September 27, 2012

Anonymity And Why It Matters: In Regard To Scorpions X

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The Sun’s Sept. 24 editorial, “The Hypocrisy of Scorpions X,” criticises the group’s approach, citing their anonymity as hypocritical. In this piece we find all sorts of retaliatory language in response to what seems is being taken as a personal challenge from Scorpions X (no doubt due to the circulation of the “Cornell Nightly Moon”). The main object of attack and criticism is neither the group’s agenda, nor even its methods, but rather the anonymity of its individual members. Accusations include, among other things, “hypocrisy,” “eschew[ing] responsibility,” and “cowardice.”

Hypocrisy — that’s a pretty heavy word. In what way has Scorpions X been hypocritical? They have defaced a few dozen allegedly racist posters and defended the act in an email bringing attention to the group; they have made a bunch of YouTube videos sending anti-oppression messages; they have published and distributed a polemical newspaper; most importantly, they have made several lists of demands (or rather, one list with several versions) asking for awareness and transparency for issues of oppression and bias. As far as things go, they have been pretty consistent. Or is the hypocritical tag being applied because the Scorpions X is anonymous? The writer offers, for contrast, that The Sun’s editorial board members are responsible for its output. Okay, great. But the comparison is absurd. The Sun has a responsibility to its contents. The University administration has a responsibility to the well-being of its students. The only responsibilities an anonymous group owes to anyone are those that are taken upon themselves.

Anonymity seems to be fundamentally misunderstood. Too easily do we forget that “Scorpions X” itself is an identity, and that it has been attached to a number of actions as well as an articulate agenda. Thus it can represent students without being their representative. That the anonymity of its individual members matters so much to the writers only calls attention to the fact that Scorpions X is at least right on the count that the issues are being ignored. After all, it is fair to disagree with their views. It is equally fair to agree with them but condemn their methodology, including personal attacks — which might have made an effective, valid argument had it not been immediately sidelined. Instead, the editorial chose to openly ignore everything they have said and done, and criticize them for failing to meet standards of non-anonymity arbitrarily projected upon them. As the editorial reads, “Without commenting on the message or methodology of the group, The Sun calls on Scorpions X to either drop its highly personal vitriol or step forward and reveal the names of its members.” Isn’t this the inevitable and highly ironic response — a self-righteous admission of disregard for both message and methodology? If that’s not missing the point, or any possible point — even if this is just a political stunt — I really don’t know what is.

And that is the crux of the problem. Something that is questioning our community’s ability to address individual bias (be it racial, sexual or otherwise) is being turned into a question of individual identities. The majority of recent responses are more concerned with treating the situation as a threat to established authority than a critique of our community. We are trying to make it personal. So is anonymity really cowardice? No. Rather, I think it is necessary to the nature of the issues being addressed. Our inability to see past that is symptomatic of the very things Scorpions X is suggesting — that as a community our responses to bias are immature and that our attitude towards critique is problematic. It is exactly the kind of attitude that stifles actual discussion by reducing every criticism into a personal affront. The editorial also complains that Scorpions X has not provided a forum, apparently having overlooked the fact that the lack of a forum for problems in the community is exactly why such a group exists in the first place. And yes, we do have problems — only the “dangerous escalation of rhetoric and hyperbole” is hardly one of them. While that is, always has been and always will be the first reaction to minority outcry, nobody has the authority to gauge the exact point in time it becomes appropriate to act. Throwing around loaded words like hypocrisy and cowardice while skirting the issues at hand contributes nothing. I think we have had enough bottle-throwing and sexual assault as it is.

Christina Zhang is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She may be reached at cmz28@cornell.edu. Guest Room appears periodically this semster.

Original Author: Christina Zhang