When I immigrated to this country 13 years ago, I was convinced that I needed to pay the American Dream tax for an opportunity to exist in this country. Payment came in the form of passivity to racism, a selfless work ethic, and unwavering submissiveness to white authority. More specifically, I paid in the form of mastering white history and literature, and of sacrificing my blackness for proximity to whiteness. My parents paid in the form of 14-hour work shifts and the experience of xenophobic assaults. In return, we received a chance for socioeconomic mobility. After 13 years, we finally saw the fruits of our labor manifested in my acceptance letter to the prestigious Columbia University.
Higher education was my beacon of hope. Columbia’s advertised diversity, inclusion, and progressivism drew me to this institution. Since Columbia boasts about its rich history of student activism, I believed that I would spend four years collaborating with faculty, students, and administrators to eliminate the oppressive systems which hindered the progress of my community.
It came as a great—yet familiar—shock when I realized that I was sold a false dream.
These past weeks filled with apathetic administrative emails revealed that the Columbia administration does not care about the humanity of minority students. When Columbia greenlit Columbia University College Republicans’ bigot-filled speaker seriesand demonized minority student protesters, I realized that even here I am expected to be another model minority, whose only role is to shut up, work hard, and serve as an example of “post-racial America.” When the administration provided a space for bigots to congregate on this campus, as a black student, I was reminded that even in the sanctuary of higher learning, I’m just a token educated negro to this administration.
University President Lee Bollinger seems to expect marginalized students to sit passively while CUCR shuffles our student life fees to fund bigots who deny our right to exist. The administration will then use minorities for the University’s diversity statistics, to champion faux inclusivity, and to convince themselves they are not as bad as white supremacists because their version of racism is polite and ends in a Yours Truly.
But when marginalized students beg Bollinger to respect our right to thrive at a university which we pay thousands of dollars to attend, he uses his “free speech” rhetoric to suggest we keep quiet and allows bigots to postulate our genocide. University administrators then threaten to punish us if we disrupt these events, but fail to recognize the disruptive effect hateful jargon has on our health and safety.
The proliferation of white supremacy inflicts violence upon minority students. As Lisa Feldman Barrett, a professor of psychology at Northeastern University, explains, “If words can cause stress, and if prolonged stress can cause physical harm, then it seems that speech—at least certain types of speech—can be a form of violence.” This is especially the case if hate speech is espoused in an abusive and unsafe environment or political climate such as that of the Trump era. It’s horrific to have the threat of violence loom over you simply because you are not a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant male. It is also traumatizing and demeaning to have to debate your humanity for the entertainment of privileged people. But it seems that the administration only cares about the mental health crisis when it is a white issue.
I refuse to sacrifice my sanity for the sake of order on campus. My parents did not sacrifice their comfort and safety for the sake of my education, just to have a bunch of elitist, entitled, and cowardly white people endanger the safety of their child through their normalization of bigotry. Contrary to popular belief, minority students do not exist on this campus to simply explain intersectionality to those who don’t understand, analyze a Toni Morrison quote for them, or stroke their white savior ego. We have passions, frustrations, and voices that deserve to be acknowledged and addressed.
The paradoxical nature of the administration’s free speech argument is that those who tolerate intolerant individuals are contributing to the foundation of an intolerant society, which serves to silence people of color, the LGBTQIA+ community, immigrants, Muslims, and other marginalized groups. By funding a bigot’s free speech for the sake of order, Columbia becomes an accomplice to their transgressions.
Perhaps the administration values the free speech of white supremacists because it has historically benefitted from their ideologies, but it attempts to distance itself from bigots through speeches about diversity and tolerance, Big Brotheresque fireside chats, and superficial inclusion workshops.
While these actions may beguile us into believing that our administration is remedying the University’s past transgressions, it is not. Columbia’s commitment to injustice continues to manifest in financial support of Renaissance Technologies, formerly owned by Robert Mercer, a former Breitbart benefactor and architect of Donald Trump’s campaign.
The way in which white supremacy creeps across this campus and silences our voices is extremely wearying. I’m sick of having to examine history through a white lens, and then being forced to watch the same history filled with colonization, fascism, and bigotry repeat itself. I’m sick of listening to ugly ass fuck bois who reek of citronella” tell me that I do not deserve to exist, and to my “allies” who then tell me to respect their free speech. I’m done paying a tax for a chimera and I suggest all my marginalized peers do the same. Our pain is valid and our humanity is too valuable to be denied.
The author is a first-year in Columbia College studying political science and African-American history. She is a first-year representative for the Black Students’ Organization and a member of the Ethiopian Eritrean Student Association.
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