Opinion

Angry counter-punch: understanding rules and pursuing freedom

Recently, there have been op-eds concerning the unfair nature of administration action against certain students or certain groups of students, such as the forced resignation of FAC chair Adinah Zilton and the punishments levied upon members of KWOC for their infractions of student codes of conduct. These op-eds were written by students earnestly sharing their feelings and personal stories, speaking from the heart and issuing calls to rally for a better, brighter future.

Additionally, there have been op-eds published in the Opinion section that so beautifully elucidate to us the intricacies of the cause/effect relationship between disobeying and facing retribution, that rules exist and are enacted irrespective of any external factors, and how the dictionary defines “laws” and “contracts.”

The tone of the latter has been, in my view, placatory, and by extension condescending. As the editor of the paper’s opinion section, I have been very thankful that the authors of all these pieces have the courage and eloquence to submit and pad my section with interesting articles. As a student and a person, however, I have been angered by the picture I feel some of these articles have been painting, and how indicative they are of a painfully limited (and limiting) mindset that I am slowly, to my own horror, becoming aware is surprisingly widespread at this school.

The nature of some of the responses to Sam Doten’s and Adinah Zilton’s articles, both in the paper and throughout the larger student body, as well as an article addressing the role of race in the trial of George Zimmerman, seem to suggest that matters of discipline and disobedience need only to boil down to the simple letters of the laws; that to insinuate that systems of law and order are visited upon different people in different ways is simply alarmist, superfluous and rude, and that we would all be better off if everyone was polite, palatable, and kept their nose to the grindstone. It has been suggested that those individuals and groups who feel targeted are rowdy, self-obsessed exceptionalists who consider themselves above the rules that were designed and are policed fairly and equally for all.

This is simply untrue. And to say that it is makes me very, very angry.

So I want to respond, not simply as a staff member and editor but as a person who feels that their friends’ and family’s point of view and way of life are being vastly overlooked, a person who is saddened and maddened by the simplistic assumptions he is seeing made left and right.

I want to write in the simplest, clearest, most unequivocal manner possible, even as my voice and hand quiver with emotion and need. I could reference essays, books and theories you to whom I am writing have never and will never read. I will not use these, however, because I don’t want to further complicate something I desperately, furiously need you to understand, something that I thought should be obvious to everyone but now know is only a sad ever-present truth to those who deal with iniquity every day. Even though I know Tae-Kwon-Do, capable as I am of verbal joint locks and jiu-jitsu, I want to limit this to clean, straight-up, old school Western boxing, clear jabs and right crosses thrown from deep within my waist, my core, my heart, and drilling straight to your sternum; I want to write to you in a language that you cannot fail to understand, that is incapable of missing its mark.

We—and by we, I mean those of us who deviate in any way from what may be considered normal, those of us with salient identities in terms of race, class, sex, gender, sexuality and ability—do not think we are exceptional, no more than any student here believes in themselves, views themselves as a shining star burning with untold potential. Many of us have, in fact, spent much time trying to figure out how to be less exceptional, more in keeping with what we know we are supposed to be, in keeping with how we are all told to look and act.

Despite your skewed perception (you, who have disagreed with/belittled the perspective of Doten and Zilton), no one who is raising concerns of prejudice believes themselves to be above following any sort of rules or that rules should be abolished. However, we do believe that we are better, and deserve more, than what unsatisfactory rules we already have. This applies to both Macalester and to most every other system of power as we know it locally, nationally and globally.

We understand rules. We understand rules, and the consequences of breaking them, intimately, within the marrow of our bones and the memory of the blood in our veins. How could we not, having to contend with an inescapable web of expectations and limitations daily, just by existing?

From my own personal experience, I cannot count the amount of times I saw white students receive no punishment, and sometimes even praise, for displaying the same type of energetic and challenging behavior that would land me and my Latino and Black friends in trouble, as far back as elementary school. More chillingly, and more indicative of the subtly nefarious way in which institutions are subconsciously upheld by often well-meaning individuals, are the many memories I have in which I, who spoke perfect English and never betrayed any hint of anger, was allowed to engage in rambunctious behavior that landed my equally brown yet un-equally fluent (both in language and culture) friends in trouble.

We understand rules, in a way that many are lucky enough to never have to. We understand that there is no such thing as “fair” or “objective,” at least not in the present day, under current rule. Macalester, and its students who chafe under the institutional thumb of adherence to policy, are bearers of a legacy of a population that has been enslaved, slaughtered, stolen from, misplaced, disenfranchised, imprisoned, sterilized and disrespected– all under the guise of laws that those in positions of power and comfort deemed fair, reasonable, and necessary to the preservation of order.

To think that we would not understand rules, to devote around 500 words to slowly, simply and pedantically detailing to us who are angry and upset what laws and rules are, how they work, and how things like race really aren’t a factor, is nothing less than an insult. To think that a misunderstanding of rules is the source of our tension or outrage, or that there is even a misunderstanding to begin with, points to a woefully limited view of the world and how others experience it.

A focus on analysis and interpretation of the existing rules is honestly boring. We get the rules, we just don’t think they’re worthy. I understand that perhaps you see nothing wrong with the current status quo, and the way that laws are translated and enacted, but I ask this: Have you no empathy? And have you forgotten how to aspire, to dream? To constantly burn down, reshape, and reconstruct in service of the goal of a more fair and just world—a future where people don’t have to be branded “radicals” when simply trying to exist fully, unfettered)—is the responsibility that comes with the gift of any modicum of freedom.

The reason I hate simply discussing rules as they are is the same reason why I hate Superman, writing lit papers and playing Life. The lack of imagination and the willingness to settle for what is already there, to keep calm and carry on, is so inane to me and far removed from the realities of so many people. We aren’t raising our voices because we misunderstand the rules; we are crying to change them, with the spirits of dreamers and doers.

It’d be much easier to flee, leave behind unfair institutions and let these unfair conceptions of law rest and strengthen. Why haven’t we? It’s because we want to craft a more beautiful world where all are free.

Why haven’t I left yet, dissatisfied as I am? Gone down to Mexico, picked up Spanish, and got back in touch with my Yaqui roots? It’s because I love the dream and promise that America has always represented but never truly been able to be. I believe in that dream and want to make it real.You who care simply about codifying and canonizing our nation’s history fail to see how a continued spirit of revolution can finally push this nation into true prosperity and equality. Stop letting this dream be something that simply confounds you, binding you in continued slumber that serves preservation of order and tradition, and allow it to become a dream that rouses you to wake and craft with your own hands in the light of the sun.

In short, I have been angered by the tragedy that many seem unable to understand how different the world, this country, and this school are for many of their peers. Things are vastly complex, and nothing occurs irrespective of any other thing, despite the stratified organization of our academic departments. A dollar differs in value according to who holds it, and avoiding punishment is harder than simply following rules. Try to tell otherwise to those who have learned that buying and negotiating a house is far more complex than purchasing a vacuum cleaner, or to those who have been stopped and searched, pegged “suspicious” for simply looking like themselves.

This is not to say that there is some overt conspiracy in the highest levels of the administration to limit what types of students are allowed to succeed, necessarily, but that a web of prejudice and unholy precedent conspire, through the conduit of the tainted and tired minds of the people upholding the system, to unfairly target certain groups of people and exalt others.

I just wanted to make clear that things are not as simple as some recent articles would like us to believe, that things are never so simple in the real world. I welcome those opinions that differ than mine, I really do. I want to keep running them in my section, in part because I welcome discourse and believe in raising up student voices.

But also because these opinions, these uninformed ideas about the simplicity of law and order, get me incensed like nothing else. And that anger is invigorating, and empowering, and validating, and drives me to speak. And so I respond to you, and in turn invite you to respond to me. Please respond and critique and I will thank you, I will publish you, but I will also always fight you. Here, with this page as our stage, our hearts on the line, I will respond as long as you do. Please, please, write back, fight back, tell me these things one more time, right here, right here, take a shot, a fat clean shot because I want you to, I want you to, right here, another one of your sweet lil jabs right here, on the jaw, in my heart, please, so I can hear you and feel you and try to understand you and come back, please, right here, right here. I’m waiting. I’m waiting, I want you to, please, please, please, right here, right here.

October 11, 2013

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