PLU Activism

Image of Dark Matter duo with text "Reflections on DarkMatter and Race: It Gets Bitter"

Reflections on DARKMATTER and Race

This past Friday, April 24th, Pacific Lutheran University hosted DarkMatter, a South Asian trans queer duo of social justice advocates, on their #ItGetsBitter tour.

Their presentations and workshops were inspiring, but afterward I heard something that made me think. A few of my friends were discussing how they felt like they were being attacked by DarkMatter’s angry discussion of racism, because these friends of mine were white themselves.

These friends that i overheard discussed how they felt as if DarkMatter, in their anger, were doing exactly what they blamed white people for. Exclusion. Microaggressions. Us-them thinking. Discrimination. They felt uncomfortable, and even worse, they felt adversarial as a result.

I was surprised at hearing this. Sure, no one likes to be uncomfortable, no one wants to feel like they’re at fault. This is especially true because no one alive today was responsible for enslaving Africans, conquering India for the British Empire, or annexing Texas from Mexico.

So why the anger directed at people who themselves haven’t done anything wrong?

One reason for this anger is that the problem is still going on. There is a huge controversy over black children and unarmed adults being shot and killed by white police officers. Latin@ people are often scrutinized by how well they’ve assimilated, accused of being illegal immigrants. Native Americans continually critique the government or not upholding treaty obligations. People of Asian descent are often fetishized as exotic, or held to impossible standards as a model minority. America has a race problem. In fact, America has many race problems.

But how is that the fault of the average white person? Well, as outlined in the magnificent essay “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” the average white person benefits from white privilege. Being held up as the norm and not subject to constant scrutiny based on race gives immeasurable benefits to white people, and those benefits play out materially as well.

It goes beyond just privilege, though. By participating in everyday activities such as shopping at companies that do not hire racial minorities employees at proportionate rates, watching shows that tokenize or exoticize race, and voting for politicians who do not make racial justice a priority, all people help to support racist systems in society. These systems often time have effects far beyond the United States, too, because of globalization and interconnectedness. Everyone is implicated.

All of these create a constant barrage. A natural reaction, then, is anger. And anger is appropriate, given the depth and scope of the injustice committed. Anger can be divisive, but it can also be a rallying call for solidarity and unification. It can empower people to take what is rightfully theirs, rather than relying on others to do it for them.

Feelings will get hurt, inevitably. But, that said, there’s no way to compare white feelings of hurt to the injustices against people of color. Discrimination against white people does not have the same institutional support and legacy as discrimination against people of color does. And even if there were, racial justice movements need to empower minorities, rather than relying on white people to save them.

A group of students carry a mattress below the text "PLU Helps Carry That Weight"

The PLU Community is Strong

On March 9th, a group of PLU students gathered in Red Square to carry a mattress. These students weren’t helping a friend move to a new house or anything like that – rather, they were protesting sexual assaults on college campuses.

The idea of carrying a mattress to protest sexual assaults and rape culture began with Emma Sulkowitz of Columbia University. She began carrying her own mattress to protest the way that Columbia was handling her own case of sexual assault and the fact that the university allowed her assaulter to remain on campus.

The Feminist Student Union was inspired by that idea and decided to help #carrythatweight and further create discussions about rape culture and sexual assault on the PLU campus. The rest of the nation will be following suit on April 13th, the National Day of Action for students to help carry that weight together. On that day, other schools across the country will be holding protests to carry mattresses, much like Emma Sulkowicz and the FSU already has.

“Sexual violence is heavily important to me, personally,” says FSU co-founder Chynna Boonlom. “As a woman, it’s something that is always lurking in my mind as a danger. It almost feels inevitable sometimes, that at some point in my life I’ll have to be impacted either personally or see someone close to me be a victim. I think that PLU students sometimes feel insulated from the reality and ugliness of sexual violence because it’s not something that we talk about.”

Boonlom feels that PLU students in general are aware of the things occuring outside of the “Lutedome”, but that advocacy can always be taken further.

“I feel that student advocacy is very important, especially at an institution like PLU where we can tend to isolate ourselves from the outside world. There have been some great things happening on the campus, like the demonstration by Black Student Union for Ferguson, and the vigil for Ayotzinapa. And while I’ve attended events like this in the past, I wanted to take my activism a step further and plan events that resonated with me, and that I felt were missing from campus.”

Boonlom hopes that all students can become thoughtfully engaged in feminist discourse around campus and take part in advocacy-oriented events. For more information about PLU’s Feminist Student Union, please visit their Facebook page here. For more information about the #carrythatweight phenomenon, please visit this website . You can get involved by writing to the Matrix, the Mooring Mast, and school administrators with your thoughts.