March 4th, cont.
Remember March 4th? If you (like me and like a lot of people I know) read these blogs to take Oberlin's pulse, that's a day you want to be familiar with. Our pulse - the maddening and disappointing rhythms as much as the rhythms we can be proud of - beat unusually close to the surface that day.
If you've been reading my posts for a while, you know I wrote a letter of solidarity in response to the March 4th events. (It's here.) I was praised for it. Let me reframe that act, though: on a day that was structured specifically to facilitate listening to marginalized voices, particularly Black and Jewish ones, I raised my white voice and made it publicly heard on a platform already dominated by fellow white voices. Doesn't sound as nice when I put it that way, does it? Of course, I do stand by what I said, but no matter how genuine the content of that letter was (and still is), I know that the reason I wrote it was to put out that fire-in-the-britches that was preventing me from functioning normally - in other words, I did it for myself. I was extremely uncomfortable and I didn't know how else to deal with my discomfort. Removing its source would've been ideal, but how do you remove hundreds of years of colonizing tradition from the very educational system you're inside of? I crumpled at the challenge. And wrote a blog post instead.
I'm not saying it was a bad post, just that there were other things said as a result of that day that I'd rather people read - this article, for one. It's particularly good about giving some marginalized Obies a place to tell parts of their stories, which is much more in the spirit of March 4th than my loud letter of solidarity; I thought about editing the letter to include a link to it, but I was afraid that that would be easily overlooked, and that is the opposite of what I want. Half a year has passed, but it's still important to pay attention to marginalized voices, whether or not we dedicate a day exclusively to the task. (A part of me doesn't want to post this because it's just taking up more space with my white self, but another part of me thinks it's important 1. to take responsibility publicly for when you do something icky publicly, and 2. to keep conversations about solidarity going. Perhaps in another six months I'll look back on this post and regret writing it, too. We'll see.)
Here's another thing that bothers me about my letter, though: have I done what it promised? Hm. I certainly haven't kicked off any revolutions. I haven't even organized the listening sessions I wanted to set up for people to bring their OSCA-born grievances to. I had some heartfelt conversations with other OSCAns, but nothing that changed the structure of the organization, and probably nothing that even changed anyone's mind. (They were pretty safe conversations. Mostly it was white OSCAns getting together and going "Boy, we'd all like to make things better, but we have no idea what needs changing or even how to respectfully ask the people who do know to tell us what needs changing.")
I don't feel like I've done absolutely nothing. I partook of the wealth of workshops that were put together in the aftermath of March 4th, and I was in the working group coalition that published this document, a list of proposals for institutional change (which I am immensely proud of us Oberliners for producing together!) - but, caveat, I skipped out on a lot of meetings as the year barreled on to its end, so. I'm torn between telling myself I could've done better and forgiving myself for not heaping more things on my already-heaped plate.
Something else I've been doing has been intentionally reading wise books by Black women who I could easily, as a white kid in America, have ignored all my life. (Okay, let's be real - who I have been ignoring all my life.) Most recently, I read Angela Davis' Are Prisons Obsolete?, a book (and topic) I'd heard about at lunch tables in Tank but really didn't have a solid understanding of. Fun story, actually: the first time I heard of Angela Davis was when a professor of mine who grew up in East Germany mentioned writing letters to support the Free Angela Davis campaign as a schoolchild. And, continuing the theme of German classes teaching me Big Things, I'm now in a class called "Afro-Germans in Global Contexts," which something I've never heard mentioned before, let alone been taught about, and so, as someone who studies German culture, am excited to add to my knowledge base. Of course, I'll screw up on the regular in that class - of four students and one prof, I'm the only white person. It will be an extremely valuable learning experience for me. (I just hope I don't get on everyone's nerves too much.)
What does all of this add up to?
I do (naively?) think that my (self-)education is worth something, but I do also know that in the grand scheme of racism in America (and the even grander scheme of intersectional oppression in America), that worth is infinitesimally small. One sentence from my March 4th letter that still rings painfully true: "I am a white girl who has been slow to turn her self-education into action." Ouch, self.
It's definitely a journey. I'm definitely fumbling, rather than sprinting, along the road. It feels odd to put such an under-construction part of me in a public place, but this blog is meant to be a reflection of my life in Oberlin, and being under construction is definitely a big part of that. Trying to be open to scary, confusing conversations on subjects served with a bakery's worth of humble pie is also a big part of Oberlin, for me - which is why I'm taking a class on Afro-Germans from an Afro-German who's writing her dissertation on Afro-Germans as we speak, and why I'm writing this blog post, and why I'm being an involved OSCAn, and why I'm trying to keep up my not-for-class reading this semester. But I'm not good at scary and confusing yet. Everything is a process.
Oberliners who made similar promises on March 4th: what have you worked on? Are those promises still in your fists after this first week of classes or have you let them go?
Oberliners who are still in the process of orienting themselves here: know that March 4th is part of the legacy you are entering into. You weren't there, but you're inhabiting a space that has been shaped by it, and by the same things that made it happen. Think about how you fit - or don't fit, or want to fit - into that space. What I mean is: Oberlin sometimes dehumanizes its denizens and sometimes nourishes them beautifully. Are you going to seek out, use, and build the supporting structures or are you going to unquestioningly fit in to the unpleasant spaces here? (You, as a richly complicated and intelligent human, will of course be on both sides of the coin at various points. Do give it some thought as it's happening, though.)
As usual, I don't have any answers, but if you're an Obie reading this, you're welcome to find me and talk over a cup of tea. I'm sure we can learn from each other. And, again as usual, I'll take any excuse to have a cup of tea.