Massachusetts Daily Collegian

What Are You Celebrating?

By Will Syldor

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Editor’s note: An update column has been posted to better reflect the intent of the columnist before it was submitted for editing.

In my four years at the University of Massachusetts, I have seen many instances of celebration. I have seen groups of people cheering for sports wins, political victories encompassing the wide range of the political spectrum, people celebrating birthdays and anniversaries and so on. Sometimes I wonder why some people are so jovial, so accepting of certain forms of celebration. I wonder what those who dress in Ku Klux Klan robes for Halloween are celebrating, in light of that organization’s history of committing acts of terrorism against black communities.

When people dress up in “Indian wear,” feathers and “war paint” all over, sometimes banging drums indiscriminately, in light of the extensive and present process of the near (and sometimes complete) genocide and colonization of hundreds of tribes and city structures all across the Americas, with no analysis as to what it means for the descendant of the colonizer, to take and use the culture of the colonized for the purpose of amusement, what is it that those people are celebrating?

When a group of white men drive by me in a car, yelling the N-word, and then laughing as they continue to drive by, their actions aligning with the history of people who look like me being terrorized by people who look like them, what are they celebrating as they laugh at their actions?

When folks celebrate Columbus Day, immortalizing a man who succeeded in committing genocide against the island of “Hispaniola,” now Haiti and the Dominican Republic, a man who very intentionally enslaved and tortured that population, what are they celebrating?

When students on this campus support things like a Qur’an burning, rejecting the building of an Islamic Community Center a block from Ground Zero, the notion that Islam is a false and terrorist religion, the notion that Palestinians are less deserving of human dignity than Israelis, the idea of women and girls with hijabs or burqas being somehow weaker than women without, and the idea of the dangerous and irrational Muslim Arab that we must, as the great and noble power that we are, civilize through wars and actions that many would not deem great, noble, or “civilized,” what are those students ultimately supporting?

I ask these questions because we are on this campus together. We live on a diverse, albeit predominantly white, campus, with diverse experiences, families, religions, histories and overall cultures. Yet, there are continued acts of overtly and subtly celebrated events, organizations, ideas, moments in history and so on, that have been moments of pain for many peoples. Instead of critically analyzing and engaging with these reciprocal and permanently interwoven differences, many times they are downplayed and ignored, with students of color (and the rare white student) being either tokenized, isolated or generally silenced for bringing these histories, contradictions or intersections up.

Overall, I feel this dominant culture to be one of misinformation. The idea that while people of color are continuously being harassed by various and continued forms of racism in job settings, educational settings, personal and professional lives, it somehow isn’t white folks perpetuating and encouraging this dynamic. The idea that racism only exists when people of color or outright and very loud racist folks are in the room. The idea that KKK costumes, blackface costumes, “Indian” costumes, Geisha costumes, holidays commemorating mass murderers and those racist jokes every now and again are not grounded in any kind of historical pattern or malice at all, but more so in a motiveless playfulness with these cultures or historical moments. That the everyday “forgetfulness” or “lack of experience” that white people feign as a reason for not talking about the very segregated and exclusionary realities that many of them live, says nothing about white people themselves and the essential nature of this campus’ predominantly white culture.

There’s very little talk about our differences in a way that does not minimize or ridicule the severity, richness or fullness of our respective histories and present realities.

James Baldwin wrote, “American history is longer, larger, more various, more beautiful, and more terrible than anything anyone has ever said about it.” He also wrote, “I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.”

What if white culture was a nice way of saying mass erasure, mass dilution and mass denial rallied around the central cause of forgetting or playing down what was and is being done?

What would that look like? What, in that type of setting, would you be celebrating?

Will Syldor is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected].

5 Comments

5 Responses to “What Are You Celebrating?”

  1. Travis on September 22nd, 2010 10:46 am

    We to despise the Halloween holiday as a mindless exercise and go further as to say it is an un-Christian thing to participate in.

    We are not even amazed that Mr. Syldor is using as but one more excuse to whine “RACISM”. By the current definition,anything that does not give direct power to blacks is racism. Racism it’s a good beat down word, it’s become the “N” word for minorities. If you want to see a white person cringe just walk up to them in a public place and scream, “RACIST!” It is a very empowering word, it’s so much fun to use because there is no rule against it, even if proven false there are no consequences. The malicious shouter is automatically considered a victim and heaven and earth (not to mention Jese Jackson and Al Sharpton) will be moved in response, no facts are needed just a loud angry voice. if you want ot win any argument just yell racism but, one day,son I hope people will waken to this tactic, for like the Salem witch trials we see the accusation is the proof and the punishment for being accused is horrific. This is no mere trick or treat prank. It is a tactic of the progressive far right to silence opposition.

    Let’s all dress like NBPP members and carry white baby dolls that we can pretend to strangle. THEn, maybe we will not hear the cry of racist…

  2. Eli Gottlieb on September 22nd, 2010 12:55 pm

    Mr. Syldor has written about “everyone” with no quantification whatsoever, which means that he has really written about nobody at all. This fits Syldor’s pattern of seeing race as the primary factor moving American culture and politics, which he showed at the so-called “debate” (anyone can beat Brad DeFlumeri in a moderated debate!) last year by racializing everything from abortion to health-care reform, IIRC. Most people call such thinking “racism”, but I suppose Mr. Syldor thinks that the color of his skin excuses him from that term, since in his ideology only members the “powerful” or “majority” groups can be racist.

    Despite the sheer obviousness of how nonsensical this column is, every self-righteous wannabe “anti-racist” on campus, and every actual racist (as we’ve already seen in the first blog comment here), will latch onto this text as a framework for their favorite prejudicial anecdotes. Nice going.

  3. J.T Chesterfield on September 22nd, 2010 7:27 pm

    The reason why many white Americans “laugh and celebrate” while donning the costumes of once terrorized minorities is really quite simple: Americans have no unified cultural concept of history.
    Americans, unique among people, have the ability to fictionalize their identity- they can do this to the point of absurdity, and many live their whole lives this way. Thus, most have no real understanding of themselves or their real heritage, and therefore,it is impossible for them to have an understanding of others.
    It is a sad truth that while someone could find something mortally offensive in white Amherst frat boys wearing Cubic Zirconia earrings, listening to rap and using the “N” word, its a relatively innocuous phenomenon because they are actually debasing themselves and not others.

  4. Sam Clemens on October 1st, 2010 12:15 am

    Columbus Day coming up… better get out your smallpox blankies and tricorner hats! We gonna have some good ole’ NON-RACIST fun, right? Aimed mainly at debasing ourselves, right? And if anybody comes up to us and calls us RACIST, we gonna know they just ain’t understanding where we comin from, right?

    riiiiight…..

  5. Chesterfield on October 7th, 2010 8:40 pm

    Sam Clemens, you were, and are, a buffoon of the first degree

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