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Volleyball players aim high by taking a knee

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At the women’s volleyball home game on Sept. 30 against Widener, most of the team knelt during the national anthem. Those who didn’t kneel held hands with their teammates in an expression of solidarity. Spectators were mostly activists and supporters; many of them were dressed in black and knelt in solidarity.

After the national anthem ended, the group returned to the stands, and president of the Swarthmore African-American Student Society Annie Slappy ’20 spoke words of encouragement.

Slappy, who helped organize the spectators through a Facebook event, said that the players who knelt reached out to SASS for support.

“We couldn’t put it all on our players,” she said. “Any time anybody asks me to come to something like that, I’m going to do it.”

Prior to the team’s home game on Sept. 27 against Franklin and Marshall, the two players who started the protest, Emma Morgan-Bennett ’20 and Lelosa Aimufua ’20, released a statement outlining why they believed it was necessary to take a knee. In the statement, they discussed how Trump’s incendiary comments about NFL players taking a knee feed into persistent racism in the United States and addressed questions of patriotism and peaceful protest.

Aimufua believes that the protest was a way to display her own political positions.

“Being a black woman is something that I think about in every aspect of my life … and so I want to say that the motivation behind this type of protest would be that feeling like my voice has constantly been silenced by American society,” Aimufa said.

Morgan-Bennett outlined four reasons why she decided to take a knee: to support Colin Kaepernick’s original protest against the harm of police brutality on minorities; to condemn Donald Trump’s attacks on athletes of color; to make a gesture that she has faith in the country but wishes for people to recognize the differences of protection for people of color and affluent white male citizens; and finally, to promote solidarity and respect for veterans as she herself comes from a military family.

Both Aimufua and Morgan-Bennett commented that, in addition to wanting to support Kaepernick and denounce Trump, they wanted to start a discussion of the intersection between race and sports, especially at the college level. According to Aimufua, they spent a lot of time considering their statement and met with their teammates, coaches, and the assistant director of athletics.

Morgan-Bennett noted that these meetings contributed to what she views as one of the successes of this protest.

“We began a dialogue and opened a conversation about race, about activism, about the relationships between sports and black bodies on the court and on the field. Our entire team had a very meaningful and introspective conversation about race and racial politics within our sport, within our team and what we want to do with this,” Morgan-Bennett said.

She also hopes that taking a knee could potentially spread to other colleges in the area, sparking a conference-wide protest.

Head Women’s Volleyball coach Harleigh Chwastyk explained that the team has been addressing this issue for over a year by having discussions on diversity and identity in classroom sessions, small groups, and one-on-one conversations. According to Chwastyk, the team also discussed each player’s opinions about Morgan-Bennett and Aimufua’s statement and the choice to kneel or stand for the national anthem.

“We talked about how we felt about it, individual choices, where people stood, where their opinions were in that moment and what they were planning on doing [during the national anthem], and how we could also show solidarity as a team,” Chwastyk said.

Outside of the team, the spectators who took a knee believe that it generated a conversation on campus about racial injustice.

“It’s a good way to call attention to injustices that have been occurring in the world,” said Lali Pizarro ’20, a spectator who participated in the protests. “I do think that it was powerful and it got people on this campus talking.”

Aimufua sees the protest as a success in part because it allowed for people to think about larger issues facing the country.

“What I wanted from the protest was for people to actually reflect on the status of the country and how … to make this country great, because I don’t think it’s great right now, and I think we can do so much better,” Aimufua said.

When asked why they decided to kneel specifically at Swarthmore, Morgan-Bennett said that regardless of the school they attended, they would have made the same choice because they felt compelled to follow their personal morals as black athletes.

“We are people who occupy both spaces on the court and also our own identities as black women … it’s not about an ideal place to protest,” Morgan-Bennett said.

Aimufua agreed with her teammate.

“We live here … it’s an important part of our lives … and our activism is also another important part of our lives,” she said.

Their activism is now closely tied to the fierce national debate about patriotism and first amendment rights in relation to sports.

The debate has gotten more attention lately since late September when, at a rally in Alabama, Donald Trump made a series of inflammatory comments regarding Colin Kaepernick’s taking a knee during the national anthem to protest police brutality. After the rally and following Trump’s tweets, the “Take a Knee” protest spread, including more players kneeling, linking arms, or raising fists during the pre-game national anthem.

Referring to these events and an op-ed published by the Daily Gazette this past Thursday, Slappy said that often, people will tell black protesters that they are “ineffectual” or not “protesting in the right way.”

“[It’s a sentiment] that further reinforces the [idea] that black people are only here for sports, and I feel like black people already feel that enough,” Slappy said.

She also commented that society judges black people almost exclusively by how hard they work and their physical characteristics, which is reflected in how black athletes are expected to perform but not have a political voice.

“It’s time for us to understand that black bodies are fetishized, especially in sports. Because the fact that all of these things are happening in the world and football fans don’t feel responsible for it is a problem, especially since there is so much money and influence in athletics,” Slappy said.

Aimufua offered a way to understand her and her teammates’ gesture through established practices in organized sports.

“What kneeling for the anthem means is that in sports, if someone gets injured on the field, you take a knee, regardless if the person is on your team or the opposing team. Taking a knee is a sign of respect and acknowledgement that someone is hurt, and someone is down, and they need you to care, and take a breath, and reflect,” Aimufua said.

Aimufua and Morgan-Bennett’s full statement can be found on page A4 of this issue of the Phoenix, as well online in the Opinions section.

 

 

**This article has been edited to reflect that Morgan-Bennett and Aimufa’s statement is also available online.

Statement on kneeling during anthem

in Open Letter/Opinions by

Dear Friends,

This past week, President Trump released several tweets chastising athletes who have not stood during the national anthem as well as those who have declined White House invitations. His blanket critique speaks to a reckless pattern of racist sentiment that now endangers the very diversity that America is built upon. Our country’s history suffers from the remnants of massacred Native Americans, enslaved Africans, discriminated against Latinx Americans, persecuted Muslims, economically marginalized Whites, and others disenfranchised by American society. Our own grandparents — some of whom are proud American military veterans — recollect stories of lynchings, church bombings, and police brutality. As young women, we fear a future in which our children will not come home for dinner because they have been assailed or shot in the streets simply for being black or brown.

We are patriotic Americans who value our freedoms to speak against injustices. President Trump struggles to recognize that to be patriotic might at times also require dissent. Our Founding Fathers acknowledged that as much as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. did. Patriotism and dissent are not mutually exclusive; America’s greatness is manifest in love and equality for all, not hate and privilege. Thus, in solidarity with athletes and activists around the country who have taken a knee in hopes of addressing a long-standing and systematic pattern of racial violence aimed at brown and black people, we feel compelled to join this action. As black athletes, we especially understand the hateful perception of our bodies as valuable on the court, but disposable on the streets.

We invite all athletes and spectators to express solidarity with a movement that believes America can do better.

Trust in our love and faith in our country. Trust when we question an America that does not afford all its citizens security and safety. Only when we address the disease of white supremacy and racial injustice, can we truly become, as our anthem states, the land of the free. Today we kneel because this sense of security remains unattainable for the average young brown and black person walking or driving in their neighborhoods; today we kneel to honor the brown and black lives lost to violence, and to remind ourselves that none of us can truly be free until we all are.

 

In solidarity,

 

Emma Morgan-Bennett ’20 and Lelosa Aimufua ’20

Go See Hidden Figures

in Campus Journal by

I do not pretend to be a film critic, but what I do know is that “Hidden Figures” is the movie the entirety of America needs to go see right now.

The story centers around Katherine Goble — married name Katherine Johnson — Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughan, three Black, female mathematicians working for NASA during the Space Race. At the time, the Langley Research Center was racially segregated and a highly sexist workplace. The three women are initially employed as “human computers,” tasked with calculating launch and landing trajectories for all rockets sent up into the atmosphere. However, due to their exceptional minds and tireless ability to push past the seemingly interminable layers of discrimination, each woman worked her way to transcend the occupation of a calculator and used her brilliant analytical mind to become an integral, invaluable component of the organization’s success.

In the film, we see the protagonists bombarded with horridly intentional discrimination from all sides. Dorothy is continuously disrespected by white, female counterparts in the East Computing Group. Katherine is forced to run for miles just to use the restroom because the one near her desk is reserved exclusively for whites, Mary must appeal to a judge in order to take classes at an all-white school to become an engineer, Dorothy is thrown out of her local public library by police officers because she was searching for a programming book in the white-only section.

“Hidden Figures” brings to light the innumerable, explicit, and overt elements of discrimination women and minorities experienced working as mathematicians, programmers, and engineers. While we have come a long way from the days where Jim Crow reigned legally supreme and there existed no protocol for women attending Pentagon Briefings, remnants of that time still linger and can be seen quite clearly in the severe lack of women and minorities in the majority of professional STEM fields.

One of the main implicit biases found against both women and minorities in STEM fields is the lack of role models and historical figures who look like them. My calculus classes continuously reference a series of white men — Euler, Pythagoras, Lagrange, L’hopital — who made various advancements in fields relating to integral calculus. I have never been in a math class where the teacher mentioned the name of a famous Black mathematician or one who was female.

Though the discoveries of the men listed above may have been relevant to the lesson, only mentioning white, male names sends the message to the subconscious of females and people of color that we are lacking some instrumental intuition necessary for the acquisition of a great mathematical mind. In the same light, the fact that I and so many others had no idea Dorothy, Katherine, and Mary existed until watching a movie made decades after they changed the world is problematic and extremely unsettling. Simply shedding light on the existence of diverse mathematicians will help derail this implicit bias.

In some ways, Swarthmore works hard to counteract biases such as these. Bulletin boards featuring women and minorities in various STEM fields grace nearly every department hall of the Science Center, and my Linear Algebra Professor Alexander Diaz-Lopez from last semester, continuously reminded the class that none of us should ever be afraid of pursuing our passions, even if those passions lie within in a field where we don’t see a lot of people who look like us.

Recognizing the importance of “Hidden Figures,” Swarthmore has provided students with multiple opportunities to view the film, including a free, Friday night screening in Trotter and free tickets for our college’s chapter of the Society of Women Engineers. Additionally, this past Wednesday, the Women’s Resource Center held an event titled Majorly Underrepresented, which was a dinner and panel featuring students who are underrepresented in their respective fields.

Yet, while the movie’s lessons are some that Swat has been trying to implement, it also exposes some faults within our own STEM programs. As much as Swarthmore does to counteract implicit biases in STEM fields, the school does reflect a percolation of some issues “Hidden Figures” illuminates. Take our own engineering professors: there is only one woman and one person of color in the entire department. The rest are white men.   

With regards to the impending Academy Awards, like I said before, I am neither a film critic nor a self-proclaimed cinematic expert. I do strongly believe, however, that this movie should win because it is an empowering story told through a beautiful piece of art. Whether the experts will concur with this assessment, I have no idea.

With respect to box office results, Theodore Melfi’s masterpiece has achieved impressive numbers, earning $144.2 million so far. “Hidden Figures” has the grossed the most to date domestically out of any Oscar contender, surpassing even incoming favorite “La La Land” with. But after two years of #allWhiteOscars, nothing is a guarantee.

Personally, I found the film to be extremely impressive on all fronts. Performers beautifully executed their characters, and the seamless progression of the story was well supplemented with entertaining background music. But most importantly, it unearths a story that has the power to influence children who love numbers, who are sitting in math class wondering why none of the famous mathematicians look anything like them.

Yet the movie’s most noteworthy point is its ability to achieve a feat natural science teachers, professors, and organizations across the country have been failing at for so long. This intricately crafted piece provides those who are severely underrepresented in computational fields that people like them can and have historically achieved excellence. And if that isn’t greatness — cinematic or otherwise — I don’t know what is.

#SwatBeloved

in Campus Journal by

When I walked into Scheuer room in the late afternoon of Jan. 20, the first thing I heard was Beyoncé. The second was laughter. The dark carpet and the large, circular tables were covered with signs, markers, paper, and people, with warm light illuminating the faces of women (and men) intent on being heard.

#SwatBeloved: Poster Making, Presence, & People was a place for students, faculty, and anyone else to make posters in anticipation for the Women’s March on Washington on Jan. 21, or  any of the other sister marches happening nationwide on that day, but it ended up being more than that. Through making the signs, people were able to articulate their feelings toward the incoming administration and the upcoming march, and to in effect, make tangible why they were marching.

I overheard a girl tell her friend that without the Affordable Care Act, her birth control would be $200 a pack. So while she was making a sign that read “Don’t Tread on Me” with the classic snake in the shape of a uterus, she was calling for Donald Trump to please, please leave her uterus alone.

Shayla Smith ’20, made a sign titled “LIFE IS NOT A WHITE PRIVILEGE,” with a black panther fist, hoping to address the importance of race.

“I think it’s important for people to know that everyone deserves to live, not just white people,” she said.

Rachel Hottle ’18 and Emma Haviland-Blunk ’18 were working on creating their signs together. Hottle, who spent this past semester studying abroad in Australia, held up her “pussy grabs back” sign and told me about the dissonance that came with being in a foreign country during Trump’s election.

“It was really kind of weird being in a country … where everyone was like ‘this is crazy, being so misogynistic, speaking about women like that,’ and then coming back and that being the reality,” Hottle said.

Haviland-Blunk wrote  a Gloria Steinem quote on her sign: “The wellbeing of women determines the wellbeing of society.”

“I think [this] is kind-of fundamental, that women are such an important part, maybe even the backbone of society, and continually ignored,” Haviland-Blunk said. “Particularly in this new regime, or, you know, government, it’s just somehow missing the point.”

While some of the posters were large, elaborate, and visibly created by a skilled hand, many of them were not. Many of them were phrases that are not new to the eyes and ears of those of us living in these times: Black Lives Matter; Coercion is not consent; No human is illegal; Get your tiny hands off my rights; Silence = Death; Power to the pussy.

It was the solid, deep rhythm of a drumbeat. As I watched from the periphery of the room, I sensed fear, anger, anxiety, but also a determination to not succumb to resignation. “Lean on me” began to play on the speakers, and I knew that tomorrow we would march.

Dr. Amanda Kemp brings black women to the forefront

in Arts by

Last Wednesday, a number of students, faculty, and staff members filed into the Scheuer room for an evening with Dr. Amanda Kemp, renowned artist, educator, and activist. The event, titled “#SayHerName: Making Black Women’s Lives Matter,” was presented by both the Women’s Resource Center and Black Cultural Center as part of the campus’ celebration of Women’s Heritage Month. Throughout the evening, Kemp read her poetry, screened a recording of one of her plays, and discussed her work with the audience — all of which were centered around the experiences of black women.

Kemp’s life mission is “to heal the planet,” as she outlines on her website. A lifelong poet, performer, and racial justice advocate, she received her BA from Stanford University where she was also granted the John Gardner Fellowship for Public Service. Her organizing work has included a 10,000 strong March on Sacramento, California for educational rights, for which she has received many awards. Kemp later left politics to pursue a degree in performance studies at Northwestern University. During her time at Northwestern, she travelled to South Africa and witnessed the historic elections of 1994. There, she also debuted her play “Sister Outsider” and formed a trio of performance poets called “Intimate Dread.” She has since taught at various colleges and universities, all while continuing this mission “to heal the planet.”

“So obviously the woman has done a lot!” said Karina Beras, Residential Communities Coordinator, who warmly introduced Kemp to the audience.

Julius Miller ’19, programming intern at the BCC, discussed why Kemp was invited to speak at Swarthmore.

“We wanted to bring a speaker who’s brought forth a lot of progress,” said Miller. “We thought that Dr. Kemp, given her life’s work and what we’ve witnessed in the media, would be especially appropriate.”

After Beras’ introduction, Kemp rose to the podium and asked the audience to engage in a sort of warm-up exercise by celebrating the black women they love or admire in honor of Women’s Heritage Month. Members of the audience raised their hands to give quick shout-outs to black women — mostly friends or family, though some cultural icons were also mentioned. Kemp then shifted her discussion to women and poetry, noting that National Poetry Month, April, was approaching. She went on to share one of her own poems, titled “Say Her Name.”

“This poem came as a way for me to heal and deal with the onslaught on black women’s lives,” she said, introducing her poem. “I found that each new story of a black woman or man lost at the hands of the police reverberated through my system. The killing of Sandra Bland … it just really hit home. There’s the one thing, but then it can trigger all those other losses and hurts.”

After a powerful, high-energy reading of her poem that left her and others in the room in tears, Kemp screened a filmed version of her play, “To Cross an Ocean Four Centuries Long.” In the play, Kemp shared the stories of three black women who were enslaved in the 1750s-1780s — Fanti, who would later become famed poet Phillis Wheatley; Hannah, who influenced Quaker preacher and abolitionist John Woolman; and Abby Jay, owned by Declaration of Independence signer John Jay.

“Phillis Wheatley is someone I’ve come back to multiple times,” Kemp later explained. “I’m kind of obsessed with her … but her story is always told from her arrival in Boston; no one talks about before she got here. The documentation does not exist, so this [play] took me out of my comfort zone in exploring her story.”

Similarly, Kemp wanted to give voice to the experiences of Hannah and Abby Jay in visceral ways that challenge traditional narratives of history. In the play, Kemp plays the role of the Captain, calling the audience to wake up and address the wounds of slavery, so that a process of healing may begin. Throughout the play, many of the actors were visibly in tears during their performance. Audience members in the Scheuer room were completely silent during the video, save the occasional sniffle.

Once the video was finished, Kemp asked the audience to stand up and “wiggle it out.” After sitting for nearly an hour, the audience was happy to stretch their limbs for a moment. Kemp then introduced Matthew Armstead ’08 and their collaborative project, Inspira, which focuses on the power of the spirituals. Armstead helped moderate the discussion, beginning by opening the floor for initial thoughts or questions about the play, Kemp’s poem, or the very experience of coming to the talk. A number of individuals asked about the powerful and painful experience of reading her poems or performing her plays, and how Kemp sustained herself in her work. At one point, Armstead asked that audience members turn to the person next to them and reflect on the talk.

“I felt like that was very positive for me,” said Miller about the discussion pairs. “It gave me some time to process what I just witnessed.”

In general, students felt that Kemp’s performances — both in the recording of her play and the live poetry reading — warranted time to reflect. These moments of reflection and education are another part of why Kemp was brought to Swarthmore to speak, and why many students who do not identify as Black women attended the talk. Irene Kwon ’17, who worked under the WRC to coordinate the talk, spoke to the importance of having and attending such events at Swarthmore.

“It becomes very, very political,” said Kwon. “I wanted to intentionally go to this thing that was explicitly about black women … that’s not an experience I have access to, but then this was an opportunity for me to be at a place where that kind of education was happening.”

Towards the end of her discussion, Kemp asked the audience how they “[Make] Black Women’s Lives Matter,” quoting the title, to which she received insightful responses on recognizing black women.

Kemp has her own website, dramandakemp.com, where she publishes informational blog posts on social justice and records inspirational videos. You can also like her on Facebook or subscribe to her email list for shorter, informational posts.

 

National Football League sued for trademark infringement

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

National Football League sued for defamation and trademark infringement

Santa Clara— The Northern Fowl Legion (NFL), a global non-profit organization invested in the conservation of rare birds and raptors, plans to sue the National Football League on grounds of defamation and trademark infringement. The NFL claims their annual Superb Owl festival has been overshadowed by the similarly named football championship known as the “Super Bowl.”

“We’ve been sitting on this lawsuit since 1967, when that other NFL, the National Footgame Lollygag [sic] or what have you, decided to hold their annual festivities at the same time as our grand celebration of the Superb Owl. We are a peaceful organization of bird watchers and bird feeders, and we didn’t want to meddle in their footgame. But this year, it was all too much,” said NFL spokesman Vincent Schiavelli, nicknamed Pigeon Man for his proclivity to feed pigeons on rooftops in an aviator costume.

The NFL plans to file a lawsuit against the National Football League on the bases of libel and a violation of trademark agreements. They claim the political opinions associated with the National Football League’s “Super Bowl” event held on Feb. 7 could damage the reputation of the NFL and the Superb Owl. The NFL’s slogan, #OwlLivesMatter, celebrates all owl species, including those of the snowy, barn, and northern spotted varieties. Twitter users began to use an aurally similar slogan, #AllLivesMatter, after Beyonce Knowles’ halftime performance at the National Football League’s Super Bowl made a tribute to the Black Lives Matter movement. The NFL believes the #AllLivesMatter slogan is both visually and phonetically similar to their copyrighted phrase, #OwlLivesMatter.

In an interview with The Phoenix, legal representative for the NFL Annalise Beaking called the case “something worth crowing about.” Beaking said the plaintiff will be “killing two birds with one stone,” and explained the NFL’s allegations: “The NFL and the National Football League came to terms over a contractual agreement in 1967 after the sports organization infringed upon the NFL’s Superb Owl trademark. The NFL graciously agreed to allow the National Football League to use their initialism and to imitate the Superb Owl name, but their association with a slogan that is so similar to #OwlLivesMatter definitely breaches the agreement and puts our reputation at risk. The National Football League will be leading a wild goose chase if they decide to take this to court, so we’re going to try to settle. The NFL is a peaceful organization; a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, so we’ll take what we can get.”

The NFL is willing to drop all charges should the National Football League and their supporters choose to rescind the #AllLivesMatter slogan and revert to Knowles’ use of #BlackLivesMatter. The NFL says that #BlackLivesMatter sounds nothing like #OwlLivesMatter, and the group supports the anti-gun connotations of Knowles’ performance. “Every year at the Superb Owl, we reserve the twenty minute slot after the Trumpeters of the Swan and Flamingo Dancers perform for an informative discussion of gun violence,” said longtime NFL member and Cornell University ornithologist Dr. Hamsa Raj Bulbul. “A majority of the endangered birds in our aviary were brought in after being injured by reckless hunters who couldn’t tell a bobwhite from a blue-footed booby if their lives depended on it. Here at the NFL we fully endorse gun-control legislation. If someone could calculatedly murder an innocent and beautiful creature for sport, imagine what a police officer having a bad day could do to humans with the pull of a trigger! It’s a logical fallacy to claim that the hunter didn’t know any better, or is protecting herbivore chicks by killing an already endangered bird of prey. Do you see what can happen, ornithologically, when someone with power is given a gun?”

Marcy Whitaker, a 37-year-old zookeeper and avid birdwatcher commented on the NFL’s Facebook page, “The politics associated with #AllLivesMatter go against our beloved motto, #OwlLivesMatter. The National Football League clearly just twisted the NFL’s words. I’m disappointed in this bastardization of an old American pastime. Bird watching has been in this country for centuries, and heck if I’ll let those pigskin cronies change that!”

The NFL plans to grant Ms. Knowles a prime membership to their organization and will officially change the name of the Alcedinidae or Kingfisher species to ‘Queenfisher’ in her honour. They plan to donate proceeds from this year’s Superb Owl to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Blue lives have always mattered

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

Edited by Niyah Dantzler ’18

This summer, in the state of “We Swear We’re Not as Racist as the American South” New York, the Staten Island Yankees-Brooklyn Cyclones baseball game was the designated venue for “Blue Lives Matter Day.” At this family-friendly outing, Blue Lives Matter merchandise was distributed, the families of fallen officers were recognized, and the proclaimed heroes, otherwise known as the NYPD were celebrated. As the marketing director of the event asserted, this occasion was really a chance to support those in need. This date was also the one year anniversary of the police killing of Michael Brown (an “unfortunate, unforeseen coincidence,” as would later be claimed).

Blue Lives Matter -yes, an intentional corollary of Black Lives Matter — is a campaign and non-profit organization that is partially devoted to raising money for police families in times of need. No one is here to argue that supporting these individuals is not just and admirable in principle. “It’s not the cause that is a slap in the face to me and Mike Brown’s family — it’s the slogan. That slogan stands for every single person that has been lost to police and gotten no justice. It’s a slap in the face to everything that Black Lives Matter stands for,” proclaimed Erica Garner, whose father, if you recall, was suffocated in the same borough by the same fraternal order that the event honored. On the Blue Lives Matter webpage, you can find the organization’s public intentions under “About Us”: “Police lives these days are very difficult and stressful. Having support makes daily life as a Police officer much easier and reminds all of us why we suit up and strap on our gun-belts on a daily basis.” Am I the only one who reads that and is a little confused at the slightly random, seemingly threatening allusion to guns? Probably not. Was I surprised when I saw, under the website’s “Proud Sponsors”, that the very first establishment is a deli I frequent for bagels in the white, working class, Long Island community that neighbors my hometown? Not really.

As it turns out, I come from an area where the majority demographic feels a lot more comfortable with Blue than they do with Black. Before Blue Lives Matter, the same community gravitated towards All Lives Matter, a contradictory dichotomy that I’m not sure I need to explain. The logic behind the Blue Lives Matter support makes sense to me; a lot of people in the community have police presence in their families, a lot of people don’t have minority presence in their social circles because despite the ethnic diversity of our county, residential segregation does a good job of making the experiences of neighbors invisible. My sympathy for this side-taking doesn’t run too deep, however. When a Facebook friend changes their profile picture to the blue ribbon symbolic of this campaign, it’s not genuinely about supporting officers in a time of unfortunate circumstances. While there are commendable people and organizations who do exactly that, Blue Lives Matter is just a defensive riposte to Black Lives Matter, and, as Monica Weymouth of Philadelphia Magazine explains, uses “an inflammatory slogan that occupies that strange, uncomfortable space between threatened and threatening.”

To reiterate; Blue Lives Matter is just All Lives Matter, with a little intimidation thrown in.

Aside from serving as an adversary to the anti-police brutality movement, the campaign draws attention to the fact that there is a vocalized sentiment of legitimate wrongdoing against police officers on the streets and in the media. If you watch Fox News, you’ll recognize this as the War on Cops. Where exactly is this ideology coming from? As a young woman of color emotionally invested in the progress of the Black Lives Matter movement and the safety of my loved ones targeted by police, I realize that I do have a bias against the possibility that there may be some kind of epidemic of mistreatment against law enforcement. So I like to refer to hard statistical facts to keep me grounded.

As we now know, black men are 6% of the American population but make up 40% of the unarmed victims killed by law enforcement. So far in 2015, at least 161 unarmed citizens have been killed, a large percentage of whom are black men, women, (especially trans women and men), and children. That the violence against these people is systemic, racially charged, and disproportional is not disputable.

Law enforcement has no incentive to publish how many unarmed citizen deaths their department has been responsible for each year, so it’s fair to say that these numbers are an underestimation. What they do keep detailed tabs on, however, is how many police officers die in the line of duty. In the same amount of time, 27 police officers have died as a result of gun violence.  What that means is today, if you are a police officer, you are almost ten times less likely to get killed by firearms fire than you were in the 1970s. Aside from gun violence, automobile accidents have taken police lives, as well as suicide. Though suicide isn’t disproportionately high compared to other professions, it’s worth noting that black officers are 2.55% more likely than their white colleagues to take their own lives. Why do we rarely talk about black policemen? Men like Christopher Owens, an ex-police officer who served for over 10 years on the force in Providence, RI and was later violently beaten along with his son by fellow officers when mistaken for a black criminal in 2012. As we put policing in the context of the most dangerous jobs in America, even I was surprised that being a law enforcer couldn’t be found in the Top 10. (This list consisted of primarily labor occupations. In 2013, looking at only Latino workers in construction, 817 died while at work. I digress.) Since police officers are the safest they have been in 40 years, why does Blue Lives Matter suggest that officers need to “raise war in the streets?”*.

The statement “Black Lives Matter” is a response to the unique injustice and social conditions that accompany the inherently political identity of being black in a system of enduring white supremacy. Black lives didn’t matter when America instituted slavery. Black lives didn’t matter when segregation was enforced. Black lives didn’t matter throughout the War on Drugs. Black lives continue not to matter in a state of mass incarceration, endless police brutality, and unequal access to resources. Antithetically, police lives have always mattered, and the state makes sure we know this. Every fallen officer is honored with an official memorial ceremony, following strict traditional protocol, accompanied by media attention, often a street named after him or her, and special tributes invoking the country’s flag. This is not a critique of the way in which we commemorate the lives of fallen officers, but of the ways in which we simultaneously dehumanize, disregard, and disrespect the lives of black Americans.

No unjust killing of a police officer should be taken lightly, but the rhetoric of a War on Cops does nothing but increase the paranoia that manifests in racial polarity and violence. While we cannot be lenient on individual acts of violence, it’s important to also recognize that police are only one part of a scapegoating system for the greater will of hegemonic American society, where high racial capital is enjoyed as the result of a judicial system positioned against already-marginalized masses.  It should not have to be explained that life is not a zero sum game, in which valuing black lives would somehow insinuate the devaluing of police lives. Criminal violence against officers and police violence against black citizens are simply not comparable, and to continue to silence black voices by proposing such a comparison with the very existence of Blue Lives Matter only further perpetuates the violence at hand.

*from the official Blue Lives Matter Facebook Group description.

Students voice need for further discussion of Black Lives Matter

in Campus Journal by

Last year, first-year orientation began only three weeks after Mike Brown was shot and killed in Ferguson, just as the Black Lives Matter movement gained momentum and began to command attention from mainstream media outlets. Over this past summer, the Black Lives Matter network continued to grow and evolve, recently beginning to engage with the electoral politics by showing up at campaign events for Democratic presidential candidates and continually demanding that racial justice be at the top of the mainstream political agenda. Amid all of this action, Swarthmore students again return to campus and settle back in for another year in the proverbial “bubble.”

Since the protests in Ferguson began, police murder and racial injustice have filled the headlines with growing frequency. For some students, including Kara Bledsoe ’16, the campus community’s reaction to those headlines was disappointing. Bledsoe said, “I always thought of Swarthmore as a place where those types of discussions happen and where people were open to having them, but the majority of the responses that I came across were like ‘That’s not really relevant to my life’ or ‘I don’t really wanna talk about that.’”

Kemi Oladipo ’18, the Social Coordinator for the Swarthmore African American Student Society, saw a similar trend, particularly among non-black students. “I don’t think I was talking about what was happening with Black Lives Matter with people outside the Black community,” she said.

Joelle Bueno ’18 also noticed a lack of campus-wide conversation. Arriving at Swarthmore last year as a first year, Bueno didn’t immediately see the political activism she had expected based on the college’s reputation. She noticed that while many students are doing activist work, much of it is off-campus. Bueno joined Race to Action last fall because of its potential to fill that void for on-campus action and discussion.

“Race to Action seemed to be one of the only groups having these big events, campus-wide events, that were trying to make a statement and also include everyone on campus,” she said. Bueno said this was what motivated her to attend their meetings.

A student group that started last fall, Race to Action says on its Facebook page that it seeks to “provide creative pathways to effectively bring intercultural issues to light and to motivate people to act.” The group’s programming began last September with a well-attended march and vigil, which

Arjun Raghuraman ’15, one of the group’s leaders, said was supposed to be a one-off event, until the response of the campus inspired the event organizers to do more. The group met and held a few more events, including a Halloween photo campaign against racial appropriation.

However, as the group sought to expand their scope and unite over a range of causes, Louis Lainé ’15, another group leader, said that the attempt to meet everyone’s differing interests led to confusion. The group does not have plans to continue meeting this year.

Bueno said that the group’s difficulty in carrying the energy forward into more productive actions speaks more to a common problem among Swarthmore student clubs, rather than to a lack of need or of good intentions.

While it may have been difficult to conduct productive conversations around Black Lives Matter that included all of Swarthmore’s community, students individually turned to friends and informal gatherings in order to process grief, anger, and frustration about the news.

For Bledsoe, it was important to have spaces to process the news as well as racial microaggressions that occur on campus. “I really sought out the company of other Black people on campus, and that was something that was new for me and something that was really wonderful,” she commented.

Allison Alcéna ’17, a former member of the SASS executive board, said that coming together with friends was especially helpful, and that being able to talk about anger and hurt without the expectation of being constructive made these small talks different from SASS meetings or class discussions. But Alcéna also found value in more formal spaces to engage with news about Black Lives Matter, she said. Particularly in her Introduction to Black Studies class last fall, Alcéna found that relevant coursework gave her the tools to historicize news about police brutality, and the knowledge to back up her opinions on the matter.

Bledsoe similarly appreciated that a Swarthmore education gives students the language needed to discuss the root of the problems addressed by Black Lives Matter, and was happy to engage in such discussions with the Black community on campus.

Charlie Aprile ’18 has a similar appreciation for the discussions among Black students and for their campus activism at Swarthmore and elsewhere, though he hopes that on-campus conversation will broaden in scope. “We tend to focus on the individual level of our oppression rather than talking about the general connection of issues that are raised by Black Lives Matter to the exploitation of Black people and non-whites in general, in an economic sense,” he said.

Though many students have clear ideas about what they would like to see happening on campus, finding the most effective ways to initiate such discussion and action is less clear. Some do not believe it is the responsibility of faculty or administration to facilitate campus-wide discussions or activism around Black Lives Matter. Alcéna noted that historically, on college campuses, students are the ones to effect institutional change. “Institutions should cater to students’ needs … students need to be explicit with what their demands are and what they want to see the college do,” she said.

While Oladipo agreed that student-led initiatives would be more successful, because of students’ abilities to draw people in through connected social circles, she feels that the administration is also obligated to be involved, given that the violence that Black people experience in this country is a risk for Swarthmore students as well.

The students interviewed for this piece shared a concern that whatever conversations happen on campus about Black Lives Matter, students who are not already involved or interested in the issues can easily avoid talking or thinking about it. Raghuraman said that as a member of multiple campus groups, including Phi Psi, he is especially aware of this phenomenon. “There are certain places you can expect to have these conversations [and] some places where you will never hear it,” he said.

Maria Castaneda ’18, one of the student leaders for the Tri-College Summer Multicultural Institute this year, suggested a problem with thinking of Swarthmore as a bubble. “That makes it easier for us to act like our campus is a utopia where we don’t encounter racism, when we know that’s not the case,” she said. While some students were adamant about not wanting to force others to care about any particular cause, there was a general desire for more widespread conversation and solidarity.

Bueno, who is an Intercultural Center intern this year, believes that the Intercultural Center holds a lot of potential for fostering a sense of community that will be both nurturing and productive. She said the administrators she has spoken to, especially Assistant Director of the IC Mo Lotif, are aware of this need and committed to meeting it. Bueno said the IC hopes to build community this year. “I think that’s having fun events, that’s celebrating our cultures, but I think that’s also addressing needs and filling holes and giving spaces for people to talk or have their voices heard,” she said.

Dean Dion Lewis, Director of the Black Cultural Center and interim Director of the IC, would like to continue discussions about Black Lives Matter, and other issues that pertain to populations of Swarthmore students.  “It is my desire to continue these dialogues in an environment that is respectful, yields learning outcomes, and reminds us of what it means to be human,” he said. He hopes that students with suggestions for IC or BCC programming will approach him as the new year begins.

Bledsoe suggested a simple step to be taken by non-black students, urging people to attend events and parties hosted by SASS, the BCC, or other Black student groups. Non-black attendance at these events in the past has been low, she believes, because of discomfort and nervousness on the part of non-black students. As a “good faith gesture” on the part of non-black students, Bledsoe hopes to see higher and more diverse attendance at these types of events.

 

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