Illini Republicans attempt to crash book club
March 13, 2017
Racial tensions sparked between two organizations on campus — Black Students for Revolution and the Illini Republicans — show that the protection of spaces for people of color are yet again being disrupted by so-called political organizations.
The Illini Republicans took issue with The Assata Shakur Reading Group — the Black Students for Revolutions’s biweekly book club for people of color that focuses on radical, black activism — citing segregation and a glorifying terrorist.
However, the Illini Republicans never meant to make a political stand or make change, but rather sought to taunt and disrupt a space where their opinions were never invited in the first place.
The Illini Republicans originally took to Facebook, creating an event opposing the reading group and saying Black Students for Revolution had created “a racially exclusive fan club for convicted cop-killer and domestic terrorist Assata Shakur.”
The Illini Republicans have taken such a stand against Assata Shakur that Jack Johnson, freshman and Illini Republicans secretary, compared Shakur to Osama Bin Laden saying, “I don’t think I would ever start a club in the name of a terrorist, per say — like ‘the Osama Bin Laden Reading Club.’”
Though naming a group after an individual on the FBI’s Most Wanted list is certainly bold, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the group aligns themselves with everything Shakur has done or said.
Additionally, the Illini Republicans comparing Shakur to Osama Bin Laden shows they never intended to understand the Black Students for Revolution’s reasons for naming the group after Shakur since they made extreme comparisons without having considered the other side of the story.
On March 2, the Illini Republicans’s Facebook page created an event entitled the “Joanne Chesimard Fan Club Visit,” in which the group planned to disrupt the reading group, deliberately using Shakur’s legal name.
University senior and Illini Republicans Vice President Timothy Kilcullen said that the organization wanted, “to highlight the Black Students for Revolution as a racist group who has prejudice against white people.”
Clearly the Illini Republicans had no intention of actually learning or making a stand, but wanted to oppose spaces that are for people of color. Additionally, since the Black Students for Revolution is not an RSO, they are free to include whoever they please.
Despite the criticism, Black Students for Revolution went forth with their event on Sunday, appointing white allies as security guards in front of the IMC Theatre and having IMC’s director turn away “unauthorized individuals.”
The Illini Republicans said the reading group was discriminating against white people because they were turned away, and because Black Students for Revolution advertised the event as being “specifically for black folk and people of color.”
After being denied entry along with Johnson and Illini Republicans President Jonathan Heideman, Kilcullen said: “They’re violating the Civil Rights Act. They’re segregating.”
However, the fact that the Illini Republicans was so opposed to the Black Students for Revolution’s choice to refuse entry to white people is hypocritical considering that Republicans often defend the right to refuse entry to a number of marginalized individuals such as the LGBT+ community.
Black Students for Revolution always welcomes people of color and has many white allies participating in their events. But this specific event was meant to be a space for people of color to speak freely.
Black Students for Revolution organizer and graduate student Sunny Ture said: “Black people and people of color need spaces to discuss things without white presence. It’s not an act of segregation, it’s an act of survival.”
The Illini Republicans clearly did not understand. Kilcullen said: “We had questions, we weren’t just here to harass people.”
But if The Assata Shakur Reading Group is about reading literature related to black culture, why were the Illini Republicans so determined to ask questions and speak out? The purpose of the group is to act as a space for people of color to heal together, away from individuals who might scrutinize said culture.
Though the Illini Republicans kept vocalizing their dissatisfaction with not being allowed into the club to learn, listen or engage in meaningful discussion, they never really wanted to make peace with The Assata Shakur Reading Group.
The aforementioned questions the Illini Republicans had for the reading group were not only argumentative and accusatory, but they referred to Shakur by her legal name, Joanne Chesimard.
Two out of the six questions the Illini Republicans brought to the book club were, “Werner Foerster left behind a wife and two children. If one of those children were here today, what would you tell them?” and “Chesimard claims that she was shot in the gunfight with Foerster and Harper and was ‘left there to die.’ How does this match up with the fact that she was actually found four miles down the road from where the murder occurred?”
The Assata Shakur Reading Group was reading passages from Malcolm X’s autobiography, which they mentioned in their advertisement, and relating it to their own lives — not discussing the intricacies of Shakur’s legal history.
Additionally, I wonder if the Illini Republicans are just as outraged about black and brown people being murdered by law enforcement as they are about Foerster’s death.
The Illini Republicans’s attempt to crash the reading group was never about learning or listening, it was about inserting their opinions that nobody asked for, asserting their dominance in a space that was not theirs to begin with and instilling shame, confusion and anger in the hearts of black youth.
“I think they [the Illini Republicans] just saw an affirmation of blackness that was so proud and intellectual, that white racists, Republicans and conservatives have always been resistant toward and have tried to hinder black people coming together and communally learning,” Ture said.
Tatiana is a freshman in Media.