Political Chalking Helps No One

So since the recent worker rally
that was epically successful—at least in terms of turnout—there has been a lot
of chalking done on Pomona College’s campus. I trace it back to the rally
because I remember seeing the northern door of Frary Dining Hall covered with
the phrase “Black and Brown Power!” which I think was especially relevant
considering the politics of the dining hall unionization fiasco that now has taken the form, perverted or otherwise, of the suspicious documentation checks
and firings of Dec. 1. But at the same time (and I don’t think these were
related) the phrases “F—k Whitey” and sentiments of that nature were also
chalked. I wrote an article about them, and things have gotten worse.

After that article ran, I saw
“Whites Suck” chalked just across College Way from Tranquada Parking lot, on
the sidewalk beside Walker dorm. I immediately thought to myself, “This is
either some white kid or some student just trying to parodically respond to the
original racial chalkings.” Because, really, what kind of person who really is outraged
at white supremacy is going to 1) use the archaic term “whites” and 2) render
that historic outrage in chalk through the word “suck.” I’ll leave that to you
to decide. So now the quality of the chalking has changed from sincere rage
that violated the community in some ways to ironic levity that doesn’t really
help anyone. And that’s where things get interesting.

we are to write the roofies reference chalked onto the ground at Bixby Plaza
off as “just because people got too sloppy at ‘Beverage Scavenger Hunt,'” we
still have to acknowledge the “No Capitalism Without Racism” that was chalked
just south of the Frary fountain, “White Devils” chalked on the Frary steps and my all time favorite failure, “Queer, Yes! Anti-racist, No!” chalked just
outside the Queer Resource Center (QRC). This is not
how activism is done and here’s a few reasons why.

The chalking
vandalism is done on our architecture, which grants it a certain permanence. If
you want to make a statement that will endure for some time (though still not permanent) try Walker Wall. That’s where things have some shelf life. The materials of much of Pomona’s
campus are rough and porous (concrete, cement, stucco) so you can’t just wipe markings away, they need to be vigorously washed. Now, if in the case that there is a big
rally on campus (as there was) and most people are going to understand your
reference, then it is probably sensible to make some public statement, but
mostly with the understanding that this will be something our community has to
encounter pretty routinely. “Black and Brown Power!” sure. “F—k Whitey,” not so

need to be held accountable for their actions. If you do not state who you are
in your inscriptions, how will we know to engage with you? How do we make sure
that we don’t confuse “Black and
Brown Power!” with “F—k Whitey,” or, even worse, confuse the solidarity behind
“Black and Brown Power!” with the clear irony of “Whites Suck” and “White
Devils?” Note: these parodic statements coming after all the other chalkings
not only make it difficult to discern who meant what, but also work to
undermine the politics of coalition-building and solidarity, so if you need to
make fun of anti-racism, please do it on your Facebook wall, not our
institutional ones. And though the issue of responsible activism may not be
what these “Whites Suck” trolls are interested in, it needs to be for those who chalk “Queer, Yes! Anti-racist,
No!” outside of a Queer Resource Center that employs programs specifically for queer people of color.

This is the act that scandalizes me most. Activists in contention with
activists is nothing new, but there is a certain way to go about institutional
criticism that leads to reform and ways to go about it that lead to antagonism.
Maybe the QRC aggressed first. I am not sure what the QRC has done to be an
agent of racism, and I don’t think at all that they are incapable of screwing
up radically, but I do not support
those words chalked on that space. What concerns me more is what it means that
some people felt so enraged by the actions of the QRC and that I do not know
what happened or how I should feel. There is not a problem with the QRC being
called out for its investments in racism; there is a problem with vandalism and
its inability to communicate the problem. What position are you put in if you
are a queer student of color who doesn’t work there? I’m not saying that I need
to be protected from compromising positions, but I would really like it if I
were aware of the conditions of my compromise. Chalking is not the way.

Furthermore, the
night that I noticed the markings outside the QRC was the night of the center’s
“Queer Youth Prom,” which allowed queer students from the surrounding areas to
enjoy themselves in a safe space that accepts and celebrates them when they
may otherwise be refused. Many of these students were students of color. Now,
never mind my membership in the Claremont student community, I can deal with
the awkwardness of that chalking myself (as I am now); let us consider those
students who came to this space because they wanted to feel safe, saw those
words and did not understand the context. That is bad activism, plain and
simple. This goes for everything else that has been written without context (“No
Capitalism Without Racism”), without attribution and without consciousness. It
doesn’t heal our communities, it doesn’t make us realize our wrong, it doesn’t
point us in the right direction. There are better ways to speak to and enable us—like the school newspaper.

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