killer, off-duty officer James R. Burns (whose identity wasn’t even released in original reports of the incident), someone had been seen breaking into a vehicle by an off-duty officer who called for backup. Burns, arriving at the scene after the call, posited that he had observed Rogers fleeing away, prompting him to fire his weapon. However, not long after his account, it was revealed that Burns’ testimony was not consistent with the details of the shooting. Burns was fired on July 1st by Atlanta’s Chief of Police George N. Turner, claiming that he had violated departmental procedures and that the shooting was an unnecessary and excessive use of force.
He was clearly in the wrong. He is a murderer. And yet, there are still no charges being brought against him. Yet, many people would still rather not acknowledge the truth.
In fact, one of the first videos of the account that surfaced was entitled “Man escaping from scene of car break-in is killed by Atlanta police”. Now, while I’m no linguist, I do I understand the crucial nature of semantics when attempting to provoke human emotion. A title such as this one – without any other details about the case – makes me, as a reader, believe at least two things:
- That this man has committed at least a minor crime, and was guilty by virtue of his inclination to “escape”, and
- The murder of this man could have been for a particular reason.
Additionally, a more recent written report from July 12th which fully acknowledged that “Burns’ actions that night were found to be unwarranted” ALSO felt the need to point out that Burns “has no record of prior disciplinary actions”, while Rogers “has a troubled past that includes encounters and arrests with law enforcement. In 2014, he was convicted of two counts of entering autos and sentenced. In addition, he has faced previous charges of entering auto and drug charges, according to court records.”
Even when black people are innocent under circumstances of injustice that have ensued against them, they are still – in some way, shape or form – portrayed as menaces to society by the media; whether that be done through the choice of photo provided when such crimes are publicly reported, or the manner their unofficially eulogies are composed. And this is why, on behalf of everyone who refuses to acknowledge this problem, I proclaim in sorrow:
Dear Deravis Rogers,
And the countless other black persons taken by not “senseless”, but premeditated violence:
I am sorry you had to be taken from your loved ones so soon.
I am sorry that the color of your skin made you the target of an inherently oppressive system.
I am sorry that you never stood a fighting chance.
I am sorry this had to be your fate.
I am sorry that this has been the fate of so many other black people, and will most likely to be for quite some time.
I am sorry that even as a victim, they still try to paint you as a villain.
And I am sorry that all I can do is raise my voice to those who do not want to hear me.
I am so, so sorry.
The Fall 2015 semester at Bard College has been marked by a campus climate of racial tension. In her article for Buzzfeed, Bard: The Secretly Bigoted Bubble, Bianka Bell, a current senior at Bard College, eloquently depicts a chronological sequence of events of racial violence and the responses of students of color to such events. Due to the nature of what is popularly coined as a “the Bard bubble”—to describe not only the physically isolated location of the institution, but also a student mentality that intellectually engages with discourses strictly inside the context of Bard, instead of outside of it—there are students who attempt to stress the importance of a world outside of ourselves. Attempting to simultaneously pop the bubble and examine the current explosion of public conversations about racial tension, violence, and experiences at Bard, students of color are reminding the Bard community that this activity merely places us as participators within a national discourse and movement outside of the college. In other words, we are not alone. This discourse on institutional racism has become a national conversation as well as becoming of interest to the public with the emergence of mainstream attention given toward the Black Lives Matter Movement.
The same voices responding to racial violence at Bard ask the question: why is the administration being so responsive now to addressing the vandalism of the Multicultural Lounge in Sawkill, the racist letter addressed toward a Black student, and the grievances and demands of students of color? And these are just a few events mentioned. Attention is also being called to the fact that these events are common acts of racial violence at Bard, that our grievances and demands are merely reiterations, and that others have fought for our same objectives for quite some time. The moment of student action is not an isolated event but occurs during a time where the nation’s Black communities are making yet another uproar in our country’s history of Black liberation movements. Timing can be just as important as the actual spectacle.
Because the mainstream has temporarily perked its interest toward Black suffering, the administration at Bard College does the same. This interest in Black suffering by the mainstream media is the farthest from genuine. Rather it is used for the exploitation of Black suffering by reproducing the dominant narrative that the Black experience is a one-dimensional existence of trauma. This is often done through exhibiting visuals of Black individuals in emotional pain and being dominated by others. Racial violence is often perpetuated in this process. This interest in Black suffering becomes objectifying—a painting on a wall for the fascination of white eyes.
Another affair engraved in Bard’s history is the Blackout Bard on November 18th, a campus wide walkout organized by students of color, though tailored to the concerns of the Black student body. The purpose of this event was to express solidary with and raise awareness of the struggle of Black students at Mizzou, Yale, Ithaca, and elsewhere. Additionally, the walkout served to bolster the voices of Black students at Bard, to call attention to the racial violence experienced and practiced at the institution, and finally, to create a space where the Black community at Bard could publically express their support and love for one another. This event witnessed an attendance of hundreds of people from students, to faculty, to staff. I remember leaning against the wooden rail on Ludlow Lawn before the beginning of the walkout, observing the sea of pale faces. I was struck with a visual reminder that we were speaking in front of a community of white liberals, radicals, conservatives, and those who politically identify with neither.
At the walkout, numerous events were advertised that supported the same interests as those discussed at the rally. Among them was a screening of the yet to be released The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, to be showcased that same evening. While attendance at the screening was decent, the majority of students present were those already at the forefront of discussions about race and other forms of institutional oppression.
Black students at Bard cry out for more events that can open student dialogue toward critical discussions about institutional oppression. These events do occur. However, whether it be the Multicultural Diversity Committee Retreat on Cultural Appropriation on December 6th 2015, or The Black Body Experience, a conference organized by Colored Womyn United, these events are continuously attended by the same group of people: students who sustain and are the impetus of the campus dialogue around this topic. Furthermore, such students are already at a level of political and racial consciousness that allows them to be this impetus in the first place. They are present at these events, look around the room to see familiar and friendly faces, and walkout disillusioned at that fact that their classmates—often those who spew racist, sexist, and/or homophobic comments during or outside of class—were absent.
Yet, many from the latter crowd attended Blackout Bard, some for the controversy the event raised, some because their professor cancelled class, allowing them the opportunity to be present, and some for their personal interest be it genuine or not. For those present at Race Monologues on December 4th, 2015, a student-organized event featuring a series of student performances on race and racial experiences, it may have been noticed that many of the students who we don’t see at the lectures, workshops, and movie screenings that are organized by students of color, attended these two events. This begs the question as to why Blackout Bard and Race Monologues were attended by a larger crowd of students—majority white—who are normally disinterested or antagonistic toward discussions around race most particularly. My concern here lies more, not with the amount of attendees the two events, but with who the attendees are. This is in comparison to many other events with similar topics but witness low attendance from this type of crowd. In the case of Race Monologues, it is easy to claim that the reason is due to the event being an artistic showcase, something the student body at our liberal arts college craves and impulsively gravitates toward.
However, I believe that, similar to the way mainstream media has a taste for Black suffering, many of the students at our predominately white college perceive the Black experience as “interesting”. Not only is it more fascinating, entertaining, and “interesting” to attend an event where Black people are publicly exposing their experiences, trauma, and expressing “what oppression feels like”, but it is more comfortable. To witness the Black individual depict their experiences of racial violence is more comfortable for the white liberal and radical than it is to be exposed their self. Too many white students at Bard tremble at the thought and avoid having to occupy spaces that challenge their consciousness. In this way, we see white privilege molding into a shield and protecting the white individual from holding their self accountable. Somehow, an illusion is constructed in a way as if racism does not oppress or affect the white person, as if racism does not function in tandem with classism and patriarchy, and as if racism itself does not corrupt the mind and soul and the white individual.
Attempting to answer how to disrupt this quality of the student behavior, as an attribution of the campus climate and intellectual culture, is the next task. As a friend spoke to me about this once, perhaps event promotion should take a new direction. A dynamic student body often regenerates the quality of the campus climate outlined in this essay and sustains the Bard bubble as a result. The influx of new students entering and departing Bard each year, those studying aboard, transferring in and out of the school, or perhaps going on leave have an impact on how this situation will and can be addressed. There are new minds to educate, revolutionize, and challenge. Students of color that are now organizing events and are at the forefront of these critical discussions will depart, and new individuals will take their place. Regardless, these successors will bring different events to campus, and different ways—whether it is subtle or not—of speaking and addressing the same concerns on campus. The accumulation of these factors will dynamically shape the sociopolitical landscape of the student body. Maneuvering ways to affectively address this must be considered.
In whatever way the compliancy of the student body is tackled, it’s important to understand that changing this student behavior has the ability to cause a disruption in the existing intellectual culture and qualities of social relations on campus. There is a reason as to why it matters that a larger white student body at Bard attend events on campus that critically engage in dialogue about institutional oppression. Obviously, attracting this audience will not solve the problem of institutional racism at Bard or anywhere else. However, it does matter.
This kind of student behavior speaks to realities that are larger and exist beyond Bard College: the sentiment that white privilege is legitimate. There are students of color at Bard that are fighting a battle against the legitimacy of white privilege that is tethered to a socioeconomic power structure. Preserving the comfortableness and compliancy of the white student body is frankly uninteresting. Eradicating the need and desire to protect white privilege is imperative. The trend of student behavior outlined in this essay is only a behavioral manifestation of a larger system that produces a culture legitimizing it. The task of delegitimizing whiteness adequately requires us to direct our actions to the roots of the system. It runs that deep.
Photographed by Keegan Holden
I’m sarry Mista Roberts,
I only had one job and that was to press a button
You missed a meeting today because you sat in the elevator for 20 minutes,
Waitin on me to press a button
Yo head down looking at your phone
You neva knowin if you goin up or down
Yah just there standing waiting on me to do my job
I can explain
My baby she couldn’t breathe
She was sick the food she been eatin and drinkin
It made her sick but I couldn’t take care of her
Cus I had to be here
So now she dead
Somethin in the food
Somethin in the water
Somethin killed her and it wasn’t natural
All the kids around sick
All my babies sick
Well one dead
So please don’t take my job
This how my kids buy their poisons
How I buy the caged chickens instead of the free ones
This how we die,
Buying caskets in paper bags with smiles.
I’m sarry Mista Roberts
My problems not yo problems
From the Nigga that presses the buttons
Less than two weeks after the vandalizing of a student space dedicated to diversity, another strike of racial controversy sparked the Bard College Campus. Bard, located in upstate NY, is a notoriously hyperliberal institution. With its dedication to promoting various cultures and lifestyles, Bard hosts annual events which celebrate the differences of the diverse pool of its community members, a few being: Gender Blender, Queer Prom, ISO (International Students Organization) Culture Show, and much more. But with the racially-tense events that have been transpiring on the predominantly-white campus as of late, one might not have ever guessed it.
There’s something happening at Bard College, and it’s not good.
Freshman Orlando Riley awoke from his nap this Tuesday afternoon in Bard residence hall ‘Sycamore’ to find that a note had been slipped under his door. The note, signed anonymously, read:
I refuse to reveal my identity to you but I have some things on my mind I want to get off. Number one, you don’t fit in as a Sycamorian or a Tree House Resident. I wish you would request a different room assignment. Secondly, you don’t fit in as a Bardian. Maybe you should transfer schools and go back home. You’re just too BLACK. You walk around as though you are the king of this campus and you’re not. You are just a peasant to me. You will always be a peasant to me. I hope this note finds you well. See you around BLACK PEASANT.
Someone You Know On Campus”
Just two weeks prior to this incident, a student space at Bard belonging to the Multicultural Diversity Committee was broken into in the middle of the night and vandalized with spray-painted racist caricatures.
Racist graffiti on the walls of the Multicultural Diversity Committee’s space at Bard College.
This particular incident followed the successful ‘Black Out Bard’ protest—a demonstration organized by students which served the purpose of standing in solidarity with Mizzou, speaking out against police brutality, and providing the white population some personal anecdotal accounts by students of color on their encounters with racism on campus and beyond—which occurred on the campus just a couple of weeks before.
A speaker at the “Black Out Bard” protest on November 18th.
Students at Bard College speak out against racism at the “Black Out Bard” protest on November 18th.
Recognizing that this personal attack on him was the product of a persisting racial animosity on campus, Orlando promptly shared a photo of the note, along with his personal statement regarding the situation, via Facebook:
“If anyone could, please send up a word of prayer whoever wrote this note. I find it very disturbing and hurtful. I wish someone would be MAN or WOMAN enough to show face or admit to doing this. Please pray for their parents as well for raising them in such a manner. I’m hurting deeper than anyone can imagine right now. I want to break this letter down as well. First off, what does it take to fit into a dorm that I pay $15,000 to live in. I won’t request a different room but I dare you to come in while I’m awake. Second, what does it take for me to fit in at a school where I pay the exact same tuition fee as everyone else. Yes, I’m on a scholarship and have support from financial aid but guess what I’m still in the same educational standpoint as the other 1500 students on this campus. I won’t transfer or go back home. What’s “too BLACK”? How do I walk around as though I’m the king of this campus when I’m secluded to my room 15 hours out of the day? I am probably the most humble person on this campus. And PEASANT!!!!!!???? I’ve never asked nor begged nor wanted for anything. Especially from a Bardian. I appreciate those who are supporting me. Share this and make it viral. This will not go unheard of. #BLACKLIVESMATTER #MYLIFEMATTERS #ORLANDOMATTERS”
Since posting this message, Riley has received an outpouring of love and support from his Facebook friends, and more specifically, his Bardian peers. As of Wednesday evening, Riley’s original post received over 223 shares; and the number is constantly growing. The incident is (again) sparking a fresh dialogue within the Bard community about racism on campus.
Some students, such as Bard sophomore Elena Lefevre, are hyperaware of the microaggressive atmosphere that the campus can illuminate. Lefevre elucidates her disgust with this statement:
“I’m appalled by the note. And I’m really shocked not only because of its racist content, but also of the really distinct identification with Bard that the writer had; that the writer claimed that this individual did not fit in at Bard… that what is Bard is this racial attitude.
This particular note is so particularly graphic; this is not a microaggression, it’s an aggression. One hundred percent. And it catches people’s attention in ways that microaggressions do not, so while I’m completely abhorred of the fact that this person decided to write this, I guess we can find value in its ability to shock those who have otherwise remained unshocked.”
Others have sympathetic, but less drastic perceptions of Bard’s racial dynamic. Says Bard senior Zachary Goodman of the recent controversies on campus:
“I think this is ridiculous that this is still happening in 2015. I think this community in general is very open and close-knit, and I think opinions of certain people are saying otherwise… It undermines the community that a lot of us have, which is completely unfair and completely unsupportive.
This recent thing is kind of ridiculous, for lack of a better word, and it doesn’t reflect anything that people on this campus believe. It’s just this one individual who doesn’t share the same views with anybody on campus, and quite frankly, doesn’t share the views of any rational person.”
But despite the fact that certain students are “appalled” and select Bard student organizations have been consistent in organizing panels and protests to fight inherent institutional racism in the United States and abroad, there is no denying that harmful discriminations survive within the “Bard bubble”—and most often, anonymously. Consequently, students have been expressing their disdain with the mobile application ‘Yik Yak’, which allows people to pseudo-anonymously create and view discussion threads within a 5-mile radius of them. This app has been becoming increasingly less popular over the past year; the primary reason for this being the offensive and often racist content that has been posted within the Bard community.
In late September, a Bard student who was interviewed for an anonymous photo blog entitled ‘Melanin Confessions’, shared their personal battle with racism on various social media accounts, including this particular application.
“If I had to speak on one instance where there was racial tension involved… it would be last semester… when, on one of Bard’s online forums, some people were posting vaguely-coded racist things… There was one particular dude who was kinda like the ring leader; the person who was creating most of the conversation. He was using coded racist language, so I called him out on it. We got into a little bit of an argument—like two or three comments each—and then I was pretty much done… He wouldn’t budge. He refused to hold himself accountable and I think there was a point where I realized that I was not going to get through to him, ‘cus to him I’m probably just another person of color just ‘bitching about their problems’, which he sees as irrelevant. So I said ‘It is no longer my responsibility to take care of this dude, white community get your shit together and get your boy’. After that, it became this long tirade of people coming after me online… and I didn’t find out about it until later when people kept calling me and texting me to check in because apparently, on Facebook and Yik Yak, there was this huge conversation centering around me and where my name was present; you know, calling me racist, harassing me; essentially crucifying me online, and all because I said the white community on campus is not infallible; that it’s not beyond reproach; that it’s not beyond accountability. ‘Cus we live in a place where Bard is seen as this liberal blue bubble in a sea of red conservatism and because of that we see ourselves as devoid of everything bad in the world; devoid of oppressive structures, devoid of racial politics. And we kinda live in this colorblind fantasy where, if anyone tries to break that fantasy, everyone attacks the person who is trying to break the silence about racism on campus… I’m glad it happened to me because, one, I think that I’m at a place in my life where I’ve dealt with enough of that, and I can take it, so it didn’t bother me as much when I found out about it… and also because, for a lot of people, it sparked a huge conversation about what race meant on campus. Before, I feel like the people I was talking to on campus about racism—it just didn’t connect for them that this is a reality that we live in. And it wasn’t until they saw this physical, electronic representation of racism that it just kinda slapped them in their faces and finally woke them up and they realized that ‘Hey, we are not above this’. So I think that kinda broke the Bard bubble… and just went out in ripples. And, for about two weeks after that happened, people would ask me if I was okay; I actually had an administrator come up to me and ask me: ‘Hey, do you wanna check in; do you wanna talk about it? I’m here if you need me.’ So, like, I think aside from showing other people that racism exists at Bard, it showed me who my allies were, and who is willing to break that bubble for me, or with me. So, yeah, I think that’s probably the most significant racial experience I’ve had here at Bard.”
Bianka Bell / Via Facebook: melaninconfessions
The same blog exploits other micro-aggressive racial situations that have repeated themselves on Bard’s campus.
So, taking into account both Bard’s “progressive” reputation and the contentious occurrences that have been ensuing there, there must be some enquiring as to the fate of race relations on college campuses nationwide; especially those of which are not as inherently “liberal”. With the emergence of social movements such as Black Lives Matter, where there is very strong and often violent backlash, it seems society’s transgressions are beginning to come into light. And this causes one to wonder: If our millennials can’t seem to live out Dr. King’s Dream, where should we expect our society to be in the generation to come?
Riley himself sees an encouraging outcome in all that has arisen:
“I wanted to see how Bard as a community would respond to this and I am satisfied to see how much support has come from it.”
But to that affirmation, one may feel inclined to ask: When will this support no longer be needed?
A close friend of mine recently pointed out that Asians tend to be the observers of America. Her statement scintillated a previously dormant thought in my mind: Why do Asians tend to be marginalized? Why are we the given the stereotype of being “observers” rather than people of action or ones with voices to be heard? Is it due to inadequate media exposure of the Asian culture, or do we choose to adhere to the label of modesty? With such widespread problems ranging from the Paris shooting, to the American presidential debates, to the refugee phenomenon of Syria, the Asian American community does not seem to take precedence in news coverage.
That is, until the story of Peter Liang surfaced. It was then that I realized that we’re not only marginalized, but also made scapegoats by the laws of white American privilege.
In 2014, Peter Liang (NYPD) wielded his gun and opened fire, shooting unarmed Akai Gurley (black American). Before Liang and his partner called for medical assistance, Gurley passed away. Liang has since been convicted for second-degree manslaughter for the death of Gurley. Since this event, Asian American communities have banded together to shed light on quite a few issues erupting from Liang’s case, as well as issues regarding the Asian community’s place in America.
Peter Liang should and is paying for his actions against Gurley, but why is it that he is paying for consequences that a plethora of white police officers have escaped for so long? I recall the atrocities committed by Eric Casebolt, who used brute force and even pulled out his gun to shut down a party in McKinney, Texas. Video footage surfaced showing the police officer violently dragging and throwing a black teenage female across the lawn. Casebolt resigned and an investigation has taken place; however, the message is clear: Casebolt is protected by his whiteness from any real form of punishment. In fact, he was later hired by Arizona Sheriff, Joe Arpaio, to be the head of his SWAT unit. To elevate my point, half-white George Zimmerman was acquitted of the second-degree murder of Trayvon Martin, and white police officer Darren Wilson escaped indictment on the account of Michael Brown’s death. Peter Liang has committed a crime, but so have numerous other white police officers. Yet, they are not subjected to a fitting degree of punishment. Why? Because they are white.
White privilege entitles a sense of superiority, and perpetuates systematic oppression. This said, I am not suggesting that Asian Americans should be entitled to the same privileges. Peter Liang’s case hits home to Asian communities because contrary to popular belief, we DO care about the issues arising in Black versus White America and how we fit within the framework of it. However, we are often silenced or marginalized. Our voices get lost in the binary of the white and black of America, and it is not okay. Peter Liang’s case is not necessarily unique in light of the Black Lives Matter movement, and this is far from me saying All Lives Matter (because that is just another example of white privilege at works). I am saying All Voices Matter, but it is only the white ones that are being heard. The criminal justice system is clearly in need of some serious modification, but I will even go as far as saying that in all 19 years since my immigration to America, it has become progressively evident that this country is broken in several ways. Peter Liang, Akai Gurley, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland are just examples of the many who are continually oppressed under the weight of white privilege and who serve as an indictment to America’s broken ways.