Controversy, Raw and Uncivil

The school year began with two seniors from the south blue-taping a Mason-Dixon line across their hallway, then mounting a Confederate flag there, later making it visible outside their dorm room. Their actions catalyzed a storm of campus reactions, media coverage, and in-and-beyond-classroom conversation, and overlap with the non-indictments of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. It was a charged fall.

As Anne tells this story in “Slipping,”1 it ends in December. But now it’s February, and many are not “over it.” In our enactments, one group uses their diverse positions to dramatize the “Confederate flag incident.”

Several of their pre-enactment posts set the stage:

WhoAmI

It was the night of parade night when it first occurred, the night when I released that racism and oppression truly exist on my campus.…on the night that we, freshmen, were celebrating the beginning of our college careers; two signs that symbolized African American oppression and degradation existed on this so called “liberal” college.…This event… made me realize that our colleges are a representation of this country that we live in. That “the land of the free and every man is equal”…in reality is just an ideology that helps certain groups feel good about them while keep the minority tranquilized and tolerate what is happening in this county and also in our colleges. 2

Mina

[In] a facebook group [about the Confederate flag incident]…thousands of comments from alums (and a few comments from current students) poured in over a number of weeks….Overall, issues of POC safety and historic racism were routinely ignored in favour of…personal attacks or counter-attacks; primarily white voices drowned out the POC voices, and alums spoke over students.3

ttong

During the Confederate Flag incident, I was told by a lot of American friends that I should join the protest because I should feel offended. Their saying is not new to me, because it was not the first time since I came to America that people kept telling me I should have been angry and should have taken actions against discrimination. People told me I should not be quiet after I was told a joke about my race, although I found the joke very entertaining myself. I was told to join the protest before I knew what was really going on because I should be offended as a person of color.…It’s not that I will never be offended by racism. I will. But when I’m offended, I think I’m able to tell. And the most hurtful racism is not being joked about my race but being told again and again that I should be easily wounded because of my race.4

Shades are down, a Confederate flag fills a large screen at the front, a blue-taped Mason-Dixon line cuts our classroom in two.

Timeline/Draft of “script”:

  1. Pull up the image of the flag on the projector screen, Damon [Motz-Storey] will lay down tape on the floor as though it’s a Mason-Dixon Line. Damon will stand on one side, and Sarah [Daguio], Farida [Ilboudo], Tong [Tong], and Mina [Reinckens] stand on the other.
  2. Farida will speak about her feelings about seeing the flag
  3. Mina will speak about the alumni’s reactions to the flag
  4. Tong will speak about what it is like to feel obligated to feel offended
  5. Sarah will speak about what it is like to watch everything happening from Haverford’s campus
  6. Damon will speak as though he is a “generic white male,” and read segments from the Clerk articles authored by white Haverford male students about the issue.
  7. Everyone will move toward the center of the room and take up a piece of the tape. Someone will turn off the projector screen.
  8. We will all sit in a circle, as though in a silent vigil.
  9. Damon will stand and read from the senator’s email [hate mail threatening student protesters and valorizing the students who displayed the flag] [SHOULD WE DO TRIGGER WARNING????]
  10. The female students will hold hands then proceed to lie down, like the “die-in”s of Black Lives Matter. Damon will walk away and avert his gaze.
  11. SCENE

Afterwards, unscripted, players converge for a group hug, before taking their seats. The room is hushed. We do not run this twice: We are witnesses to testimony that feels singular. I begin post-enactment comments by asking group members if they want to speak.

Farida Iboudo: It was scary to reenact this Confederate flag incident. I don’t feel safe on this campus–it’s dark and quiet at night, I come from New York City where it’s light and there’s people all the time. Walking alone at night after the email [threatening students on campus] was scary….Reenacting this took me back to all that.

Damon Motz-Storey: I had such a feeling of separation and vulnerability across the Mason-Dixon line while we were up there. Really needed to hug my group when it was over.

Tong Tong: It was hard for me to share this, I’ve had trouble with this since I came here, people telling me how to feel about who I am.

Others add their perspectives, speak immediately not as theorists, but themselves:

But shouldn’t she have gone to the demonstration even if she didn’t connect with the issues? People should learn about the flag and its relationship with racism, with lynching. Innocent people died because of that flag. Learn about it, march, and have that response now.

I agree…but if it’s not bringing up constructive emotions, you shouldn’t feel forced to go! We can’t go to an extreme, excluding experiences from the conversation.

 You always have to consider what your place is in a movement.

Tong is now quiet, perhaps surprised to have taken this risk and then be called out just as she’d feared. The other student continues: there are really no excuses not to participate in this protest; perhaps she is not surprised to find herself once again taking a hardline position that seems to push away students of color.

A mental, emotional adrenaline freezes us, in various states of intimacy, alliance, wariness, disaffection, as my next class drifts in, backs out again. Wanting to intervene in many ways at once, I do not remember what–if anything–I said. In writing about moving classrooms “From Safe Spaces to Brave Spaces,” Brian Arao and Kristi Clemens recommend “controversy with civility,”5 but this very interconnected space feels raw, uncivil. This enactment has leaked through the boundaries that structure the exercise. I am moved and shaken; deeply uncertain about how we move on through the very dangers we have been studying.

After break and through the semester, this enactment remains, seeping into the woodwork and discomfiting us with a stain that is yet elusive, an edge of threat discernible in sudden raised voices, silences. My experience of this classroom, haunted by the absence of black servants and students of color, now further twisted as I host classes that also create traces that haunt…

  1. Chapter 8, Slipping
  2. WhoAmI, “Parade Night,” February 1, 2015 (5:37 p.m.), accessed June 1, 2016.
  3. Mina, “Bryn Mawr Bigotry,” February 1, 2015 (1:52 p.m.), accessed June 1, 2016.
  4. ttong, “Trust Me, I Can Tell,” February 1, 2015 (3:16 p.m.), accessed June 1, 2016.
  5. Brian Arao and Kristi Clemens, “From Safe Spaces to Brave Spaces: A New Way to Frame Dialogue Around Diversity and Social Justice,” The Art of Effective Faciliation: Reflections from Social Justice Educators, ed. Lisa M. Landreman (Sterling, Virginia: Stylus Publishing, 2013), 144, accessed June 1, 2016.