GUC: Solidarity requires knowledge of history
Opinions Column: Macro to Micro
About 213 years ago, on this day, New Jersey became the last Northern state to officially abolish slavery. An important, if not overdue, step in a long path that, even today, we have miles more to walk through. It was also the first Northern state to apologize for the role it played in perpetuating slavery. Yet, more than 200 years have passed and we still have not managed to eradicate the racism rooted so deeply in, not only our system but also our national psyche. But I can go on about what is mandated by this government and its people, but I will not. What I would like to discuss, rather, is what is being done within our individual spheres of influence. All progress starts by our own doorsteps — through our own local communities.
Though Black History Month should not be the only time of the year such thoughts circle my mind or any others, it is a highlighted month for all of us to engage in some reflection about what we have done to avoid being complicit in the racism that plagues our society. A fact most may be ignorant to — inaction is a form of complicity and as such, conscious recognition of the systems of racism that we participate in willingly or unwillingly is necessary. Many may pose the question: “What can be done?” Aside from consistent attendance at rallies or protests, there are people who do not know much about alternative ways of engagement. I do not exclude myself from such a group. Yet, from my experiences, I have learned that an important aspect of solidarity is sometimes merely listening to the voices of those who live with the realities of oppression that we find easy to only yell against on the streets. However, listening to others can manifest itself in various ways. One important approach is educating yourself rather than waiting for another to initiate the process. There are plenty of resources available for those who are earnest in their intentions. And we do not need to search far for them. For example, the African American Heritage Committee (AAHC) which is based in New Brunswick, is hosting an event on Feb. 21 at the New Brunswick Public Library about slavery in New Jersey featuring an array of relevant speakers. If the walk to the city library is an obstacle, one need not even mention the plethora of educational events that are accessible here on campus. Programs taking place throughout February such as the HAIRitage Conference, Access Week and the lecture series hosted as part of Black History Month are all events students should be taking advantage of. The Paul Robeson Cultural Center (PRCC) is a space and resource that all allies should be supporting. With such an enormous student population, empty seats at any of these events should be non-existent.
It should go without saying that any action and knowledge that is taken from the resources offered by the black community must also be acknowledged. Rutgers University itself has taken significant strides in acknowledging its role in the history of slavery and making that knowledge public. The recent renaming of the apartments at The Yard after Sojourner Truth, Kilmer Library after James Dickson Carr, and the walkway at Old Queens as Will’s Way, are all small but noteworthy decisions. The impact it will have in setting the tone of the campus through even physical presence cannot be understated. These changes were all initiated by the Committee on Enslaved and Disenfranchised Populations in Rutgers History. Although this is all great, what is not highlighted was that the creation of the committee was in turn initiated by the efforts of black students. It is true that Rutgers listened to them, but with listening, should come genuine acknowledgment not erasure. Hopefully, Rutgers continues to acknowledge its part in the oppression of minorities throughout history, while not using the labor of current ones as a step ladder and continues to strive in making amends through not only names, but also initiatives that serve those existing communities today.
As I write each word of this column, I internally direct each word to myself as well. Those who want to express solidarity and individuals in positions of administrative power that seek to support the black community must listen to their oft-muted voices first and foremost. And through such listening and education, consistent acknowledgment and action are mandated.
Aysenur Guc is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in philosophy. Her column, "Macro to Micro," runs on alternate Wednesdays.
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