The writing is on the walls: A response from those responsible

Guest Contributers

The #ClaimYourBigotry campaign earlier this week was in response to the influx of racist Yik Yaks that we have compiled over the past six months. These Yaks contained violent and threatening slurs, insensitive references to the death of Michael Brown and a five-way “us versus them” racial and ethnic division between whites, blacks, Latinos, Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders—all of which have resulted in feelings of alienation and otherness among members of the black community. The Yik Yak flyering was not in any way associated with the Association of Black Students, Black Anthology, Washington University Students in Solidarity or Lock and Chain. It involved a group of students, ourselves included, that attend Washington University, who are tired of the constant bigotry and blatant racism that goes overlooked or swept under the rug. At this time, we must clarify that we are not and cannot speak on behalf of the entire black community. We are but one section of it, and we have something to say.

The reason why we flyered the main campus, admissions and the South 40 was to get the entire community here involved in an important, though uncomfortable, topic: race on campus. We felt that panel discussions and student group meetings only draw out the students who already, on some level, agree that we do not live in a post-racial society, and thus those measures do not extend our intended reach or impact. So far, many members of the Wash. U. community have remained unconvinced that prejudice occurs on this campus. After seeing what was said by students about their peers printed in plain ink, we doubt people can still deny the reality in which we live. This was not a rash response inspired by pure emotion. This was a calculated reaction to the way black students are being treated on our own campus. The goal of this campaign was simply to bring the hurtful and bigoted statements that were posted on Yik Yak to the attention of the administration and student body.

Indeed, we noticed many students and faculty reading the posts were shocked and disgusted by what they saw. Many students and multiple faculty members expressed that even though reading the comments sickened them, they felt better off being made aware; that way, the issue could be addressed. We understand that not everyone felt this way. These flyers caused feelings of discomfort, anger and pain to many members of this community, to whom we are sympathetic. By no means did your feelings go unconsidered. We anticipated that people would be offended and hurt by these posts, as they should be, but we do want to acknowledge the full range of effects in which our actions have resulted. It was not our intention to cause those people harm.

The purpose of this and other similar actions that have happened, both across campus and across the country, is to cause discomfort and open people’s eyes. Our goal by distributing these flyers was to spark a conversation about the types of things people feel comfortable saying behind the veil of anonymity, yet fail to voice out loud. The bottom line is: We cannot let such offensive and hateful words go unnoticed.

To clarify, this is not an attack on anonymous forums. Anonymity is not the issue. Abusing anonymity to promote bigotry and threaten students is the issue. This is also not an attack on people with opposing opinions. Differences can lead to dialogue, but only if all parties express themselves in a productive and respectful manner. What was posted on Yik Yak was not productive. What was posted on Yik Yak was hate speech. The point of anonymous forums is to create a safe space for people to exchange ideas and honest opinions. Just like other spaces on Wash. U.’s campus, Yik Yak is no longer a safe space for black students.

We acknowledge that the Yaks we spread around campus were triggering. Although we do not wish anxiety on anyone, we do believe this way of thinking needed to be exposed. These are our peers. These are the people that sit next to us in class. These are the people we could be working with in the future. If these are their honest feelings, they need to be addressed. If their bigotry goes unchallenged now, we only encourage the proliferation of these thoughts. It’s true, students, black students included, can choose whether or not to participate in Yik Yak, but blissful unawareness will not alleviate racial tensions. Knowledge and awareness is the first step. We never intended to make students feel unsafe. We just want awareness. We just want change.

Contributors: Erin Borders, Brianna Anderson, Candice Love, Brianna Tobias, Ciara Hackman, Jerusha Simmons, Jaszmine Parks, Imani Paul