Op-ed submission: Statement from black leadership on WILD

Black leaders and SU Senators

To Chancellor Mark Wrighton, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Lori White, Provost Holden Thorp, Social Programming Board and to the student body of Washington University in St. Louis,

On Sept. 15, 2017, Anthony Lamar Smith’s killer, Jason Stockley, was found innocent of the charge of murder. This announcement represented yet another in a long line of disappointments and traumas that black Americans, in particular those in the St. Louis area, have suffered in the last several years. Washington University in St. Louis has the duty to ensure that all of its students feel safe and secure on the campus we call home. This includes its black population, which suffers from not only the ordinary issues facing modern students, like increasing debt, mental health and sexual assault, but also from a host of additional issues, like racism and systemic oppression. We as a community are quite aware of this University’s propensity to tokenize black students and other students of color via celebrations of diversity. However, no amount of brochure appearances nor praises of increasing statistics will address the needs of these growing communities; listening to our voices and executing appropriate actions will.

For these reasons, the Sept. 14 announcement that Lil Dicky, the San Francisco-based white rapper, would be headlining fall WILD was deeply disappointing and troubling. Blatantly put, Lil Dicky is problematic under the guise of a satirical millennial rapper. SPB praised Lil Dicky’s “witty lyricism, intelligent element and comedic aspect.” Racism is not witty. Racism is not intelligent. And it is most certainly is not comedic. Lil Dicky’s music panders to the “white savior complex” by supposing that a brand of music created by black people needs some kind of revival and that Lil Dicky is the answer. As if he’s our hip-hop Messiah. But, what more can you expect from someone who has been quoted saying “make some noise if you’re white!”, “How much fun it would be to look like Rick Ross,” and how “he [Lil Dicky] has so much more to lose by rapping than a poor black person,” or “I just f—– a black chick/ Yeah I’m proud, if that’s racist suck a black d—.” In these racist statements, Lil Dicky panders to this demographic of disillusioned upper-middle class whites who were born into privilege. He wants to appropriate black culture, but he doesn’t want to appropriate black pain. He spends so much time complaining about his not being black while embracing his white privilege. He asserts this privilege in his music videos plainly when he urinates on a cop car. But then he runs the statements back and says, “Every single rapper raps about s— I can’t relate to.” His solution to this problem is to mock the daily struggles of black people, all while forcibly inserting himself into their music. For these reasons, we formally object to his performing at this year’s WILD.

In the weeks following their announcement of Lil Dicky, SPB released a statement that students felt needed to be expanded. SPB must create a far more transparent process in order to organize a more sufficient forum for students to voice their concerns about WILD and be heard. Instead of earnestly listening to the black community’s legitimate concerns, apologizing sincerely and attempting to redress the problem, SPB has attempted to shirk responsibility for their actions. From the first day the announcement was made, students voiced their concerns and frustrations through social media. In fact, it took them a full 13 days to issue an official apology. The following Tuesday (Sept. 19), SPB leaders appeared at a Student Union Senate meeting open to the public, ostensibly to address criticisms on the issue. However, when directly confronted by black students about their roles in the decision-making process, SPB refused to directly answer several questions and ultimately pled ignorance about Lil Dicky’s problematic track record. These actions were deeply disappointing.

Nonetheless, we would like to acknowledge that SPB has taken concrete measures in their official statement to more thoroughly vet its selection process and create a more transparent body in general. Consulting campus partners such as the Center for Diversity and Inclusion and the Diversity Affairs Council are both good steps toward progress. However, these steps do not excuse SPB from holding themselves fully accountable for their actions. In SPB’s recent statement, the executive team said, “we know that some of the artists may have made statements [that] you do not agree with.” However, we will make a few clarifications. The specific artist in question is Lil Dicky, whose “witty lyricism” is not disagreeable, but offensive because it attacks various identities in our community while making a mockery of an art form so integral to the history and representations of African-Americans in this country. The negligence in the selection process has been acknowledged by both SPB and the student body, but their refusal to name Lil Dicky as problematic is disheartening.

In order to help prevent decisions like this in the future, we advise that the Social Programming Board executive team and WILD director disclose the FULL process of selection from beginning to end for WILD artists. This needs to be done for two reasons. First, this gives us the context to hold specific members in this team accountable and to know what positions are critical in selection so that we can increase our input in this system. Second, we believe it is necessary to encourage the selection team to become more transparent with their results and criteria for artists. Transparency is important because it is currently unclear how survey results are translated into a visiting artist following submission, and this gap in understanding prevents us from fully accepting a winning artist as our democratic, or partially democratic, choice, which hurts the credibility of WILD. If there exists some limitation on full transparency, we ask that those limitations, whether legal or constitutional, be disclosed. Additionally, we believe that SPB Executive Officers should be elected democratically in the same manner that Senate, Treasury and nearly all SU officers are. This is important because it increases accountability to the student body and will provide more opportunities for students of color and students from other marginalized identities to gain a voice on the board.

We end by asking the rest of the student body to join us in not only expressing our discontentment in this decision by SPB but to actively fight against all instances of injustice and racism perpetuated on our campus and in our greater community. We ask that you be mindful of the effects of your actions on the marginalized of our community, especially on your black friends and classmates. This artist was brought to campus in large part because of a survey of several thousand of our peers and classmates. When taking this survey, some chose this artist, despite the impact that this would have on the black community. In the future, every student of every background must work harder to consider the needs of their marginalized peers. The only way we can prevent future instances of marginalization is to come together and work against future injustices.

 Signed: 

Juan Williams, class of 2019, SU Senator

Reuben Hogan, class of 2018, president of the Association of Black Students

Tahj Alli-Balogun, class of 2019, president of African Students Association

Symone Palmer, class of 2018, president of National Black MBA Association, undergraduate chapter

Chazz Powell, class of 2020, executive board member of Q.U.E.E.N.S.

Solome Haile, class of 2018, president of Harambee Christian Ministries

Carmen Toomer, class of 2019, president of Minority Association of Pre-Medical Students

Haley Nichols, class of 2018, president of National Society of Black Engineers

Ayeesha Sayyad, class of 2018, president of Black Senior Alliance

Jasmine Brown, class of 2018, president of Minority Association of Rising Scientists

Derrick Ogola, class of 2019, co-president of College 100 of 100 Black Men

Olivia Williams, class of 2020, SU Senator

Clayton Covington, class of 2019, Resident Adviser

Kirk Brown, class of 2020

Signed in Allyship:

Joey Vettiankal, class of 2019, SU Senator

Brian Adler, class of 2019, SU Senator

Danny Weiner, class of 2018, SU Senator

Zoe Liu, class of 2019, SU Senator

Rory Mather, class of 2019, SU Senator

 

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