Yes on Referendum 300, No on racist assaults on campus

         

 

My colleague Singumbe Muyeba has an incisive, broader perspective on the nearness of become unhoused for so many people and the need for effective systems of care. He wrote a fine letter to the Clarion – the University of Denver newspaper – spelling out the need to aid, not harm, those who for an illness, a loss of a job, a divorce – any of us – can end up on the street in this “affluent” society. It is very important for all in Denver to Vote Yes on Referendum 300, the Right To Survive…(and of course, this action is sadly relevant to people in every city in this bizarre capitalist regime:

DU professor responds to the Clarion’s article about Initiative 300

Today, I read with much concern an article published by the DU Clarion titled “On the Denver ballot: Initiative 300”. My colleague, Professor Alan Gilbert called it to my attention. The article summarized arguments of both proponents and opponents of the initiative. I would like to give my two cents on the issue by reframing the issue as a system of care issue. 

Homelessness is a symptom of failure in systems of care that cannot be swept under the rug and kept out of the public eye. Corrections, public housing, mental health, foster care and health care systems as well as the failures and inadequacies of the shelter system all contribute to the sight of the homeless on the streets of Denver. Often triggered by structural factors such as the lack of availability of low-income housing, poverty, increases in housing costs and stagnation of real incomes, as well as behavioral factors, many of the homeless drift through these systems of care for many years before they end up on the streets. Meanwhile, cities across the United States are known to use the argument that the homeless in their city is from somewhere else. This bandwagon fallacy and hasty generalization reallocates blame for the inability of systems to adequately address homelessness and diverts attention from the root causes found in system failure. Under this bandwagon fallacy, cities avoid the responsibility for the homeless on their streets. 

With Denver Bill CB12-0241 which was enacted in 2012 to prohibit “unauthorized camping on public and private land…”, the city did not resolve failures in the systems of care;it made the experience of homelessness harder for the very people the systems are supposed to protect. One may say that the city instituted fallacies to mask system failure. Instead, the systems of care must be strengthened to deal with current and future homelessness. Curtailing people’s rights to survive is cruel and does nothing to resolve the problem. Matt Desmond in his book Evicted showed that at least 50 percent of Americans pay at least 50 percent of their income towards housing, when a high standard seemed previously about 30 percent. That is at least 170 million people, half of American democracy. Desmond has also shown in a later study that there are over 80 million evictions every year. Meanwhile, the nation has an opioid epidemic. Further, a lesson of the government shutdown at the start of the year, which can be a trigger event for drifting into homelessness, was that a significant number of people are an economic shock away from poverty. Systems of care must be ready to deal with these issues. 

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In addition, Grace Carson, a reporter for the Clarion, interviewed at least 8 students, mainly women, who had been subjected to racist assaults on the University of Denver campus. I wrote a letter about this – co-signed my colleagues Haider Khan, Sam Zhao, Nader Hashemi and Aaron Schneider at the Korbel School and Tink Tinker at the Iliff School of Theology.

                         A DU professor’s response to hate incidents on campus

The front page report in the Clarion for April 17th on racist hatred toward mainly indigenous, black and latina women is startling: “Hate incidents spark testimonies by students of color.” These are crimes as the campus police rightly identify them, not “incidents.”  No white students, faculty or staff experience these kinds of assaults at this university; they are not new, though the current era in our national politics gives them new license.  It will take resolve and increased effort to make us a community of mutual respect among persons across different conscientious views (no view which physically harms or demeans other people is a part of mutual respect).  The University of Denver works to ensure a place safe for all who study and work here, as do many students, staff and faculty individually and in groups.  But each of us should ask ourselves what we need to do to make this a community and render such crimes against our sister and brother community members a thing of the past.

The first two assaults took place just ten days ago, against a man and then a woman walking alone in the middle evening at the Evans crossway. In a truck, three bigots –  very likely students –  drove by on April 9th, throwing a liquid at one and screaming. On April 10th, Taylor Lucero describes a similar crime.  Both are attempted physical and actual psychological assault.

“I contemplated not sharing this,” Taylor wrote on Facebook,  “because it is hard to find the right words.  But at this point I can’t hold it in anymore.  Last night around 10:15 I was walking back from the library to my dorm. Usually when I walk places at night I am well aware of my surroundings. But last night as I was walking back a group of white students drove by, rolled down their window, and threw a liquid substance at me. Luckily they barely missed me, and they proceeded to laugh and drive off.”

Describing how the assault felt, she says: “I am still shaken up by it and dealing with the emotions.  Experiencing impostor syndrome while being a minority student on a big university campus is bad enough…I wouldn’t wish this experience on anyone.  I have reported this incident 

and have reached out to many people.  I just thought that there wouldn’t come a day where I wouldn’t feel safe on campus.”

As she rightly describes, this cowardly “white supremacist” drive-by – the racists’ attempting to hide their own feelings of shame and inferiority by harming others – is an additional abuse at this mainly white, upper middle class school, which compounds a feeling she has of “being an impostor.” The latter is a common enough feeling among many students of all ethnic groups.  Young people who are still coming into a sense of the joys of learning or finding themselves in something they would want to do sometimes feel this way. But racism makes it far worse. Fortunately, Taylor is fiercely determined to stand up to such bigotry.

Such crimes are linked to what are rightly called today microagressions, though they threaten something much worse.  Some mistakenly think that racist assaults, intimidations and murders are “conservative.”  That is false.  Conservatives believe in the rule of law and habaes corpus, the principle going back to the Magna Carta in England in 1218 that each person suspected of a crime should have a day in court and not be subjected to torture in jail.  Conservatives recognize that governments are too powerful and – without checks and balances – often abuse that power.  Racist assaults – historically culminating in lynchings and right now in murders of two black people at a Kroger’s in Jeffersontown, Kentucky or of 11 elderly jews at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania or the stealing of children at the Mexican border – are the opposite of a conservative view.  Perpetrators of such acts are, instead, racist authoritarians, modelling their views on Hitler and the Ku Klux Klan. Belief that government is often dangerous and that the rule of law is important has nothing to do with racist authoritarian criminality.

Last Friday, I was teaching W.E.B. Du Bois Souls of Black Folk,  Du Bois spoke of a double consciousness of people who are subject to systemic bigotry: as an American and as a black person.  In “Letter from the Birmingham City Jail,”(1964) Martin Luther King Jr., too, speaks of how blacks and others have long been “standing on tiptoe” and why it is no longer possible to wait for equality:

“We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, `Wait.’ But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: ‘Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?’; when you take a cross country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading ‘white’ and ‘colored’; when your first name becomes ‘nigger,’ your middle name becomes ‘boy’ (however old you are) and your last name becomes ‘John,’ and your wife and mother are never given the respected title ‘Mrs.’; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of ‘nobodiness’—then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.”

Many of us have worked hard at this University and in this country to treat each person as an equal, no one needing to stand on “tiptoe.” And many young people are now better at this than older ones. In class,  we discussed these stories from the Clarion about the wedges that demented drive-by racists attempt to drive between us.  We resolved that these crimes must be stopped, and a direct process of education initiated so that each person in our community understands how we are all diminished and degraded by such acts and must work, at school and as citizens, to lift up a beloved community.

Alan Gilbert

Co-signed by the following faculty at the Korbel School

Haider Ali Khan, 

Nader Hashemi, 

Sam Zhao,

Aaron Schneider

and

Tink Tinker, Iliff School of Theology