beyond the green: collective of middlebury voices

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

Reminder: Slavery Will Never Be a Joke

 

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Today in racist jokes that professors casually include in their lectures….

We welcome GEOL142 (The Ocean Floor) to join the group!!!!!

In a slide entitled “Humor For Today,” Professor Pat Manley included a cartoon image of what appears to be an open ship that is planted adjacent to a list of basic classroom reminders. Under the image of the ship, which is filled with people in the bottom deck and multiple oars on either side, the caption reads “The better-equipped slave ships, of course, always carried a spare.”

 

We want to call attention to the insensitive manner and racist connotation that this image and caption carry. The caption is arguably intended to evoke laughter from the viewer/reader because of how the helpless human, tied together with an extra oar, is comparable to an extra tire on a car. However, this “joke” glosses over the traumatic history of slavery –  particularly within a US context – and its legacy which continues to affect African-American communities today. By including this image as an allegedly lighthearted way to incorporate humor into a lecture, it assumes that students in the room are not associated in any way to the given material, nor that they could be carrying any sort of trauma with them that may be prompted by such a comic. While some may feel that this joke is not particularly racist because of the visible whiteness of the characters and therefore unrelated to US slavery, the whiteness of the characters does not negate the American context (aka American classroom, college) in which this image was shown. Language can and does inflict symbolic violence. If we are really an institution that wants to uphold the values of diversity and inclusion, let’s not let “jokes” like this go unquestioned, but rather empower students (especially underrepresented students) to speak up and bring light to such situations – and hold professors accountable!

Racist moments like this are not unique in Middlebury classrooms. In departments like Geology and Chemistry, frequently viewed as being “objective” and “unbiased,” there is not an expectation for faculty and students to participate in conversations surrounding identity markers like race, gender, class, ability, etc. However, we want to emphasize that one’s identity can never be separated from facets of everyday life, including academia and education. Alongside Professor Jeff Byer’s recent anti-semitic question and previous jokes about the KKK, it is extremely disconcerting that another “joke” of similarly racist nature is coming out of BiHall again.

We are disheartened and disgusted by these repeated violations of community trust in favor of what seems to be petty humor – which, btw, isn’t even funny. We decry faculty who engage so easily and lightheartedly in such rhetoric. Furthermore this institution is complicit in allowing such rhetoric to continue unchecked. Professor Manley’s inclusion of this racist “joke” demonstrates that Professor Jeff Byers going on leave is not a sufficient answer to the racist, anti-semitic, misogynistic, etc. discourse that has been allowed to thrive on this campus (and, in this specific case, within our STEM departments). As students of Middlebury, we assert that it is our right to hold our professors to high standards that are in accordance with values of diversity and inclusion, and we expect faculty to meet these expectations.

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This entry was posted on April 16, 2019 by in Uncategorized.
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