Letters to the Editors: December 1

Re: Issues on race and cultural appropriation at Queen’s attracts national attention

Responsibility lies in allyship

The students who wore culturally appropriative costumes at Beerfest last week have been labelled as racists or bigots. Whether or not they are, is not for me to say. 

However, I think that it is inexcusable that they did not understand the implications that their choices of costumes may have. How do educated millennials like ourselves still not know that these stereotypical representations perpetuate the systematic oppression marginalized peoples face?

To my fellow white students, you have privilege. Even if you are oppressed because of other identities that you have relating to things such as sexuality, disability or socioeconomic status, you are still more privileged than a person of colour in the same position. I acknowledge that we all have our own difficult stories. However, you don’t have to worry about being harassed because of the colour of your skin. You don’t have to worry about dealing with racial slurs. You don’t have to deal with the emotional trauma that comes with that kind of everyday fight.

As white people, it is important for us to be allies for POC. We have an obligation to call each other out when exhibiting racist and oppressive behaviours to educate ourselves and find out how we can support POC in meaningful ways. 

We cannot pretend to know what it feels like. We should not dominate discussions about race but rather help to create the safe space that is needed for these discussions to take place. We need to realize that we should stand up against racism because we are in position where we can do that without the same risks POC face. Challenge yourself and the people around you to think critically about racism and how it is manifested in our everyday actions. 

Many people don’t seem to view something as racist unless it is overtly so. However, microaggressions can still be very harmful.

Racism is a global issue and if you are not outraged, you are not paying attention.

Raina Bergasse, ArtSci ’18 

 

Political polarization is a problem

The key debate over the infamous costume party seems to be over differing interpretations of “freedom of expression”. One side seems to think that freedom of expression extends to the right to dress up as whatever one likes. The other side thinks that freedom of expression is the right to speak up when one is offended. Both are accusing one another of trying to shut down the other side.

Lots of people have already been dragged through the mud in this sorry affair. I feel for the students of colour who experience marginalization on this campus. I also feel for the party attendees whose faces were not blurred in the photos splashed across the national news and have been scapegoated for race issues on campus.

Intent is important though. It is absurd to compare these heedless partygoers to the resurgence of white supremacy. One is a malignant expression of economic frustration, the other is a continuation of the old “in good fun” trope. The fault of this party lies in its inherent tackiness. As university students, we should strive to be as cosmopolitan as possible as we learn about the world around us.

It is more difficult for us Queen’s students because we live in a smaller and more racially-homogeneous town. This fact may contribute to the racism problem that students of colour at Queen’s face. Also, Queen’s prides itself on being an elite institution. Elitism is a construct based off class, which has historic ties to racism.

It is difficult to pinpoint the fault of a situation in a subjective response. It is philosophically necessary to define a principle and then explain why that principle was violated.

Just as people have the right to throw and attend costume parties, people have the right to complain about them. It is ironic to see people who revere freedom of speech tear down others for expressing their very valid feelings.

The foundation of our democracy relies on determining common consensus. Unless we learn to listen to each other, we are going to see further political polarization in our society.

Tamarra Wallace, ArtSci ‘17

 

Respect and diversity go hand in hand

Needless to say, we have all heard about the trending controversy surrounding the “countries party” where people had a grand old time by dressing up and appropriating cultures and alienating people of colour in the process. 

There were monks, Mexicans in prison jumpsuits, Vietnamese rice farmers, and the list goes on to include many more “authentic” costumes. 

There are people labelling it as racist, while others are saying it was not offensive as it had no racist intentions; it had the intention of being fun. However, it does not matter if one has the intention of harming or disrespecting others through their ignorance, the fact is; if people are offended there is a reason for that offense. 

The cultures being represented at the party were all cultures that continue to suffer at the hands of oppressive colonial powers. People who went to the party got to dress up and go back to their daily lives, but for POC there is no option of reverting back. 

We cannot hide our skin colour and we cannot avoid the discrimination that may be thrown at us. 

I’m not labelling those who went to the party as racists. We all make mistakes. However, I am asking them to realize and acknowledge that they were out of line and understand that, through their choices at the party, they were perpetuating stereotypes. They were capitalizing on the very cultures that are still being exploited in media and the news. 

There are also POC defending the party saying it was “not a big deal”. My response; You are a direct example of thinking you must agree with those in power to move forward. You think by supporting these arguments regarding intentions you are rising above and encouraging humanity. However, what is being encouraged is not humanity, it is silence in the face of oppression. It is trying to hide away problems of race because, through assimilation, we become one. 

Again, it is not about avoiding differences, it is about celebrating our diversity in a respectful manner. Just because you have a Desi friend does not mean you can wear a bindi; it means you can interact with the culture upon their terms, not yours. We are not all the same, but it is this diversity that enriches us as a community. Respect cultures and learn from their differences, and come together by understanding and appreciating this diversity.

Basmah Rahman, ArtSci ’18 

 

To my fellow white people

For many of us white majority at Queen’s, the reactions towards the ‘Countries’ party came as a surprise. Aren’t these just a bunch of drunk college kids who want to have fun? Aren’t these extreme reactions? 

I can understand this way of thinking. I’ve been there myself. But I took the time and effort to stop and listen. I mean truly listen. And I learned.

I learned about something called the culture of Whiteness, the idea of a culture in which being white and occidental is considered the norm, good, and dominant. Mockery, insults and sometimes threats are common for those who do not fit this mold. It is a system that promotes one group as normal and superior and the others as different, strange and laughable.

After learning this, I was much less surprised at the anger people of colour and many others felt towards those whom they felt supported a culture that fosters a sense of insecurity, invisibility and unimportance in people of a visible minority. Yes, some people will not engage in rational and respectful conversation. This much is true for both sides of the argument. However, one group has to deal with perhaps daily discrimination while the other has had to deal with it maybe once or twice in their lives. Of course they are angry.

If you think this is all about a party, you are not listening. This is about a lifetime of insults, like drops filling a glass of water until it overflows. The party was that last drop. 

I will never be able to fully understand what visible minorities experience, and as such, the only thing I can do is listen. Next time, please listen carefully before you make a comment. Ask what people are angry about, and why. Really listen. Maybe you’ll learn a thing or two. 

Like my mother says, there is a reason we have two ears but only one mouth.

Natasha Walliot, ArtSci ’17

  

Working together is a must 

Being an elected student leader can be an incredibly tricky job, especially when responding to controversies such as the now-infamous Beerfest costume party. When I was AMS President in the mid-1990s, we faced several issues that demanded we take firm yet sensitive stands. The Queen’s Journal and Golden Words would sound off in print, a few students responded with letters to the editor, and that was pretty much it.

Today’s student leaders face a choice: risk being portrayed as weaklings bowing to social justice warriors everywhere, or lambasted for failing to foster on-campus ethnic diversity, all while voices from around the world chirp instantly via social media. The danger of public online shaming makes student leadership more personally perilous than ever.

During my presidency, the AMS Robert Sutherland Task Force recommended ways for Queen’s to honour Sutherland’s extraordinary legacy. Two awards, a visitorship, a room in the JDUC, and later, the renaming of Policy Studies as Robert Sutherland Hall happened only because of persistent, unified student advocacy over many years. The Sutherland experience proves student leaders working in common cause in the name of equity can positively change Queen’s.

However, one thing must be spoken plainly here: it is racial bias that led to Sutherland being buried like a dirty secret in the university’s history for over 130 years, and the same racial bias is being called out when offended people speak out about students wearing someone else’s culture like a costume. The actions now necessary will be neither easy nor comfortable. Racial prejudice and discrimination die hard, but die they must.

The current on-campus environment presents an opportunity for all members of the Queen’s community – students, faculty, staff, administration and alumni – to come together in common cause. Cooler heads prevail when we avoid knee-jerk responses, ignore the noise from cyberspace and create a made-at-Queen’s solution that can educate, illuminate and foster healthy, constructive dialogue.

Teaching and learning are not exclusively in-class pursuits. Administration and student leaders must work together to make Queen’s a great place for everyone to be. Otherwise, a welcoming living and studying environment is impossible. 

Greg Frankson, ConEd ’97, AMS President 1996-97

 

An open letter condemning racism-themed party

As current and former Queen’s faculty and students, and Kingstonians, we condemn in the strongest possible terms the racism-themed party involving Queen’s students that has recently been brought to light. While the full facts of the issue are not yet known, particularly who the students were and whether the party was related to a university sanctioned event or club, the images that have surfaced are disturbing and warrant immediate action.

The celebration and minimization of racism demonstrated by the party-goers evinces a shocking lack of maturity, judgement, and empathy for their fellow students and colleagues. Those wishing to defend the students may appeal to freedom of speech. And, indeed, without evidence of incitement, this execrable party is insulated from legal infringement. But a legal right does not negate moral duty. Queen’s is an educational community and a workplace, and as such must combat racism that occurs on its campus and in its broader community. 

The students, faculty, and administration of the university owe each other a duty of care and respect that the attendees of this party have disregarded. We as the Queen’s community must come together and show by our collective will that such behaviour does not and cannot represent us. 

Written by:
Adam Ali,
Patrick Corbeil (PhD Candidate and Teaching Fellow, Department of History),
Sanober Umar

The following are 138 faculty, students and community members who signed this letter in agreement with the opinion expressed in the open letter.

Faculty 

Dr. Mary Louise Adams, Dr. Nathan Andrews (Political Studies), Dr. Zsuzsa Csergo (Political Studies), Dr. Mark Hostetler (Development Studies), Dr. Eleanor MacDonald (Political Studies), Dr. John Meisel (Political Studies), Dr. Jessica Merolli (Political Studies), Dr. Scott Morgenson (f), Dr. Vincent Mosco (f), Dr. Ariel Salzmann (History), Dr. Beesan Sarrouh (Political Studies), Dr. Aditi Sen (History), Dr. Susanne Soederberg (Development Studies), Dr. Marcus Taylor (Development Studies) 

Student Associations 

The Graduate History Student Association  

Students/Alumni/Community Members

Tim Abray, Adam Ali, Tyler Anderson, Laura Anselmo, Katelyn Arac, Habibe Baba, Sarah Barnes, Eric Bateman, Marin Beck, Anne-Marie Bennett, Christopher Bennett, Lorne Beswick, Sarah Carneiro, Kennedy Everitt, Kaitlyn Forbes, Melissa Forcione, Ari Friedlander, John Gallant, Kendall Garton, Kat Gibbens, Celine Gibbons-Taylor, Jennifer Gor, Sylvia Grills, Nicholas Gruszka Moore, Nicolas Haisell, Caroline Hall, Elizabeth Hanson, Sydney Hart, Akif Hasni, Josh Hawley, Rochelle Herrington, Janice Hill, Jennifer Hosek, Melissa Houghtaling, Xiao Hu, Brea Hutchinson, Erika Ibrahim, David Isserman, Stephanie Jonsson, Mustafa Karacam, Kerim Kartal, Connor Kelly, Jen Kennedy, Jenny Ko, Anne Lachance, Sali Lafrenei, Joseph Landy, Emily LeDuc, A. Lepera, Cynthia Levine-Rasky, Mariela Libedinsky, Thomas Linder, Alex Lloyd, Paula Loh, Jennifer Lucas, Elizabeth McCallion, Vanessa McCourt, Maggie McGoldrick, Joseph McQuade, Debra MacKinnon, Carina Magazzeui, Nadia Mahdi, Helga Mankovitz, Victoria Millious, Noha Mohamed, Spencer Moore, A. Morehead, Linda Mussell, Doug Nesbitt, Andrew Nguyen, Michelle O’Halloran, Dana O’Shea, Chioma Odozor, Dilan Okcuoglu, Em Osborne, M. Papparom, Korey Pasch, Simon Poirier, Ashley Quan, Mark Ramsay, Jacob Robbins-Kanter, Lindsey Rodgers, Brandon Rodrigues, Aprajita Sarcar, Leah Sarson, Grant Schrama, Ishaan Selby, Alex Simpson, Stephen Smith, Andrew Sopko, Michelle Soucy, Anuhea Sridharan, Hayley Sullican, Samantha Summers, Andrew Surya, Michelle Tam, Haley Tena, Ayca Touac, Daniel Troup, Sanober Umar, Katharine Ungoecram (Al), Virginia Vandenberg, Diane Whitelaw, Cameron Willis, Lauren Winkler, Vanessa Yzaguirre, Jenna Chasse, Chuwei Chen, Gabriela Cheung, Matthew Christie, Jeremy Chu, Kyle Curlew, Dalal Daoud, Jackie Davis, Jayson Derow, Zara Diab, Sarah Dougherty, Nikolai Duffield, Chris Elliston

Corrections

The open letter was submitted by Patrick Corbeil but authored by Adam Ali, Sanober Umar along with Corbeil.

The Journal regrets the error.

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