Calling all Theater companies and performers!

Open Call to Theater companies, performers, researchers:
I would like to hear other voices besides my own on this blog. If you'd like to write about your TLP experiences here, e-mail them to me and I'll put them up.
Topics can include dramaturgy to staging to personal responses to the play. Anything goes!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Sometimes a Fruit is Not Just a Fruit

It seems that my campus has been having some race-related issues recently, which came to a head last week when somebody chucked a banana at a group of visiting African American students and their parents.  I am absolutely steamed.  I found out about it from an e-mail sent out by our university chancellor a couple days ago.  Here's what I read in the Chancellor's own words:
We have had an increase in the number of reported incidents of actions and language that reflect bias on our campus. These actions include derogatory and racist language found in our dormitories. We also had an incident where someone threw a banana at visiting African American students, their parents and guidance counselors. This incident was witnessed by some of our own UT ambassadors.

I am saddened and outraged by this behavior because it does not reflect our campus values or the mission of this great university. We will not tolerate disrespect, racism or bias on our campus.
I have to admit, the more I think about this, the more outraged I get. 
Okay, so it's a college campus full of undergrads, and it is in fact a huge land-grant university in the American South; things can get crazy here. I know that.  I've seen things get crazy here before.  They'd get equally crazy at home, too.  I mean, I've had fruit thrown at me by stupid, hulking boys running on Wild Turkey, testosterone and instinct, too.  Heck, somebody even left a butchered elk leg on the Honors house's front lawn once.  But there's a huge difference in this case.  When a couple PKA frat boys threw that orange at me and the other honors students in Laramie, it was just an orange.  It was rotten and smelly, but just an orange.  When that jerk tossed that banana at a group of black students visiting the campus, it was a symbol-- and in this case, the symbol hit a lot harder than the object itself.   That symbol said, you are one step lower than a human.  It said, you don't belong here with rational creatures. GTFO. 

Right now, I just absolutely burn with shame for those kids and their parents, mostly because a sacred, long-standing illusion about college just got ripped away from them: they can't think of the campus as a safe haven anymore.  I went to high school in Wyoming, and when surrounded by the stupidity, racism, sexism and intolerance typical of your average group of sixteen year-olds, I'd say to myself, only two more years and I can get out.  I had seen friends harassed or pushed into fights, and I'd count down the months: just 18 more months to college...  then I went to college and somebody bludgeoned a gay student to death with a pistol two months later.  I never again had a feeling of having a safe haven at college.  Laramie was a battleground instead, and it wore me out.  Everyone has the right to a space where they can feel safe, don't they? 

I was talking about this incident with a co-worker, an undergraduate, the morning after the letter went out, and his frustration was palpable.  For him, that act shattered the illusion of safety for him, too. "Look," he told me, "I was one of, like, three black kids in my entire high school.  I always kept telling myself that things would be better once I got out of town, and I got to college.  You know, that not every place was like my high school."   He said that he wasn't angry so much as deeply disappointed.

Maybe we don't get to pretend this kind of ugliness in the world doesn't exist when we're on a college campus; maybe we don't get to be that naive, to live in our nice, cushy ivory tower and be more enlightened than everyone else.  But in the words of my co-worker, if you don't get to open up and feel free from that kind of humiliation and bigotry at a university... is any place safe?  Where can people just be ourselves? 

So, I would just like to say to the jerk who threw that banana: if I find you, I'm going to throw something at you, too, but it isn't going to be a piece of fruit.  It's going to be a copy of the student Honor Code.  Oh, and it's going to be wrapped around a dead skunk.  Read into the symbolism of that all you want, you bastard. 


"it is not a banana," by/from -eko-'s Flickr photostream:

"Keep the Dream Alive," by Drew Myers:

No comments:

Post a Comment