content warning: homophobia, anti-Semitism and racial insensitivity
I would like to talk about my view, coming from a place of government-imposed censorship, on the cancellation of an Afropunk band, Blacker Face, and the discussion around removing the graffiti wall.
You might be wondering why you would want to read another white, possibly straight (lol) person’s opinion on a topic that doesn’t directly affect them. You might know me from weird makeup and clothes, but I’ve never really participated in anything and rarely make an appearance on campus. I am from Russia. I come from a post-Soviet Union place where the general public is very focused on conforming to the norm. Being openly gay is considered propaganda by the Orthodox Church, which influences the government. So I, as an individual passionate about self expression, came here to America and was recruited by Knox to increase its diversity and represent my background.
I wanna make it clear that I feel the need to speak up on the issue, despite the fact that it might not be considered my place to say anything, is because I feel like this point of view won’t be represented otherwise. I am not telling people how they should feel, and I talked to people on multiple sides of the conflict in an attempt to be as objective as possible, even though this is my personal opinion. I am not trying to speak on behalf of the band whose show was cancelled. I am urging you to look at this situation from a different perspective.
I support the feelings of people who were upset about the organizational issues and process. However, what I do have a problem with is censorship. In Russia, music bands like Pussy Riot and Krovostok faced criminal charges for gay and/or extremist propaganda that hurt the feelings of the Orthodox Church. Knowing this, I hope that Knox can refrain from censorship in situations like this.
If you leave out the inside conflict between organizations and individuals, which is totally valid, and look at just facts, I – as an outsider who’s not really involved in the situation – see it as silencing the Afropunk band. I do my best to understand the people whose feelings were hurt, but I do think we have to consider the intentions of the organizers and we have to consider who named the band and why.
I also would like to address the graffiti wall issue because I see these events as related. Both involve charged words that were put in public unattended and almost anonymously. We cannot control the way people interpret things despite the intentions of who puts those words out there. One phrase I heard about that was written on the graffiti wall was “gays suck dick”. Knowing if a gay person wrote it, it would be recieved differently. Since the phrase was followed by information about a Christian organization, the phrase was labled as homophobic. Intent does matter and there are really big grey areas; we shouldn’t rush to label things before doing the research.
Strong labels should be carefully used, especially for ambiguous things, because if we abuse them they lose their value and seriousness. On the contrary, a couple years ago there was another spray paint / WVKC scandal. Someone spray painted a swastika on a table at the radio station and tried to conceal it. That is objectively bad and should be censored and ideally we needed to identify the person who did it and punish them. Same goes to the graffiti wall Ð if something written there anonymously is objectively bad, we should identify who did it and punish them. However it is not the job of the marginalized groups to deal with it. Getting rid of the graffiti wall will not make campus safer and by doing so we are basically saying that it’s ok to be hateful, just don’t do it publicly.
I am not saying we shouldn’t censor things that are offensive and hurt people’s feelings. We totally should censor things that are blatantly and objectively offensive; Knox College is not a place for that. However, since the name of the band and having white members in it was a decision made by the leaders of the band – who are black – as part of their activist agenda, I believe that we should not be silencing them. I mean, they didn’t even get a chance to learn what exactly happened and why they got cancelled. Personally, I believe that the way it should be handled is not censorship, but dialogue. Did we even figure out what they have to say about it? Not that I know that they wanna have a discussion on it or even wanna comment on what happened, but overall we basically silenced another black female’s voice over our personal disagreements when they are also fighting for the same cause.
Again, I am not trying to speak for anyone except myself in these situations. Censorship is a problem and I believe that Knox values diversity and critical thinking. I am aware of the consequences of me writing this opinion piece and I know I might be labeled controversial, but I am truly not trying to “start shit.” All I’m saying is that censorship is not the way to go in a place where we value diversity, for both controversies. Please, let’s talk about it rather than censoring it and trying to apologize for everything ASAP so it doesn’t become a big deal. It is a big deal. Let’s address it. Please feel free to comment on anything I said or have a discussion with me about it in person or on Facebook.