Squatting on the University of Missouri quad

Note, November 11, 2015: This post has been updated and corrected in line.

So here’s a problem. It occurs in a context which, admittedly, I have not been paying much attention to. I’m still waiting—yes, still waiting all these months later—for a proper explanation for the Black Lives Matter movement disrupting Bernie Sanders’ campaign appearances.[1] And no, I’m not satisfied by an apparent belief that, as important as the killings of Blacks are, they are the only grievance that anyone should be concerned with.[2]

I’m also feeling a bit alienated since an incident in which Bahar Mustafa, a students’ union diversity officer at Goldsmiths University, explained that “women of colour and minority genders cannot be racist or sexist because we do not stand to benefit from such a system.”[3]

You see, I’m very clearly getting the message that if I am to be an ‘ally,’ that means sitting down and shutting up. And that’s not what I mean by ‘ally.’ I think, rather, that if you and I are allies, that means we walk together, listen to each other, and allow each other to speak. It doesn’t mean that you are subordinate to me. And it doesn’t mean that I am subordinate to you. It means we are equals, working to a common end.

So, to be perfectly honest, since the word ally has been hijacked to mean something other than what I mean by ally, because I’m entirely uncomfortable with the newly assigned meaning of the appropriated term ally, and because white males—regardless of social location—are being constructed as the oppressor, I no longer think of myself as an ‘ally.’

I will indeed sit down and shut up, at least for the most part. Because I do still hope that somehow out of all of this mess, we can somehow find our way to a more equal society. But I will not participate with these movements. And I will not advocate on their behalf. For some, that will mean I am complicit in their oppression, but you see, I am not in this so I can be oppressed any more than I already am and basically what these movements are saying, with their benighted understanding of intersectionality, is that simply because of my gender and the color of my skin, I am the enemy.

That doesn’t make me feel like these movements are leading toward a more equal society. It makes me feel like if these movements succeed, I will still be on the wrong side of capitalist power relations, and I will now, in addition, take a turn being on the wrong side of gender and race and whatever other power relations. And probably many members of these movements will accept that having enjoyed white male privilege for fifty-plus years, I have that coming. Never mind my actual, lived social location.

So yeah, I haven’t been paying attention to recent anti-racism protests, organized by a group calling itself “Concerned Student 1950,” at the University of Missouri which have apparently involved a hunger strike and led to resignations of the University president and the Columbia campus chancellor. (Correction, November 11, 2015: This post originally misidentified the protest organizers as Black Lives Matter.) But, oh wait, here’s something that catches my eye: It seems demonstrators on public property demanded that a student photographer, Tim Tai, who was working for ESPN, leave and a Mass Communication professor, Melissa Click, called for “some muscle” to make this happen.[4]

“Legally, the photojournalist [Tai] was on completely rock-solid ground,” said Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center. “That’s not debatable at all.” The entire episode unfolded in the middle of a public quad at a public university. The protesters had every right to camp out and rally, and Tai had every right to take photos, he said.[5]

Click has apologized but the university will be investigating and she may lose her job (she apparently only “held a courtesy appointment there” which I think means she does not have tenure).[6] (Update, November 11, 2015: Click has resigned. Apparently her role was a not as a teacher but rather that “she could serve on student thesis review panels.”[7]) There is absolutely no excuse for what she did. Period.

As for the other protesters,

Jonathan Butler, the graduate student whose seven-day hunger strike catalyzed the protests and administrative shake-up at Missouri, explained in a Tuesday interview with The Los Angeles Times the original impetus behind the media ban. “We were having some difficult dialogues there, talking about race,” he said. “That’s a very sensitive space to be in and be vulnerable in. It was necessary to keep that space very healthy, a very open space for dialogue, versus it being a space where people are going to cover a story, exoticize people who are going through pain and struggle.”

Butler also echoed charges that the press ought to have been covering the story before it got to the hunger strike stage. “You saying in that moment, ‘That was the only way to cover the story’ — that wasn’t you doing your due diligence,” he said.[8]

If such dialogues are to be private, they should be held in private, not in public and not on public property. The point of a public protest is to attract attention for a cause and to build a movement, not to blame the news media for failing to adequately attend to earlier protests. This is a process of education. And a lot of whites and a lot of white males—I know because I’ve talked with them in my own personal life and studied some of them for my dissertation—desperately need that education. It doesn’t happen all at once because life just isn’t like that and, very unfortunately, social movements make achingly slow, incremental progress at a pace that does not threaten elites.[9] But by declaring public space private, these students have not only appropriated public property for private purposes, but they seek to build on the alienation I noted at Goldsmiths University[10] and have forfeited the right of recognition for a public demonstration.

As such, they are nothing more than squatters.

  1. [1]David Benfell, “#BlackLivesMatter and the wrong target,” Not Housebroken, August 9, 2015, https://disunitedstates.org/?p=7929
  2. [2]Jamie Utt, “Interrupting Bernie: Exposing the White Supremacy of the American Left,” Change From Within, August 9, 2015, http://changefromwithin.org/2015/08/09/interrupting-bernie-exposing-the-white-supremacy-of-the-american-left/
  3. [3]James Rush, “Goldsmiths Students’ Union diversity officer explains she cannot be racist or sexist because she is an ethnic minority woman,” Independent, May 12, 2015, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/goldsmiths-students-union-diversity-officer-says-she-cannot-be-racist-or-sexist-to-white-men-because-she-is-an-ethnic-minority-woman-10244520.html; see David Benfell, “In succumbing to the politics of exclusion, some feminists recreate the very structure that oppresses them,” Not Housebroken, May 13, 2015, https://disunitedstates.org/?p=7519
  4. [4]Josh Logue, “Journalists as the Enemy,” Inside Higher Ed, November 11, 2015, https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2015/11/11/video-shows-mizzou-student-press-clash-protestors
  5. [5]Josh Logue, “Journalists as the Enemy,” Inside Higher Ed, November 11, 2015, https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2015/11/11/video-shows-mizzou-student-press-clash-protestors
  6. [6]Josh Logue, “Journalists as the Enemy,” Inside Higher Ed, November 11, 2015, https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2015/11/11/video-shows-mizzou-student-press-clash-protestors
  7. [7]Richard Pérez-Peña and Christine Hauser, “University of Missouri Professor Who Confronted Photographer Quits Journalism Post,” New York Times, November 10, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/11/us/university-of-missouri-names-law-professor-to-diversity-post.html
  8. [8]Josh Logue, “Journalists as the Enemy,” Inside Higher Ed, November 11, 2015, https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2015/11/11/video-shows-mizzou-student-press-clash-protestors
  9. [9]Bill Moyer, with JoAnn McAllister, Mary Lou Finley, and Steven Soifer, Doing Democracy: The MAP Model for Organizing Social Movements (Gabriola Island, British Columbia, Canada: New Society, 2001).
  10. [10]David Benfell, “In succumbing to the politics of exclusion, some feminists recreate the very structure that oppresses them,” Not Housebroken, May 13, 2015, https://disunitedstates.org/?p=7519

Author: benfell

David Benfell holds a Ph.D. in Human Science from Saybrook University. He earned a M.A. in Speech Communication from CSU East Bay in 2009 and has studied at California Institute of Integral Studies. He is an anarchist, a vegetarian ecofeminist, a naturist, and a Taoist.

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