Assessing the Silence on ‘Whitey’ Graffiti

No one has seemed to notice that
the phrase “F— Whitey,” and some other related phrases were scrawled in
chalk in a few places on Pomona’s new dorms. The chalk was up for at least four days
since Saturday and perhaps the same person/people is/are re-chalking the phrases,
or the college just hasn’t seemed to notice. I just checked my e-mail and (this
is not to sleight the administration in the least) I have yet to receive an
e-mail detailing these events or any sort of institutional recognition.
Thinking that I was introducing this issue to a friend, I mentioned the signs
and he laughed and told me that he saw them too. He was white. This may or may
not be of significance. This was around four or five days after we both
encountered the phrases. We both laughed at how we didn’t seem to care too much
and he remarked, “Yeah, that’s kind of how whiteness works. You see ‘kill whitey’
and you’re kinda like, ‘Eh,’” turning up his hands and shrugging his shoulders.

He was probably right. Maybe we all
don’t care. Or, perhaps, some of us agree. Comedian Louis CK says on being
white, “This s— is thoroughly good….what
can you say to me to make me feel bad?” and then mentions being called what for
editorial reasons I shall call “the c-word.” He responds jokingly, “Ughhhh…ruined
my day; taking me back to the times when I owned land and people.” The joke is
hilarious and chilling and worst of all, true. 

The apparent banality of the “F— Whitey” sign, its general unremarkability, just brings us to what I think the real
issue is. The sign addressed “whitey,”
not white people. And this is what I think is a crucial distinction: whitey is
an emblem of white supremacy, a system, a discourse, a whole mode of thought
that privileges white people and all things associated with them. Whitey and
white people are not coterminous.

This is not an article to excuse or
explain away what I believe to be an act of unnecessary and useless vandalism,
nor is it to make an apology for what someone on “the anti-racist team” has
done. I don’t think that these scrawlings at all addressed any issue in any
valuable way, but I am compelled to write this because the silence around it in
my experience was utterly remarkable. I’m sure some students have spoken about
it, and I’m not assuming that all Claremont-related racial traffic comes
through me, but there was a certain dearth of arousal from any significant
source. It could be that we all feel the same way about it and that things
should just be left unsaid, but isn’t that how these things (white supremacy in
particular) always work?

For clarification’s sake, if the
words “F— Blackey” were scrawled on the new dorms things would be entirely different
for at least two reasons: 1) “blackey” and “black supremacy” do not exist in
the same relation as “whitey” and “white supremacy” and 2) the statement “F— Blackey” would not be isolated from the cultural experience of people who feel
as though they have actually been “f—ed
over.” If you still think that setting “whitey” as distinct from “white people”
is splitting hairs, imagine my using Louis CK’s rhetoric regarding “the c-word”
with my own racialized epithet. If someone called me the N-word, it may very
well ruin my day. It already has numerous times.

Though, as a black person, I can
only speak from a place of logic and abstraction because I don’t have the
experience of white privilege (insert joke about wishing I did, though). Maybe I’m
wrong, maybe there are some other forces at play keeping the campus from
collectively acknowledging these signs. It is now Wednesday and they’re still
visible. And in my frenzied interviewing of every other white person I saw and
asked, “Have you seen the ‘F— Whitey’ signs? How do you feel about them?” I’ve
routinely received answers like “No, I didn’t see them,” or “Yeah. Whitey’s
f—ed up.” People claim not even to have seen them. It’s really hard to ruin
their day. This is not at all to suggest that white students aren’t affected by
the racial tensions that exist on campus and in the U.S. at large, and this is definitely not a suggestion that
students should continue to deface our campus with things like this. This is just
another opportunity we have to ponder the politics of difference. In closing, I
want to make clear that while these opportunities should be taken up as often
as possible, we never ask for them.   

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