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Soul Food Implications

Desiape's picture

Recently my university’s dinning center decided to change the name of the ‘Black History Month’ dinner to ‘Soul Food’ dinner. Upon the unveiling of this change the editor-in-chief of the university’s paper contacted the Black Students League (BSL) for a response to the name change. As a co-head, myself, along with the rest of the executive board, were unsure how to address this situation.

Before I can continue with the importance of this event, I must supply a bit of background information: The editor-in-chief had connected BSL before. She had recently asked the BSL for comments on our ‘Black Out’ demonstration. We responded to her request with a small factual, detail oriented statement that we felt best described our purpose for the event and commented on the responses we had received from the campus. In the published addition of the article, our statement had been skewed, weakening our intent and painting us, in what we felt to be, a negative light. While the editor-in-chief and the article claimed to be objective, it used strategic placement of the college’s president’s statement (“I must also say that I am not comfortable with a forum that affirms anonymous voices that make disparaging categorical statements”) to undermine the integrity of our purpose. (Though at a forum after this article was written the president shared a message that contradicted this statement, commending the BSL for ‘being able to take something that would lead to arguments in other schools, but here it has fostered conversation” or something along those lines.) The article called specific attention to the ‘fuck white people’ comment, making it central to its propaganda like argument, classifying is as vicious and hateful, while seemingly completely ignoring the posts that called PoC undeserving of attending Haverford, implying that PoC are just complaining. Juxtaposing this to the paper’s coverage of Bryn Mawr’s Confederate Flag incident, which they wrote an article about the need to protect free speech despite how offensive the speech is, it was interesting to see how context changes their response to the stimuli. The article concludes by stating “That is not how our community best engages in meaningful dialogue. The BSL Blackout offers us an opportunity to reflect on how we communicate with each other as well,” disregarding the fact that the purpose of the BSL Blackout was to offer an opportunity to reflect on how race is a problem at this institution. The article was problematic because it frames the discourse as almost petty or frivolous. We felt we were depicted as feisty/ outraged/ activist firebrands, exotifying our purpose and struggle.

With this in mind, we were hesitant on giving the editor-in-chief another statement in case it would be twisted to serve what felt like a hidden agenda. If we did not respond, the editor-in-chief was sure to tell us that she would be forced to write that BSL declined to comment. We said we would be willing to co-write an article, but she, what seemed to me as passive aggressively, told us that she would be the one to write a ‘factual piece’ first and we could write an op-ed piece after the fact. Her passive aggressiveness continued as she wrote “I figured that it would be courteous/journalistically thorough to reach out to BSL members. However, I am going to publish this article whether or not I get those voices.”

As a co-head, I felt stuck. We couldn’t say anything and we couldn’t not say anything for fear of falling into the militant activist role that those who were unfamiliar with our group think we have. I felt like we were at an impasse. This was more than passive aggressive, it was microaggressive. As we deliberate on how to proceed, I find myself questioning the validity of my feelings. Maybe the writer is simply trying to makes sure her article is thorough and asking BSL’s opinion because, as the Black affinity group, we might have a comment or two about it? It is the implications and the hidden meanings I find myself struggling with.

Personally I feel like the change in the naming of the dinner makes sense since the dining center is technically serving soul food, but I do not feel like being a representation of the campus’ entire black community in my opinions, nor do I want to be made another spectacle of. The thing is, after many instances where race has been a defining factor of my interactions, I am slightly tired of extending the benefit of the doubt. It feels as if we are supposed give an outraged reaction and pout and protest and feed into a skewed view of our race and our club and at times I can deal with it, but right now it feels stifling and I don’t have time to spare struggling with it as I have often been force to do.