[Editors' note: the following is a statement to the Oberlin community on the visit of Kwame Ture.]
It would be an understatement to say that the March visit of Kwame Ture to Oberlin has been the occasion of much debate. So far we have avoided the debate. We did not invite Mr. Ture; neither did ABUSUA, the Afrikan Heritage House not the African American Studies Department. In fact the majority of students involved in the exercise were not African or African American, and some of them were Jewish. Yet, slowly and inexorably, events have developed to the point where further silence on our part will be inexcusable and irresponsible. We need to begin though by stating a few truths.
First of all, we refuse to be drawn into an exchange in which we only have one of two choices: either to denounce Kwame Ture as an anti-Semitic or to be labeled anti-Semitic ourselves. We have our own views. We are quite capable of interpreting events as they occur. And we make no apology for not yielding to pressures to make such a choice. Therefore, while we are all for dialogue it must take place in a manner which allows the complexity of all sides to be aired and respected.
Secondly, as Black faculty and Staff we share in the responsibility for making Oberlin a safe and congenial environment for all students. We were pained, therefore, by the fact that some Jewish students were injured by the presence of Kwame Ture on campus and by some of what he said in the course of his visit. We regret that this was so, and we are sensitive to the distress of those Jewish students who felt it appropriate to make a poignant, open protestation by turning their backs on Kwame Ture as he spoke. In fact, we emphatically repudiate his assertions that "the only good Zionist is a dead Zionist," wish to make clear that statements such as these should be challenged.
However, we are also pained by the fact that the views of Palestinian students seem to get little consideration. Unfortunately, rather than using the occasion of Ture's visit to the campus to debate his well-known anti-Zionist position, the occasion was marred by incidents which were designed to mobilize opinion against him. In our view, the dialogue which should take place on this campus, with regard to differences between definitions of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, was thwarted.
For us, anti-Zionism is the principled opposition to the notion that the land of Palestine was given by God to the Jews, and that no one else has the right to occupy it. Anti-Semitism is the unprincipled and often racist discrimination against Jewish people. There is a world of difference between these two positions, and people are presently paying with their lives for the difference.
Unfortunately, by turning Ture's visit into an anti-Semitic event, the unannounced discussion of the relationship between Zionism and the state of Israel was invalidated. The issue seemed as much to be with the subject of the lecture as with what the speaker might say. In other words, it seems that among some circles in the Oberlin community, critical comment on the role of Israel in the Middle East is tantamount to having an anti-Semitic position.
We are also outraged by the presumption that Black Students, Faculty and Staff have no organic interest in Kwame Ture's visit but to support or not to support the allegations made against him of anti-Semitism. Kwame Ture has a long history of progressive activism in the United States and in the African Diaspora. He was the chairman of the Students Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the most influential and prominent student formation of the 1960's. He was Prime Minister of the Black Panther Party. He has written a classic book, Black Power, with Charles Hamilton, one of Columbia University's distinguished black academics. He is one of the radical survivors of the civil rights movement. His place in the history of that movement is significant and assured. He is the Chief Organizer of the All-African Peoples Revolutionary Party. In that context he worked closely with Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana and Sekou Toure of Guinea, two of the icons of the decolonization period. He came to Oberlin primarily to speak on Pan-Africanism, a historically dynamic force in the development of Africans and African descended peoples. It is to the promotion of Pan-Africanism that he has devoted his life's work over the last two decades. In doing so he has associated himself with the likes of Henry Sylvester Williams, Bishop Alexander Walters, George Padmore, W.E.B. Du Bois, C.L.R. James and others who worked unsparingly in the same cause.
Indeed, it is against this background that we hope that the community will understand why Black Faculty, Staff and Students applaud so much of what Ture has stood for over the years.
We also believe that the mission of Oberlin College, as an institution of higher learning where the traditions of free speech, intellectual inquiry and the vigorous exchange of views are encouraged, must be defended. These traditions are at odds with the tactics resorted to by those who opposed Kwame Ture's visit by trying to convert it into an item on an agenda foreign to the intent of the students who invited him.
We think that the students who invited him are to be commended for their work and congratulated for completing their program against all odds. We have no doubt that the impact of Ture's lectures was generally to lift the level of consciousness about the issues that he discussed, particularly about Pan-Africanism and its continuing importance for all of Africa and for African peoples wherever they may be in the Diaspora. We also believe, notwithstanding the controversy, that Kwame Ture's visit was, in many respects, positive for the campus. It also gives us an opportunity to undertake a serious dialogue about some of the internal crises that confront us as a community.
-Malcolm Cash, student development specialist; Adenike Sharpley, lecturer in African-American Studies; Dedrick Dunbar, assistant program house coordinator; Clovis White, associate professor of sociology; Micheal Gaines, service employee; Julia Williams, program consultant, Center for Service and Learning; Hattie Gossett; Jonathan Williams, associate director of Admissions; Caroline Jackson-Smith, associate professor of theater; Adrienne Lash Jones, associate professor of African-American studies; James Millette, professor of African-American Studies; Yakuba Saaka, professor of African-American studies.
Copyright © 1996, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 124, Number 23; May 3, 1996
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