There is an incomprehensible “free-speech” backlash to the university student protests going on across the country. Apparently some people think that only spoiled children don’t like getting swastikas smeared in shit across someone’s wall. I guess they should just suck it up and deal with it. It’s all just meaningless stuff you shouldn’t pay attention to, because they don’t really mean it. Didn’t you know that someone was making an ironic critique of Nazism by taking their turd in their hands, holding it lovingly, and spreading its fecal substance all across the walls of a Mizzou dorm like a kind of ultra-racist, disgusting Banksy? You didn’t? Hah! You’re an idiot and a child. You don’t get guerilla art.
Dark humor aside, the way people perceive these student protests, especially in some of the journalism on the topic, is disturbing. More disturbing than someone being asked not to wear an offensive Halloween costume, if I do say so myself. But we must understand these protests within the context of white supremacy as a whole. These are not singular issues. They are indicative of the shameful dismissal and disregard for black bodies and lives we silent, scared white people have implicitly encouraged to continue into the 21st century. No, just because there is a Martin Luther King Day doesn’t mean you can cry at that speech of his you watch maybe once a year and consider your bleeding, desirous heart fully satiated. You might want to actually read what people of color are writing and hear what people of color are saying before you even attempt to fathom the Black experience. I make no claims to understand it, and I do not speak for people of color. Instead, you should probably stop reading this column and go check out the contemporary Black literature on this subject. Reading Booker T. Washington does not count, Monseigneur.
Even then, just because you read writers of color doesn’t mean your complicity in this situation dissolves. And don’t start collapsing into a ball when you’ve realized how culpable you are. If you truly realize the direness of racism and structural inequality in America, you should be working to stop it. White guilt, like Auden once said about poetry itself, does nothing. I’m a poetry reader myself, and I would disagree with Auden. But I know a good amount of people who would agree with him. Poetry is supposedly dandyish and dull. It has no effect on real life. No one’s ever been moved to action by a poem. They’re just pretty little constructions of words.
Today, poetry written by white writers in MFA programs might only interest aesthetes, yeah, but that is definitely false for poetry being written outside of the monolithic establishment of university poetry programs. But what is that poetry, you might ask? How is it useful?
For arguments on how poetry and poets can have a significant importance within their communities, as well as how poets can assist in the process of combating white supremacy, I relay to you, the Mongrel Coalition Against Gringpo, or MCAG for short.
MCAG is an anonymous group of poets of color whose stated purpose is “to be used by documents, attempts, or gestures that target white supremacy and colonization …”. They praise experimentation, decolonization, decanonization, and general destabilization of the white mind. They attack white avant-gardists, pseudo-political members of the literary scene and more broadly all the white supremacist bullshit that has monopolized the American poetry scene for years. Their critiques of Kenneth Goldsmith, as well as the overall school of Conceptual poetry, are probably the best I’ve heard.
I say this specifically because they seem more like affective, poetic communications rather than the rationalizing discourse of logic and rhetoric which has so easily been manipulated to throw people of color to the wayside, which can so easily (if Jacques Derrida has taught us anything) be flipped on its head, to turn the accuser into the accused, to turn the student protestors of color into the racists.
Instead, the Mongrel poets use poetic language as a way to reach beyond logic and rationality and into our core, the only place deep enough to truly change us when it itself has been changed. To read the phrase “DECOLONIZE OR DIE” (within proper context, mind you; the energy definitely does not transfer into this column) and not in some way feel moved seems very difficult. It is a phrase with power, with knowledge, with authority. It is a subversion of the message fed to people of color for the last 500 years when white men arrived on their shores.
What the Mongrel poets and the student protestors communicate to white people specifically is that people of color will not let us kill them. They will not let us ignore them or brush them off as advocates of hate speech. They are unapologetically here. They will not be silent, and they will not be killed off and crucified, by the cop or the teacher or the administrator or the student, nor by the behemoth of white supremacy.
I want to finish this column by saying that I do not speak for activist students of color. I speak in ardent support of them, but my thoughts are not their thoughts: Do not take my thoughts and my words and use them against anyone but me. You should consider anything a student of color says on this topic before you consider mine. I am their supporter, ally, fellow-traveler, whatever. But most importantly, I am a person who believes what they’re doing is right. And I will use my own privileges and abilities to help them.
Stephen Meisel is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Appearances runs alternate Fridays this semester.