Reflections from the Inside
And yet this semester the two of us decided to quit the Undergraduate Council, the primary platform of our public service. There are multiple reasons for this decision, but perhaps the most pressing is also the most simple, and most selfish: We are tired, and the work we do isn’t sustainable. In this column we’ve discussed the weight that pain and exhaustion place on activists. And now, that weight has—not forever, but for now—gotten the better of us.
Salma: In my experience, social change is, at its core, an alignment of self-interests: Those who have power remain apathetic or in opposition unless their self-interests line up with the self-interests of those who are pushing for change.
Nicholas: This is not an apology for Black moderates. In-system reform work too often is a perpetuation of the status quo, becoming an insidious way for structures of oppression to sustain themselves. But, Salma, I don’t think either of us would fit into any definition of “moderate.” For every person who’s praised our “sensible” strategies, there’s a Crimson commenter accusing us of inciting race wars. For every time we’ve sat down across from a dean to hash out policy details, there’s another when we can be found chanting in the streets. We are not unique in this regard. Black activists constantly toe the line between working in- and out-of-system, because Black radical activism must balance our end goals—a world severely, radically different from the one we live in—with the complexities and nuances, the limitations, of the here and now. Both our detractors and our supporters must accept this fundamental ambivalence in Black activism.
This sounds abstract, but it’s not. This trauma is visceral, and it manifest in daily pain, like so much crystal-cold water drowning us slowly but surely. This is what we want to focus on: Pain, real pain—the real pain of being of color in this country. To bring it even more down to earth: What we’re talking about is mental health, the mental health for which this university purports to be on a crusade. But what it, and this world, fails to understand is that for people of color, mental (un)health is synonymous with racial trauma. And the two of us, as student activists, have a particular relationship with this mental (un)health.
Salma: As the students who were organizing the counter-rally, we were catapulted into a national debate about freedom of speech on college campuses. The debate has been framed as a binary: You either defend freedom of speech or attack it. You either sit back and watch silently, complacent as Murray is invited to campus or you’re childish, unwilling to listen to differing opinions, labeled as unreasonable. Through our response to Murray’s campus invitation, we attempted to introduce more nuance into the conversation and to challenge that binary which has been eternally rigged against us.