“WHITIE GET OUT”, it said in capital letters on a white wall in the middle of the University of Victoria’s campus, in the South West of Canada. The large spray paint letters made some students uncomfortable and some passing on their way to class stopped and tried to cover it up with blankets.
“I feel like it’s saying that certain people are not welcome here, and that is not fair. Education is a right for everyone, regardless of what you believe or what you think,” Xanja Free said. The student continued and told CTV news, “I don’t think these kind of words should be allowed to be on such a huge board for everyone to see. It’s embarrassing for the U-Vic community”.
It had all started the previous day, when a student organisation, had put up a white wall in the middle of their campus. It had said “How do you challenge white supremacy?” Receiving many responses written onto the wall, it fuelled some progressive, interactive and publicly visible discussion around the issue. Dozens of people stopped to respond, and soon it was filled with slogans like, “Don’t build walls, raise the ground,” and “Black Lives Matter.”
The next day however, held a different kind of surprise for by passers, the project had gone to another level stating, “Whitie get out”. It remains unclear whether the slogan was purposefully set up to evoke conversation and discussion or if a member of the student community deliberately misused the platform. The organisation responsible for the initiative reserved themselves the privilege to leave the question unanswered. But issued a public statement saying, “The purpose of this art installation is to be an interactive object that generates discussion about the mostly covert and protected framework of white supremacy in the west”.
While I feel like applauding to any university that addresses these issues, this might be an easy example to showcase how not to do it. To engage in a conversation around liberation issues, on an academic as well as an emotional level we must not fear to interact. The example is more so evidence to the fact that however liberated an idea is, sometimes it takes a pretty face or a popular tune to get people’s attention, sometimes it is not the message but the carrier that gives the people access to associating and standing up for the issue.
No statement, no controversial quote will bring progress without its context. “White get out”, could hint to so many things – the campus property originally being the land of a native American community, a turn-around of usually racist slogans against people of colour, so that white people know how it feels and show more empathy? Or is it simply hateful statement against white people?
I would like to raise the question what would happen to something like that on our campus? How do we best raise awareness for our concerns? How do we engage people so that they really care? And how do we find those people that will support a movement?
And more importantly, how are we addressing the issue of white supremacy at Strathclyde, Glasgow, Scotland, Europe? Could a discriminative statement be better than silence?