On Oct. 11, two Knox students and I woke up at 6a.m. to take a three and a half hour drive down to St. Louis, Missouri. We had never met prior to that morning. But as we slowly trickled into Clark Avenue with the Gateway Arch in the horizon, a palpable sense of camaraderie began to take over us. We were no longer people who had just met; we were all united, thousands of us, by the timeless call for justice.
Thousands had congregated on the streets of St. Louis to protest the shooting of Mike Brown by the Ferguson Police. In a peaceful display of civil disobedience, the protest took on many layers of meaning. It was not only about Mike Brown. It was about the militarization of the police, it was about institutional racism, about the unchecked hegemony of white privilege, about the corporatocracy destroying the livelihoods of fast-food workers, about the thousands of innocents that have died in Palestine – it was about Justice For All.
If the killing of Mike Brown was the tipping point, events since then have made it glaringly obvious that America has yet to fully break out of its segregated roots. The institutions have resisted racial inclusivity and have continued in their predetermined capitalist vein. For all the talk of multiculturalism, America has been a white-dominated country – just look at the super rich one percent and their racial exclusivity.
People of color still remain the poorest in the country, suffering from both institutional and social oppression. The reason for this has been a mutual misunderstanding of multiculturalism. Equal opportunities does not mean equality. The industrialist and the construction worker may both have the same vote but it is the industrialist who can lobby and make the government cut wages down further. The police force may claim that it does not discriminate recruits with respect to race, but the police remains predominantly white even when the constituent population is not. And the same glaring evidence comes up wherever we turn – the healthcare system, the education system, the criminal justice system.
Question is, what constitutes this ‘white privilege?’ For one, ‘white privilege’ is a mechanism that people of all races partake in, knowingly or unknowingly. It is conforming to the model of institutions that are already established and thinking it will work equally well for everyone should they be given the chance. It is holding on to the neoliberal myth that if you work hard enough you can make it, no matter how badly the odds are stacked against you.
There are millions of manual labourers in this country that will testify to the contrary. It invariably discriminates against its participants, too, along historically-drawn racial and economic lines. With every person, regardless of race or gender, who naively gives into this idea, the system is perpetuated.
There is only so much we can do before raising our hands up and admitting that the whole system is faulty. This is a system that discriminates against race, gender, lower classes, against anything that is not heteronormative and makes coexistence a wishful fantasy. Our inaction and conformity makes us equally culpable.
Knox is guilty, too, of institutionalising a racial slur and making it a part of our history. Every time we chose to not speak out against the use of the term Siwash, we played a part in legitimising racial discrimination. It is the administration’s job to let the students know of its racial connotations and prohibit the term’s useage.
There was no sight more magnificent than the thousands gathered on the streets of St. Louis, coming from wildly different socioeconomic backgrounds, unified in their demand for justice and a better system. And the conception of such a system cannot come from superficial amendments to the existing one. It requires, for lack of a better word, extensive surgery that will create a truly pluralistic space.