Meditations of hate speech

By Rigoberto Lara Guzman

A community meeting took place on the night of Nov. 11 in response to racist and homophobic language defacing an important student space, the grate. I am aware that The Mac Weekly has addressed this gathering; however, it is my personal belief that the meeting was unsuccessful and therefore the issue deserves further scrutiny. Over the past couple of weeks, hate speech has continued to appear on Macalester property at a threatening rate. I disregard the possibility that the perpetrators come from outside our campus as an attempt to make this a “teachable moment,” and I denounce anyone who finds humor in these hurtful words.

Discussing these issues as a community was a first step. Now what? The following is a meditation on student relations at our Macalester College, especially concerning issues of race.

To those that disagree with me already, let me just say one thing: The discussion was productive, but only in addressing logistical and administrative concerns. I do not discredit the impact it had on many in the crowd, especially for those experiencing such an event for the first time. Furthermore, I was happy to hear students voicing their grievances and speaking their minds, but I feel that we missed the opportunity to incite true action and plant the seed for change on this campus.

When I speak of change, I speak of a change so strong that once in place it cannot be reversed. I speak of changing the way people think and feel; the way people relate to one another. It is my conviction that we all share a common humanity, one that is often shrouded by ignorance, but that exists nonetheless. Striking at that common humanity can begin to heal the wound that Macalester has been trying to patch up for so long concerning race relations among students.

It is imperative to acknowledge the history and to make clear that such incidents have been going on for years. My question then is why? Macalester is not encased in a protective bubble, and the ugliness of the outside world does permeate from time to time. Nevertheless, I do not find this to be a good enough excuse, for it does not justify people feeling unsafe in a place we pay so much money to be in.

The days after the meeting, I felt emotionally distressed and angry, feelings shared by many allies and students of color alike. I felt much love and support from friends. The fact that there are places and people to go to on campus [e.g. The C-house, DML, professors and others] also gave me comfort. Let me say though, at the risk of generalizing, what I really feel, which is that the majority of people on campus are indifferent if not oblivious to these feelings, and that is what scares me the most.

I do not accept the idea that Macalester is one cohesive community that thinks and feels the same. To assume that is not only irresponsible, but also dismissive of people’s complex backgrounds, thoughts and experiences. The textured beauty of Macalester comes from the rich differences we students bring to the table, not only our similarities. In sharing and learning from each other we can aim to create unity, albeit without losing individuality for the sake of convention.

I would also like to address this point on individuality and what it means to be an individual at Macalester. I am a staunch proponent of maintaining and affirming a sense of individuality. However, a sense of individuality and open mindedness should be equated with a sense of entitlement. Meaning that we should not feel entitled to think that we are beyond certain social issues and modes of thinking just because we attend a progressive school. Lest we forget, Macalester College is primarily a white institution that attempts to be multicultural and not the other way around.

In addressing intolerance and the -isms of the world we live in (in and out of Macalester) I would entreat everyone to consider several things: 1) To accept indubitably the fact that no one, regardless of skin color and social status, is unbound by issues of race, class and gender. All three are inextricably binding and affect us in different ways. 2) To acknowledge one’s privilege and background for what they are. Feeling guilt because you are white does not help anybody. We may be products of our families and the society we live in, but we are neither our families nor our society. 3) To recognize and accept that we are ignorant. One cannot be angry with an individual for being ignorant, but one can be angry at the fact that they are ignorant. Attempt to gain awareness of historically under-represented people without making anyone in particular the spokesperson for their people’s struggle. 4) Lastly, to realize that people are people and that we all operate under certain human limitations: emotions, needs, faults, imperfections, etc, but without forgetting that certain people are and have been operating under oppressive and exclusionary man-made limitations.

Destroying those limitations is the ultimate goal, but it all begins through personal transformation and enlightenment. I have no answers in terms of where to go from here, and I suspect that the people who write these things on our walls will not care much for what I have said. Nevertheless, my intention is to trigger dialogue and action in those hearts and minds that do care.

Be conscious. Be mindful. Be aware. Life is hard as it is; there is no need to make it harder.

Rigoberto Lara Guzman ‘1