Last week a play about white supremacy and racism called “God’s Country” was performed on campus. The play ended with a quote from Desmond Tutu that goes, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” This quote has stuck with me, as I think it has with many others, and more and more I find myself thinking about just what neutrality in the face of injustice looks like.
As a white male, I have no illusions about my place in the protests that have been happening on campus. As Emily Blackshire said in her awesome blog post, this movement doesn’t need me or my privilege. My role as an ally, as one protester I talked with perfectly articulated, is to be the speaker that amplifies the sound, not the voice in the microphone. That being said, I have had the honor of sitting outside on the steps of Sikes with so many intelligent and compassionate people all gathered with one purpose: protesting injustice. This injustice is not imagined or inflated; it is very real and very tangible. In the past week alone, it has taken the form of bananas, racial slurs and cowardly Yik Yaks. Racism is very real on our campus, but has yet to be addressed seriously by our campus administration.
There has been no apology for the “defacement” of an African American history banner with bananas. There has been no response to racist threats made on social media. There has been no acknowledgement by the university that students have been sleeping on the steps of Sikes for over a week. The fact is that the response — using that word in the loosest possible sense — of the administration has been woefully inadequate as they try keep up appearances and ultimately remain neutral.
Consider that last week when the Clemson 5 were arrested, instead of being handcuffed and taken out of the main entrance, they were carefully taken out the back door with no restraints. Protest signs were taken down around Sikes, and tours have been rerouted so visitors don’t see students living in tents. Today, in a meeting relayed to the protest community by the dedicated core organizers, the administration continued their denial of the issues this campus faces. Put simply, the university wants to appear committed to change while also striving to maintain its carefully manicured public image. In reality, all it’s really trying to do is the latter, showing that its one true commitment is to remain neutral, denying that we as a campus have a problem.
It’s time for that neutrality to end. To deny the pressing issue of racism on this campus is to deny the daily experiences of African-Americans and other people of color. To deny change is to accept the status quo. To deny the legitimacy of this protest is to take the side of the oppressor. To the administration, especially Almeda Jacks, Bob Jones, Max Allen and President Clements … it is time to take a stand. Your inaction is condonation and is unacceptable if you are truly committed to inclusion and the idea of the Clemson Family.