Posted October 12, 2016 by Cooper Point Journal in News
 
 

Complete Interview with Lawrence Walker III and AR Rushet



Questions by Tari Gunstone

CPJ: Was your protest at convocation planned in advance?

Lawrence Walker III & AR Rushet: Other students were planning a disruption, they wanted student groups be a part of it and hold up signs and take up space in front. (it didn’t end up happening, but they did stand outside CRC)

LW: My partner was at convocation and started texting me that George bridges was saying something about how racism is just people being offended.

AR: George Bridges talks in a very Clinton-esque liberal way, saying things like, “we care about you so much” but doesn’t show up for you. There’s lots of verbalized reassurance but he doesn’t follow through with action.

LW: So I call AR and say, “George is being problematic as fuck again, let’s go rip shit up.” The convocation is a way for the school to sweep under the rug the truth of it’s racism, transphobia, disablist thoughts for the new students coming here. Within that, we felt compelled to speak up. We were angry and carrying so much steam behind us on top of that. Grabbed a sign and thought of what to say, Ar thought of “Evergreen cashed its diversity check but doesn’t care about black students”

What led you to write “Evergreen cashes diversity checks but doesn’t care about blacks”? Can you speak to that feeling that your role here as a student is to fill a diversity box?

AR: It’s as simple as going on the website, right? Right away, you can at least find a handful of pictures of people of color, that’s the selling point for diversity: black students, brown students, diversity!

LW: But those students are treated on campus like trophies who are super disposable.

Has there been a time at Evergreen where you felt like a faculty member really had your back when you were not being treated equitably based on your skin color?

AR: In general, we have felt so fundamentally unsupported. A lot of the people of color faculty here I have real disagreements with but that could be more of a difference in political philosophies. I still want to acknowledge the work they do as faculty at evergreen amidst the predominantly white faculty here, I imagine it can’t be easy for them to navigate that space and that they’ve had to work so hard to get where they are as POC, you have to work 10 times harder and be 20 times smarter in order to gain credibility. There comes a point, too, where those sort of politics become damaging because they don’t allow those people to be human – you always have to be on your game, the strong black person that crushes through white supremacy all the time.

LW: POC faculty have maybe done their best to be supportive but also difference of politics and not understanding trans and non able normative persons. There have been a couple white faculty who have been great with support.  

AR: But often white faculty and students dehumanize and erase the struggles, don’t recognize the nuance of where black students have come from. It’s sort of like when people of color are homophobic and transphobic it’s because they are “ignorant and terrible” people and when white people are transphobic they become humanized.

LW: Yeah, it’s like we have to always be decolonizing, questioning if that queerphobia and transphobia in black folks comes from white people.

Have you taken any of George Bridges statements about his goal to reduce inequity on the campus seriously? How did you feel about his apology letter regarding his choices at the protest?

(He also sent Lawrence and Ar a personal email but they told me it was basically the same thing as the group email, just a few changed sentences) Could he do anything to change your mind about him and take his proposed goals to deal with racial inequity seriously?

LW & AR: If he takes strong action. Don’t tell us about it, do something, then we could change our mind about him. He and the administration need to be transparent about their actions. We had a meeting with him and he expressed how he has done a lot of things already (but it felt pretty vague). He couldn’t wrap his head around how the students didn’t feel protected. He focuses on policy and they’ve gotten a little better this year. At the end, he promised to be more transparent about what the college was doing. It didn’t feel like there was a deep promise other than that. One thing he has done that has been positive is the queer and trans center, but also, it was a work in progress before he came along.

What has been your experience with the bias incident response team? What changes would you suggest making for it to be more effective?

LW & AR: Feels like it’s a joke that is purely symbolic. There’s no follow-through, especially with anti-black actions that happens on campus. It exists to appease the negro so they can shut up and be happy. The system of justice at our school is very weak and almost non-meaningful. There’s these two white becky’s you are supposed to report to. They try to sell it as a restorative justice thing, but from the perspective of most students is that it’s complete and utter bullshit because the urgency isn’t there and action isn’t done.

What key change would you suggest for it to work better?

LW: Center it around the most underrepresented, don’t dehumanize those people or leave those people on the back burner waiting to have justice done for them.

AR: Don’t seem neutral, evergreen seems to really like this idea of neutrality which I would call complicity. And they should definitely keep records of each of the incidents, that’s the whole point.

When the white lives matter signs went up last year, Wendy Endress, Vice President for Student affairs and Chair of the Bias Incident Response Team stated, “while the implied message can be interpreted as biased against the #blacklivesmatter campaign and not necessarily black people (at least not explicit in what is written) it is nuanced and requires some assumptions about intent.”

AR: That’s the exact bullshit neutrality we’re talking about.

LW: Last year, Trans folks chalked “Fuck TERF’s (trans exclusionary radical feminists) around campus and they were removed immediately because the message was seen as a biased incident. Biased Incident Report Team responded “we understand what TERF means but it could be seen as hateful to cis women,” so basically said that other students feelings were more important. I know a lot of trans folks who were deeply disturbed by that response.

What seems to be the education priorities at Evergreen and how do those disclude black, trans, queer, disabled, etc. persons? Evergreen has a reputation of being liberal and progressive which connotes ideas of open minded ideologies that can provide a foundation for radicalism. Do you think that reputation is true?

AR: I would disagree with the framing of evergreen as liberal and progressive. So many people use the terms liberal and progressive as a placeholder for radicalness or equality, but those are very different things. You can be liberal and not be radical, you can be progressive but not be radical per-se. I always laugh when liberal folks try to define themselves as radical by doing passive things like “not using the n word.” I think, ‘great job, that’s the bare minimum of what you could be doing right now.’ I would argue that Evergreen is actually a liberal-conservative or progressive-conservative institution. It’s often the things it claims to hate.

There’s a lot of snark from liberals toward conservatives. They brag about their own politics when they are actually very similar when it comes to action. I appreciate ignorant, bigoted conservatism more sometimes because it is actually straight up honest about the things that it is and doesn’t try to trick you into believing it’s something it isn’t.

It’s important for us to challenge what’s being said when the words liberal and progressive are freely thrown around. We should ask if those people are caring for the most vulnerable, trans folk, trans folks of color, queer folks, queer folks of color, disable folks, disabled folks of color, etc., etc. What are they doing to care for these communities?

Environmentalism seems to be a big priority here. The school read and guest speaker focused primarily on climate change. I mean, I’m one of those people that came here to study environmental studies!

AR: I find environmentalism at evergreen to be a joke, it’s so white-washed. They’re always saying, “We all have the same carbon-footprint,” or “If we all just go vegan that will help everything.” I’ve also heard, “eating meat is the same thing as slavery.” There is a lack of recognition of race and class. It focuses on aspects of sustainability that are elite like tiny houses, even though people of color relied on “tiny houses” for survival. That made us not feel as bad about interrupting the speaker.

LW: Even when we study queer folks it comes from a hella white perspective! We should always start from people of color and the most marginalized communities first, and then work backwards from there.

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At the end of the protest, I overheard a student say something along the lines of, “now all the white students are going to come up and give their thanks to the blank students.” There was also the moment where a student felt called to get on their knees for you. Do you feel like you are isolated in this way by other students, especially at a primarily white school with primarily white city demographic? Where you have been put in a position of “liberating” white students from their racist ideologies? Have you experienced any other performative forms of social justice from white students like that?

LW: Faux-radicalism is seen a lot at Evergreen. It’s definitely weird to be thanked by white students. I didn’t know what to tell them besides, “go read a book about it, educate yourselves.”

AR: Amongst the very few radical black students at campus it can be very tough, I’ve gotten people who will come up to me and say thank you. Don’t expect us to be there to hold your hand along the journey to understanding you racism or your privilege. White students also put the black students in Mammy Archetype, where we need to comfort them. Just because I’m saying something you are doing is racist doesn’t mean I’m calling you a racist. But they often can’t deal with their own feelings we have to cater to them.

It’s clear that many white people wanting to be an ally have a difficult time understanding how to go about doing that. What kind of actions can white students here at Evergreen make that feel like actual helpful and effective forms of solidarity?

LW: They should start by knowing their history. Take action, don’t be passive about it. Do something that shows you are in solidarity with black folks, don’t say it, but do it.

AR: I’ve gotten to this point where if white people aren’t willing to put themselves at risk to break down white supremacy, I sort of don’t want to hear from you.. It shouldn’t just be black people’s job to engage in this because we are not the ones who made this system.

LW: Acknowledging their history and being active in deconstructing their whiteness and how it’s a big drainer on poc. Acknowledging that their feelings are always going to be put over black or brown people’s feelings and how they privilege from that. Deconstruct how they benefit from racism. Always be aware of what they bring to the space so that they can lessen the pain of the oppression that exists.

AR: I’m recognizing the many forms which white fragility comes in. At convocation, we saw a lot of tears and there was quick responses from white students without them really listening to what we said. White folks have a difficult time sitting in their emotions. Handful of self-hating black folks (the black students that said “all lives matter”) were applauded by white students because it confirmed that they didn’t have to deal with their discomfort.

Yeah, I remember a black student who kept talking about us all having a galaxy inside of us.

LW & AR: *laughs* Yeah, someone even quoted the lion king at one point!

Was it really difficult to hear other black students making claims supporting the idea that “all lives matter?” How would you address that belief with them?

AR: First of all, I’d give them a hug, because they need one.

LW: That’s real. I’d encourage them to deconstruct all the self-hatred that exists there. We are all taught to hate ourselves and our blackness, it doesn’t come naturally to put ourselves first.

AR: I think because of the fact that we are taught to cater to white people, It becomes so second nature to comfort white folks when they feel anxious or uncomfortable when confronted with racism.

Black Lives Matter (BLM) was founded by three women and often addresses the intersectionality present in the movement, yet many have experienced the movement as focused primarily on black men. How have you as trans people felt included or not included in the conversation and movement?

AR: I find it ironic that taylor swift came on the radio just now, you can’t get any more white girl than this, haha! It’s complicated, for trans folks and queer folks and non able-normative folks it feels like aspirational blackness. Black folks like to use our labor to show off how diverse we are as a collective movement, but we have often felt pushed out.

LW: Yeah, feeling pushed out, our work devalued, treated like trophies, but not recognizing the labor and support we provide. Black lives matter movement as a whole operates under respectability politics – it’s always careful to not be too offensive. It caters to white gays and makes POC queer and trans people adjust. The Black Lives Matter movement is still learning how to properly provide trans solidarity. It still feels like when black trans folks die there isn’t marches for them and protests to come together to battle transphobia.

How do you cope with that kind of lack of support in black movements/spaces?

AR: I would describe myself as a “by any means necessary negro.” I have to get what I need by carving a way past white folks or any folks that get in my way that support an institution of supremacy. Sometimes I feel comfortable with black nationalist and sometimes I have critiques. Black radical or black revolutionary seems more fitting sometimes, like I’m a black tranny fag gimp.”

LW: We are following in the footsteps of our black, tranny, queer ancestors who operated under that any means necessary way. Taking the reigns in your own hands, no framework, letting it all flow, not catering to white feelings at all.

AR: BLM backs off about the killing cops or having an “any means necessary” approach and encourages the notion that you can be pro-cop and pro-black at the same time. I have fundamental disagreements with that because policing started out as slave patrol. It’s sort of like saying “I’m not anti slave-patrol, I’m anti-slave patrol brutality.” It’s radicalism up to a point, using radical language but the politics aren’t radical.

There is a history of anarchism in black liberationist movements – black people are so much more hesitant to get police or government involved – that to me is as a sign of anarchism, but black folks don’t recognize that. There is a lot of anarchists here in Olympia, but we’re not all white. Specifically in olympia with black liberal conservatism, they erase black anarchists and hop around it and don’t recognize its history. They’re quick to whitewash it and devalue the work black anarchists put in.

LW: AR and I are new to thinking of ourselves at anarchists. We are coming to terms with our history, and our tactics, the realization of how we put our bodies on the line the moment we walk out of our house. Recognizing the roots of anarchism, the slave revolts on plantations and slave rebellions on ships carrying on to what we see manifesting now in ferguson, charlotte, baltimore, and the prison strikes, learning more about what that anarchism means to us.

AR: There is a rich tradition in the history of black liberation movements and even if we don’t call it anarchism, its present there. We feel like we have a very anarchist relationship with each other, too. We are much more hesitant to trust institutions to take care of us, so we sort of take care of each other.

It’s hard for me to work within collective spaces, even, because there’s still a hesitance among groups to fully embrace what needs to be done for liberation. I’ve gotten to this point where I feel that liberation is going to be messy and hella violent. Yes, non-violence has gotten us to a certain point, but also, we are still here living in a neo-colonialist, white supremacist society.

The problems I have with respectability politics is that it teaches you to be complacent and accept things the way there are. “Let’s just accept the fact that white people are racist and we’ll view you as fully human if you act a certain way that is appropriate.” I never want to accept that, I would rather be dead than accept any of that bullshit.

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While it is by no means black students jobs to educate white students on what Black Lives Matter is or how to understand their own white privilege, there was sort of a loose suggestion at convocation for interested students to “google it” for answers. Of course, there is a ton of information out there that google can conjure up for those wanting to educate themselves, but the information contains both valid and destructive sources and narratives. Have there been any sources, or even current leaders you admire that students can search for, that you have found particularly helpful, or do you have a more pointed direction in which white students can look?

At the same time, Walker and Ruschet both exclaimed: “Marsha P Johnson!”

LW: Within my journey of embracing my trans identity and radicalism, I’ve really found inspiration from people in my community. Definitely AR for inspiration for radicalism, protests, and tactics. Learned so much from organizers and activists in Olympia. One of the things I’ve learned about activism it’s not about wanting spotlight on individuals, it’s about wanting to put the spotlight on issues and communities.

AR: I try to speak not only for myself but all black trans queer non-able normative people because we are so underrepresented even in the queer and trans community. Even though trans visibility is getting better it’s only getting better through a white lens (we all remember how big of a deal kaitlyn jenner was) when black trans women like janet mock and laverne cox are overlooked.

The New Jim Crow by Michelle alexander was my first wake up call to think, “oh my god I’m black and I’m fucked!”

LW: Engage in any works of art by people of color, search for black trans folks and read femme folks of color.

LW & AR:

Other reading material would be…

  • Leah Lakshmi
  • Prelude to bruise – poems by Saeed Jones
  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America by Melissa Harris-Perry
  • The Sisters are Alright: Changing the Broken Narrative of Black Women in America by Tamara Winfrey Harris

AR: I think it’s also important to paying attention to what’s going on in media. Janet Mock’s show “So Popular” breaks down pop culture in a very nuanced and wonderful way to help us understand that pop culture is political. Just because you like something doesn’t mean you can’t address how problematic it is. The Disney movies Pocahontas and Princess and the Frog are terrible movies about people of color but I still love them so much. Those are some of the very few movies like that we have that represent POC.

LW: Notice narratives, ask questions – the black person coming from the projects or hood who “makes it” in white culture and becomes respectable is one of the stereotyped narratives given to POC in movies, media, etc.

AR: Those narratives don’t give respect to those communities, but pities them and portrays them as bad. White suburbia is not great either. Doesn’t capture the nuance of living in those communities, media has racialized those communities. The growth of gangs was directly due to the fact that government is unresponsive to the people they serve so it’s a way of protecting each other and their community. Media is thoroughly anti-black, doesn’t like to give us any nuance.

I love this documentary “Prohibition” because it shows how white people started gangs (and gang wars) then, not because their survival was at stake, but their alcohol was. We idolize white people’s illegal activity and demonize black people’s illegal activity.

Look at the dichotomies present and be cognizant. Don’t dismiss the problematic movies, learn from them. Like, Birth of a Nation – boycotting that (actor Nate Parker’s rape allegations) but deconstructing the rape and race culture there.

Is there a place or group or space here at Evergreen or in the Olympia community that you go to (or that other black students can go to) for support?

LW: There’s isn’t really anywhere to go once you get a knowledge base about racism at Evergreen. The only designated space to talk about race and diversity is the unity lounge. First nations was work put in by people of color to make that space. From the administration, that’s the bare minimum, not good enough. And now the trans and queer center will be opening, which is good.

AR: We would love to see first peoples and the trans and queer center not be thought of as two separate things, to us they are the same thing. We are queer and trans, we just happen to be black. We are worried that the new queer and trans center will ignore the race because of the strong influence of white gays and won’t allow the two spaces to merge together.

What about other services on campus? How do they perform for POC?

AR: The campus wellness center is a complete joke, for POC you can’t go to the counseling center because there is not a lot of people of color there as a resource or mentor.

LW: Evergreen is not particularly supportive of student groups of color. Black Focus is a space for black folks. It’s stated mission focuses on intersectionality and recognizing all types of blackness which is much needed here because that wasn’t built into the foundation of Evergreen.

Any spaces in Olympia?

LW: Showing up for Racial Justice (SURJ) in Oly is more so for white people, it’s got more of a calling in than calling out thing. It doesn’t want to be associated with “call-out” culture so it avoids accountability by calling out someone else.

AR: I fundamentally hate the term “call out culture” because it seems like it’s a term that’s readily used against you in Olympia. I’ve heard that term turned around on me a lot as a way to shame me.

Tari: While there is a huge list of things that I’m sure could be done to address racial inequity on campus, what would be ONE change you would love to see happen during the rest of your time here at Evergreen.

AR: I would like there to be a black studies department. Very few amount of classes or programs that pertain to black studies. Saying your program is about race doesn’t mean it’s particularly about black culture, race, black struggle.

LW: Keeping action at the forefront (rather than words and written policy that the administration has given so far).

What is some advice you might provide for new students of color here to help them navigate finding support at Evergreen:

LW: The most essential thing you can do is find a community of friends that get you and help you bring out who you are, find people you dig and encourage you to be yourself.

AR: The reason I’m as radical as I am is because of our friendship and what it enables. When I’m unsure of something Lawrence is the one that says let’s go do it! People always underestimate how beautiful Lawrence is.

LW: Thanks pretty mama. Yeah, we give each other the affirmation and support that we lack elsewhere at Evergreen.

AR: A very multi layered experience is what Lawrence and I share. Yes, we are black, which is what people recognize first, but we are also hella gay and hella trans and that influences our politics, too. Both of us are non-able normative, always anxious, cycles of that where one person is more anxious than the other, so we help each other when the other person needs it. Also when you have non traditionalist left politics, it’s hard to describe, so it’s important to find people who can share that with you when your politics don’t have a specific box to fit in.