By Dr. Reid Gómez
On Friday morning I went to our weekly community reflection. During the service Ms. Mele Makalo delivered a beautifully written and emotionally sophisticated account of her actions last semester, as a student of Race, Law, and U.S. Politics. This was the first time I heard anything substantive about this protest—especially regarding the details behind the protest, and the history of events that lead up to her actions, as well as the actions of the other nine students who participated in the direct action alongside her. My discovery of these details was an accident. I had planned to seek Ms. Makalo out and talk to her that day, after I had received several emails asking me to formally respond to the Staff Editorial that appeared in the Second Week Index.
I had already decided to approach the Index Editor with my primary concern: that we have had a sustained and informed conversation and a means of following through—so we can move past the place in the process where people cling to discomfort, fear, confusion and accusation. I don’t see that place existing in the Index—and my first call out to the K community is to create that space in your individual daily experience, and formally within this term’s Ethnic Studies programs and blog.
After hearing Ms. Makalo I want to focus my comments on the truth expressed in the actions she and her fellow ten took that day (before the final, not during it). “Can’t hear me. Can’t educate me,” – this action speaks at great volume and with analytical clarity. In two very short sentences, these students used their bodies to express what students have been expressing at K College for well over a year. Curriculum is intertwined with racism. (If you want to know what happened at the protest, I recommend asking Ms. Makalo, or one of the participants listed in the photo.)
Silence has many functions—all of which are parts of speech. At the center of their analysis is the fundamental fact that if you cannot hear, see, or comprehend someone you cannot enter into any kind of meaningful exchange with them. As students, faculty and staff at K, we have made an agreement to enter into a relationship with each other. The primary goal of that relationship is learning: this means that we, all of us, are here to learn from and with each other. Not to soak up propaganda from any one—this means we are each required to participate in this relationship through the fundamental and monumental act of seeing, hearing and trying to comprehend each other. We won’t get anywhere if we don’t start here.
Ten students stood in the classroom with their mouths taped, other students came in support—clearly this was not an action for or by “just one.” Don’t dismiss or belittle these students, their analysis or their strength. Seeing these students starts there—we all are accountable for making meaning of those actions. We are accountable to ask ourselves first, and when we have exhausted our internal skills and knowledge base, to humbly go before another and ask for help. More than courage, this takes the audacity required of admitting you don’t know, you don’t understand, and the willingness to see, hear, and comprehend that mystery.