Outcry against editorial unfounded
March 19, 2015
If you’ve been reading the paper (or maybe just your Facebook feed), surely you’ve noted the contentious issues arising out of The Daily Illini’s editorial published on Tuesday concerning racism and its role on the University’s campus.
Before this gets out of hand, let me be crystal clear: I do not work for The Daily Illini’s editorial board. I wrote this column on my own initiative.
The brief editorial featured a picture of the Delta Chi fraternity house here on campus last May with a Confederate flag in the window and went on to mention various instances in which racism seems to exist all over campus, including a separate incident at Delta Chi involving the image of a Native American chief gutting a gopher.
The editorial was immediately received by many people, some in the Greek community, as an assault. Hateful comments began to spread all over The Daily Illini’s Facebook page and independent blog sites alike.
One person said: “The (Confederate) flag represents states’ rights … Pick up a history book and stop being so sensitive.”
Yes, that flag did stand for states’ rights, but not exclusively. It also stood for a country whose core principle was the enslavement of an entire race of humans. You tell me which of those is more impactful.
Many of those who took issue with the editorial also argued for freedom of speech, stating that the flag was protected under the First Amendment. Sure, that’s true. What the flag does not have, however, is immunity to social criticism.
I could get a deeply offensive tattoo on my forehead, and it would be protected under free speech — but that still doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t look like a jackass and that it wouldn’t warrant criticism.
Perhaps the most troubling response to the editorial came from a certain Greek publication on campus, with a title that read: “Why Greeks Can’t Escape Racism.”
In the post, the author suggests the criticism placed on students in the Greek system in the original editorial was a type of scapegoating meant to degrade the nature of Greek culture.
Let us be perfectly clear here: The person who cannot “escape racism” in this situation is not Delta Chi, nor is it our University’s Greek system. The person who cannot “escape racism” is the black student who walks past that flag on her way to class. It’s the kid who was taught in history class the values behind the flag itself — and then actually sees that flag proudly displayed for all to see. It’s the Native American student who walks past someone on the Quad wearing a racist Unofficial shirt.
Is it really that contentious of an issue to say the Confederate flag is deplorable in 2015? No. It’s not.
Any use of the Confederate flag is disgusting, whether it is hanging in a fraternity or in a dorm room, like the one that was supposedly hanging in a Pennsylvania Avenue Residence Hall dorm last year. If someone had sent the picture of the flag in PAR, the reaction would have been the same.
To those members of Delta Chi or any other individuals who chose to hang a vivid reminder of one of America’s most brutal periods in their bedroom window, you could have just come out and taken responsibility and vowed to do better.
But you didn’t.
It took a while for someone to turn in a picture, but they did. No amount of blog posts or Facebook comments can distract from this.
No one is denying that racism is everywhere — the editorial on Tuesday explicitly stated that racist behavior extended “beyond fraternities or isolated groups.” I’m not sure if all those bloggers and commenters just happened to miss that line, but it certainly seems like a convenient thing to leave out when attempting to defend your community’s actions.
Despite any differing opinions that might come from the editorial, what’s undeniably true is the declining cohesion in the racial makeup of the University. Last semester, only 356 African-American freshmen enrolled at the University — falling 144 students shy of the incoming class of African-American freshman in the fall of 1968, when “Project 500” began to take place.
I’m not saying that hanging Confederate flags from a fraternity or a dormitory window is responsible for this increased segregation on campus — it’s not. What I am saying, however, is that defending a racist flag instead of taking responsibility for it certainly isn’t helping.
For those who are responsible for any of the racist acts represented in the editorial, Greek or not, just own up to your mistakes so we can all move on — and then if you have some spare time, maybe read about the connotations that flag holds in a history book, if we’re still throwing that line around. Thanks.
Boswell is a senior in LAS.