We Have Been Saying This, But You Have Not Been Listening

We are only halfway through the second week of the semester, but I suspect many of us already feel battle-weary.   No, thankfully we don’t have to face the cold Chicago winter to get to class or meetings or events.  But we are facing another kind of winter, one that has slowly crept in and dwelled with us even before the temperatures dropped.  One that produces silence and unwillingness to confront the problem among universities, and demands even more from equity centers like WLRC.

In the past two weeks, we have experienced a lot – too much, perhaps - and at the same time.  On the same day that we witnessed the outcome of the tremendous organizing power of Black women and multiracial coalitions working to ensure democratic elections in Georgia, we also endured an insurrection by White supremacists armed with weapons and anger brewing since the Civil War in the U.S.  They were ready to do damage to the people and to institutions they felt had robbed them of an election and imposed the 1619 project, critical race theory, transgender rights, access to abortion, Black Lives Matter, the prison abolition movement, and any number of efforts to produce some social justice for those most denied of such.  Closer to home, White political actors were refusing to accept that an African American woman politician here in the Chicago area,  Representative Lauren Underwood, had won her re-election bid for office.  Same politics, different location.

We have been saying this, but you have not been listening.

Black people on social media were sharing pictures of lynching ‘parties’ attended by White men, women and children in the early 20th centuries.  The January 6 event was reminiscent of one.  A gallows with a freshly knotted noose had been erected on the lawn outside the Capitol so this wasn’t a stretch.

We have been saying this, but you have not been listening.

The mainstream media and university officials have something in common:  slow to name the problem as what it is – racism.  Slow to accept what researchers who study anti-Black racism, white supremacy, toxic masculinity and fundamentalist religion – separately and together - have been saying for decades.  What African American writers/thinkers/activists/students at this very university have been saying as recently as a few months ago: do not take White racial animus for granted.  It is everywhere.  It certainly will not disappear – not from national politics, not from the state, not from police, and certainly not from within our university - with the inauguration of a new president.

We have been saying this, but you have not been listening.

As a women’s center based at a public university, and dedicated to providing a broad range of co-curricular learning opportunities, educational programs, advocacy and support informed by – as well as informs – critical intersectional feminist scholarship and activism, we believe a few things are worth repeating:

  1. Commitment to racial equity on campus requires that we – from campus leadership to unit administrators – name, speak up and denounce racist violence anywhere, as well as fortify our efforts on campus to support those who are most likely to be targets of such. UIC’s students of color have had to see, take in, and make sense of the attack. That trauma is an extension of what they deal with everyday. Instructors, faculty and staff need to be aware of how these ongoing assaults on the collective sense of stability will affect those who are already feeling unsafe.
  2. Recognize that white supremacy - and the racial terror it unleashes from time to time - does not materialize in only one form, one body or one moment.   Nor does it disappear just so.  To develop the ability to recognize and thus respond, our university community needs to engage in study, conversation, engagement and action.  For example, discussions about the death of the white woman insurrectionist might give us an opportunity to delve into the well-documented histories of White women participating in white supremacy, and the role of gender in white racial terrorism.  We might ask why is anger treated as an acceptable response to any social injury when White men display such, but denounced when others display similar responses.   We might start to wonder why not all anger is seen as a challenge to power and authority of the state or a threat to police.
  3. Speaking of police: what we should have learned from the daily reports of police participation in the insurrection (including Chicago’s Fraternal Order of Police enthusiastically supporting those storming the capital) is that there is a long and complicated history of the ways in which white supremacist ideas and practices are bound up in policing and carceral institutions.  As a university which has outstanding scholars who study, teach and do community engagement that focuses on envisioning alternative ways of realizing our needs for safety and security, we should be looking to them to guide us about what we need to know, do, practice and engender regarding safety in our units and in our relationships with each other.
  4. A difficult proposition for many to accept is that Immigrants to the U.S. are expected to embrace white supremacy as part of becoming “American”.  In this university context that we name as ‘diverse’, it is time to move beyond the surface and the silence about the meaning of the attempted coup and its aftermath and engage students who could have a lot to share.  What are the various ways that immigrant students at UIC have come to the question of the coup and what it means for the body politic?  Some may have been traumatized or displaced by coups or other political insurrection, others who may have benefited from such; how did they understand and respond to the spectacle of a coup unfolding in the United States?  What can we learn from the stories that they tell?  Certainly more than we do now.
  5. This year is WLRC’s 30th anniversary of being a campus women’s center.   Organized under the theme of “Centering Care and Community: 30 Years of Resistance at the WLRC” we will be addressing several of the issues named above in our special programs as well as in our renewed commitment to being a space that challenges social inequities, promotes social justice and champions community engagement.

If you are interested in being in conversation and community with us, come to this semester’s Virtual Open House on January 28, 11:30 AM – 1 PM.

Let’s start listening.

Take care yourselves and each other,

Natalie Bennett