Open letter regarding racist graffiti at Macalester

The Mac Weekly

Editor’s note: The following letter was created by visiting professor Althea Sircar of the Political Science Department on Nov. 4. The Mac Weekly has agreed to publish the letter and the signatures to the letter as of print time.

We, the undersigned, condemn in the strongest terms the repeated appearances of swastikas and other racist symbols and markings (such as recent anti-Arab graffiti) on the Macalester campus. Regardless of the intention of the perpetrators, the swastika is one among many symbols inextricably linked to beliefs, actions, and campaigns of hatred and genocide—in the case of the swastika, against Jewish people, along with other historically oppressed groups such as people with disabilities and LGBTQIA2+ persons. The swastika, although it originated in heterogeneous religions and indigenous cultures, was appropriated by the Nazis and put to tragic, unforgettable use as a key political tool in the Shoah and the entirety of the German National Socialist project in the mid-twentieth century of the common era. The ongoing deployment of the swastika by anti-Semitic, white nationalist, xenophobic, and neo-Nazi movements in the U.S. and around the world underscores its continuing power as a racist, violent symbol of hatred against Jews, black Americans, non-Europeans, and Muslims, among others.

Fighting the swastika and its ilk is about more than erasing something that makes us uncomfortable. Opposing hate-speech and hateful acts is about more than watching what we say or being polite. Even if we aren’t members of groups attacked under the sign of the swastika (and some of us are), it and all other forms of hate speech must be named, called out, and halted, whether or not they meet the legal definition of a criminal act. If Macalester is to be a place where prejudice cannot flourish, we must commit as a campus to engaging in rigorous and sustained critique of and opposition to hateful words and actions. As an academic community, we have a particular imperative to draw from our diverse expertise while remaining aware of how our knowledges and experiences are limited. We must also keep in mind the mixed historical record of intellectuals regarding oppressive practices and institutions.

What does it mean to not only condemn the swastika but to learn about the ways it as well as other symbols and speech-acts, such as national flags and anthems, have functioned as tools or emblems of imperialism, genocide, and oppression? How do we grapple with differences in the histories of such symbols and with variations in how individuals perceive them? How can we better understand imperialism, settler-colonialism, genocide, xenophobia, and enslavement with historical, geographical, philosophical, and political specificity, so that we can confront their present-day legacies and manifestations? Why do some forms of hate-speech persist and recur? Why, in this place and at this time, are we witnessing these specific acts? What other forms of hate-speech or hate-acts are members of our community experiencing, on or off campus? And, most difficult of all, how do each of us and our institution support and continue oppression, even if inadvertently? How can we root out our own oppressive practices?

Having these conversations—learning from one another—is imperative, because hate speech and genocide endure. They may take public form or they may hide, cleverly playing on contested symbols, but we must remain even more committed to having difficult conversations about these things, listening to the persons affected, analyzing and studying past and present, and supporting all those standing against hatred, whether visible or hidden.

by Althea Sircar

[email protected]

Althea Sircar, Political Science Lian Duan, MSCS Megan Vossler, Art and Art History Lisa Mueller, Political Science Crystal Moten, History Alicia Muñoz, Spanish and Portuguese and IGC Olga González, Anthropology and Latin American Studies Alexis Logsdon, Library Ernesto Ortiz-Díaz, Spanish & Portuguese/ Latin American Studies Eloá França Verona ’18 Erin Lynch, ’18 Patty Anderson, Asian Languages and Cultures Hana Dinku, Residential Life Kyoko Honma Peterson ’18 El Hadji Diop, French and Francophone Studies Devavani Chatterjea, Biology, Community & Global Health, Neuroscience Paul Cantrell ’98, MSCS Jesse Zarley, History Rachael Huener, German Studies Corie Hammers, Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies Samantha Manz ’19, Proud Indigenous People for Education Co-Chair Hannah Whittle ’19, Proud Indigenous People for Education Co-Chair Logan Tootle ’17, Proud Indigenous People for Education Co-Chair Brian Lozenski, Educational Studies Susanna Drake, Religious Studies I-Chun Catherine Chang, Geography Nadia Berriel Miranda ’18 Joan Ostrove, Psychology Claire Menard, Proud Indigenous People for Education Jennings Mergenthal, Proud Indigenous People for Education Teresa Mesa, Spanish and Portuguese Jake Mohan, MAX Center Ximena Silva-Avila ’20, Adelante! Co-Chair Sayira Silverio ’20, Adelante! Public Relations Officer Cristina Martin ’20 Melanie Guardado ’20 Phuc Nguyen, ’18 Elida Zaldivar ’18 Samia Osman ’18, Muslim Student Association (MSA) Vice President Chris Pieper ’18, MCSG Katrina Phillips, History Elizabeth Roten, ’18 Seán Bartz, Physics Paul Dosh, Political Science and Latin American Studies Carmen Bustamante ’18 Ophir Gilad ’19 Anna Fineanganofo ’18 Diane Michelfelder, Philosophy Shilad Sen, MSCS Mark Knierim, Art & Art History Joanna Inglot, Art & Art History Jaine Strauss, Psychology Sarah West, Economics Suveer Daswani ’18, 2017-18 Macalester College Student Government (MCSG) President Joëlle Vitiello, French and Francophone Studies Wang Ping, English Erika Aguiluz Ramirez ’19, Adelante! Co-Chair Geneva Gaukel ’19 Morgan Adamson, Media and Cultural Studies Eric Carroll, Art & Art History Susanna Morales 20’, Adelante! 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