a student-run publication that seeks to provide space for voices that are not being heard on our campus. we are grounded by politics that are radical, anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-classist, anti-homophobic, anti-ableist, and anti-transphobic (against all forms of oppression) and that reject the structural neo-liberal paradigm that characterizes middlebury college and its official publications
by Inconspicuous White Girl
CW: Racism, ableism, violence
I have, for the most part, declined to publicly chime in on the dialogue around Middlebury students’ protests of Charles Murray’s lecture/the complicity of our administration in validating and amplifying white supremacy, because I have enormous trust in the people who organized and/or participated in the protests and have by and large enthusiastically agreed with everything they have said. In the wake of disciplinary threats from the administration in response to the protests, however, it seems like many of the organizers and protesters have either been forced or have chosen to condemn any form of violence as an instrument of protest. I completely understand why they have taken this position and do not blame them in the least—I am infuriated with the administration, of course (for a lot of reasons), but I would never expect anyone to defend a violent protest if doing so might result in the administrative punishment with which protesters are being threatened. However, I think it’s critical that we nuance this condemnation of violent protest, especially when many of the voices of protestors who might ordinarily assume this position are being silenced by administrative threats.
Let’s not obscure the very real violence that is and that has been fortified by Charles Murray’s work. Like anyone who subscribes to ideological systems predicated on racism, sexism, classism, and value judgments of people on the basis of their intelligence as measured by those who hold unjust power (which is ableist), Murray, with his words alone, attacks, silences, and attempts to dehumanize the subjects of his work. And as if that were not enough—which it is, and then some— Murray’s contributions surpass those of many of his peers, as his work has actively contributed to the expansion of violently oppressive systems by intellectually legitimizing, providing justification for, and making tangible efforts to augment injustice. (I do not aim here to engage in the argument of whether Murray’s work, and oppressive rhetoric in general, has the power to enact violence. Other folks have written comprehensive and compelling accounts of this violence—I refer skeptics to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s biography of Charles Murray, and to Maya Doig-Acuña’s essay entitled “Who Matters at Middlebury? Or, F*ck Charles Murray”).
Which brings us to the question of violent resistance. With Charles Murray’s hands around your throat, should you really be expected to reason your way out of his grip? I know, I know—Murray isn’t literally choking anyone. He and his cronies leave that to agents of the state like officers Hugh Barry, who murdered Deborah Danner, and Brian Encinia, who murdered Sandra Bland; state-sanctioned eugenics programs like the ones in Vermont (1925-1936), North Carolina (1933-1977), and California (as recently as 2010) that have and continue to forcibly sterilize people on the basis of race, disability, and sexual behavior, among other criteria; politicians working hard to obliterate the ACA … but Murray, his peers, and the Allison Stanger in all of us, who empower violent systems of oppression to survive and flourish, must be held accountable for what they (we) enable and embolden these people to do. And it’s extremely difficult to debate your way out of a chokehold when the hand on your throat has worked for centuries to render your voice inaudible should you try to speak, and that any narrative you manage to put forth will be denied, gaslit, and misconstrued into oblivion.
In her article published by the New York Times (an article which, unsurprisingly, is a great example of the racialized mischaracterization of resistance by someone who would rather see order than justice), Allison Stanger writes that “All violence is a breakdown of communication.” Good job Allison; with all your misguided hammer-swinging, you actually hit the nail on the head. Any possibility of constructive communication was broken down when the ideologues whose comfort and safety you’ve sworn to protect worked to justify the violent subordination, occupation, and decimation of millions of people in this country not once, but over, and over, and over again with no sign of mercy.
The people, and more specifically, the students of this country (and beyond) have no obligation to peacefully maintain an unjust order which has been coerced upon us, especially those people and students who suffer disproportionately at its hands. Why do we accept violence in the name of this order, but not in the name of justice? Why should Bill Burger govern freely after endangering students’ lives with a moving car in service of ‘order’ or ‘safety,’ while many of Middlebury’s already marginalized students are forced into silence for fear of being expelled because they fought, perhaps violently, for justice? The double standard that loudly condemns any act of violence (and often conflates violence with property damage) on the far left, and willfully ignores the multigenerational systemic and interpersonal violence on the right, center, and frankly, the left, is an instrument to ensure that not only will those who hope to challenge injustice face an extreme imbalance of power, but they will be denied the agency (and punished if they try) to decide for themselves the appropriate way to do it.
I’m not arguing that everyone who is displeased with the current state of things should use violent force to get their (our) way. There are many non-violent strategies already being deployed to confront the injustices of our culture, to varying degrees of success. But while we occupy a playing field where the marginalized speak at a completely different volume from their oppressors, wield vastly imbalanced amounts of interpersonal and state power, and can reasonably expect the other side to choke, shoot, lynch, imprison, assassinate, enslave, assault, sterilize, or deport them at every fucking turn, we have no right to expect peaceable consent/resistance to a fundamentally violent order. If we have to pull some hair in pursuit of collective liberation, then those who serve and strengthen systems of oppression, who hit us with cars and call themselves victims, and who choose order at the expense of justice better buy a damn neck brace.