Walker Bristol | Notes from the underclass
How Tufts killed Trayvon
Published: Thursday, February 28, 2013
Updated: Thursday, February 28, 2013 15:02
Trayvon Martin — a 17-year-old black student, visiting his father in a gated Florida community — was murdered on Feb. 26, 2011. The racial injustice of this incident was not merely in the act, nor just in George Zimmerman’s profiling a black, hooded teenager. It was not just the gated community’s perception of Martin, nor the smear campaign initiated in his wake. It was the fact that these prejudices and reactions were not unique, and black teenagers are killed upon being suspected as criminals revoltingly frequently. It was that those with power either implicitly support or do little to combat this entrenched anti-blackness — and Tufts University, in its elite, wealthy standing, upholds this violence just as well.
"This is not just the Florida case — people fail to realize how blackness is illegal, even here, on this very ground we stand on today,” senior TCU Senator Jameelah Morris declared, speaking at the Remember Trayvon Martin anniversary rally Tuesday evening. Where whiteness occupies the overclass, years of historic slander and subversion have ingrained in us a knee-jerk reaction to blackness as depraved, whether we consciously agree with it or not, Morris explained: “[People] fail to see how being stopped at 3 a.m. coming from Eaton Hall and being questioned, even though you said repeatedly that you are a student, is traumatic.”
It’s true, the campus is no stranger to racial bias incidents — reports last semester included blackface advertising a house party, anti-Asian vandalism and posters celebrating the slaughter of Pakistanis. The list continues: 2009 saw one student assault members of the Korean Student Association, yelling, “Go back to China,” and, according to some accounts, threatening to kill them. When microaggressions and aggressions like these go unpunished or sanctioned by the administration — see Tufts’ utter inaction on the Primary Source’s recurrent, anonymous, racially-charged “satire”— they tacitly sustain the structures of oppression that led to Martin’s death.
The voices of the unheard speak volumes. On the blog rapedattufts.info, which aggregates subverted cases of on-campus sexual violence, an anonymous female rape survivor cited the administration’s “subsequent indifference” to her case. “My race made me perceived as less believable when I reported,” she wrote. She says she dropped out of college after her appeal was denied and was forced to apply for food stamps and General Assistance.
These individual instances obscure the institutionalized racism of academia itself, the longstanding (white)-victors-write-the-history-books narrative that has molded Tufts as an academic institution in the first place. Tufts projects a commitment to academic diversity and has the power inspire other institutions to expand their faculty beyond those who already occupy privilege in race, gender, class, etc. And yet, the Tufts history department has 10 professors specializing in European and American history, compared with two each in African and Latin American history. Consider that the job of the university president isn’t so specialized that the search committee’s options are exceedingly narrow. Nevertheless, in all of Tufts’ history, never has a candidate been selected who is not a white man.
It’s not just that, contrary to what an op-ed writer to the Daily once told us, people at this school are racist. It’s that the structures that allow this community and this institution to exist are inherently racially oppressive, and we have not done nearly enough to use our power to fight against them. Senior TCU Senator Logan Cotton, with regard to Tuesday’s rally, said, “I’m asking for everyone to identify how the mechanisms they support condemned Trayvon to death and how they could leverage their own privilege to save the next Trayvon.” Just by being here, we have extraordinary privilege. It’s on us to protect those who don’t.