Speaking the silence

I’m not here to debate the existence of racism at Queen’s. And I’m not interested in debating what to call it—systemic oppression, xenophobia, a fluke—because none of these terms prevented “it” from happening to me last year when, walking by the JDUC, a person looked me in the face and said, “Ew, Asian.”

These terms meant nothing when a drunk, male student tried to pick up one of my friends only to be told by his friend to get away from us because we were Asians. I didn’t think of privilege or multiculturalism then, but I remember feeling scared of these bigger, stronger men.

That’s not to say there’s no value in being aware of the implications of our language.

There are reasons I choose to use terms such as “white privilege;” they give me a way of expressing myself when I struggle to translate my anger, sadness and fear into words. On the other hand, I think “celebrating diversity” is a joke if we haven’t first stopped oppression.

But I’m not interested in words because I don’t want to sidetrack from the issue.

There are people who mistakenly believe that, if they can argue that a term such as racism doesn’t exist, its meaning also disappears—but a rose by any other name would prick as deeply. Those people substitute anti-racist efforts with a largely superfluous debate that creates division.

It’s disappointing that the people on campus brave enough to use the word “racism” tend to be those who suffer it the most, those who are constantly forced to prove the authenticity of their experiences.

I can understand our reluctance to acknowledge racism because it implies the need for anti-racism work, much of which involves a change in attitudes more than in behaviour.

It’s quite easy to modify actions on a personal or institutional level: endorse an anti-hate campaign, change your Facebook privacy level or introduce an international menu in the cafeteria. But these actions are reactions that superficially smooth over the problem without addressing it.

Attitudes require more commitment to change because they involve personal responsibility. If you change attitudes, proactive actions follow.

We might begin receiving Campus Security alerts when Muslim women are harassed on campus, for example. I don’t understand why we need to ask to be informed; in neoliberal terms, e-mail alerts are cheaper to implement than halal food options and would probably have a higher return in gratitude from the target group.

We might rename courses from POLS250 (Political Theory) to “Western Political Theory” so I no longer expect to learn about Confucius, Gandhi or Fanon when what I will get is Plato, Hobbes and Locke.

On a larger scale, we might finally have a building named after our most important benefactor, Robert Sutherland.

These relatively small measures have big implications about inclusivity at Queen’s.

There; I’ve used my 500 words.

You can use yours to respond to me in a letter to the editor or a website comment, or you can use them to speak out against racism. It’s your call.

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