A multicultural coalition of students gathered on the campus of Georgia State University last Thursday to rally in support of anti-racism. Organized in reaction to the formation of an unofficial white student union earlier this summer, the rally's range of participants reflected the racial makeup of one of the most diverse colleges in the nation.
The meeting, which lasted over two hours in the Library Plaza, drew close to 100 students before boiling down to a small core of less than 50 by the end. In a loosely organized, Occupy Movement-style conversation, those gathered attempted to flesh out differing opinions and objectives for a cause that ranged from the inner workings of institutional racism to gender bias.
But the main point of contention that emerged was whether or not the actual meeting would give more attention to white student union founder Patrick Sharp than his race pride rhetoric was worth. While some argued that rallying against perceived acts of racism only validated extremist views, others contended that silence would signal acceptance.
The non-sanctioned rally was one instance in which the amount of vocal white participants and organizers ran counter to the documented trend of white student disengagement from student activities on GSU's campus. There was also an equal number of engaged African-Americans, Asians, Middle Easterners, and many students of other races.
By the end of the rally, those in attendance agreed to meet again on Thurs., Sept. 12 at 6 p.m. to formulate an action plan, whether it be organizing marches, engaging in anti-racist performance art, or voicing their concerns to the administration.
The following is a transcript excerpted from the conversation that took place last Thursday. While some students are identified by name, those who were unable to be identified before they left the rally are numbered in order below.
Unidentified student No. 1: We can take on more than just Patrick Sharp, right? [random cheers] Right?! [more cheers] And now I want to ask you something, where does this racism come from? Ignorance? Or is it the structures that we live in? Is it this university?
But how can that be? How can Atlanta be a racist city when there's a black chief of police? When there's a black mayor? Right? Wrong! The racism is only a symptom of a system that is oppressing us and we can attack it all. Look how strong we are! (slow claps) So let's not give up. Let's keep fighting after this, even if Sharp runs away with his tail in between his legs. And let's continue to attack racism in all it's forms - no matter how large, no matter what it looks like - and all forms of oppression until we don't just have free speech, we have freedom! (more applause, chatter)
Random shout from the crowd: Power to the people!
Unidentified student No. 2: Right now there are just so many different colors here. This is diversity right here. And I think all we can do is make sense of each other, which is what we're doing right now. And we just need to live in that space.
Unidentified student No. 3: Hypothetically speaking, if Patrick Sharp walked here right now ... sorry, I don't want to be nice to you. I don't really give a shit what you have to say. I don't really want to be around you, and I don't really know what other people feel about that, but there comes a point - and that point for me is very immediate - where I suddenly don't want to have a conversation with you when you have made it very clear that you are, like, a fascist... .
Like when people use slurs [and say], 'I didn't mean to be homophobic' or 'racist.' If it's offensive, it's offensive. So shut your mouth or suffer the consequences, whatever they may be. I guess the immediate consequence for Patrick Sharp, if he were here, would be, No, get the fuck out. You're not welcome in a circle where people are participating in anti-racist rhetoric. You have no place [here].
Unidentified student No. 4: I think passion should be welcomed here, but hostility shouldn't be. And if Patrick [Sharp] were here, we shouldn't tell him to get the fuck out, we should tell him to get the fuck in. [cheers]
Unidentified student No. 5: We should be able to forgive and we should be able to understand that he can maybe change his mind. I don't think that kicking him out and getting rid of him is ever gonna solve the problem. I think it'll make him go even further away or try to start a more secret group.
3: I guess my point was that those conversations are necessary, but when those conversations dwindle into justifications of racism, they're not productive. A lot of times these conversations slowly turn into an acceptance of racist concepts. That was mainly my point.
Rob Stark: I'm very shy but I'm going to say a lot of strange stuff... . The two things that I think would work fighting any oppression on a college campus is if a bunch of creative people - film students, street artists, and dancers and stuff - [make] art. Specifically, I would like to call the tactic I'm going to suggest SASS and militancy. I'm not suggesting to anyone if you see a racist on campus that you dress in all black and you beat up that racist. I'm not suggesting that. But SASS, that first part I mentioned [stands for] Students Against Supremacy Supremacy. What I mean by that is starting a performance art group on campus [so] that every time something happens - like if there's a [student] on campus using the f-word against gay people, if there's a white student union that forms - do something fuckin' militant, like some street art, like some really expressive dance... .
What if Patrick Sharp was walking to class and there was a big, black guy running behind him naked. [laughs] Performance pieces and street art. I feel like SASS - Students Against Supremacy Supremacy - would be ... very militant. There's already a lot of street art in Atlanta like Living Walls and things like that, so if you see me on campus during the semester and there's something fucked up happening, be like -
Random student shouts: Get naked!
Stark: Yeah, be like, you said you were going to get naked and chase these racists off campus. And I'll probably do it. But that's just one suggestion. Again, I'm not suggesting that if there are racist people on campus, that you dress up and beat them up. All I'm trying to say today is that art is a way to attack that, so SASS!
Students continue to debate whether to react with passion and anger toward Patrick Sharp or compassion and education.
Anna Theodore: Fundamentally, I think anti-racism comes from a unique place. It has to come from a place of healing. I just want to reiterate again that I understand you disagree [addresses student in crowd... ] and I understand that you want to come from a place of education and compassion. That said, if a racist pisses you off, you don't have to be nice to them. I'm just going to say that flat-out. The anger is part of the education. If you are angry, they learn. You know. They have to learn where this all comes from. And it probably comes from a place inside you that has been beaten down by the structures that are meant to imprison you, literally or otherwise. So educate, but if you don't feel like educating, punch 'em in the face.
Zee Dill: Let me just say I'm pissed off that I have to come to Georgia State and pay this amount of money to have my first class about black history. I'm pissed that we have to create these unions to learn about other people's history. I don't want to hear about how I need to learn about you when I spent four years of high school learning about European history and British history and Mesopotamia and everywhere else. [big applause]. I shouldn't have to pay to learn about my own history, or anyone else's that's not Anglo-Saxon. So it's crazy that you want a union when everyone else has to pay to learn about their people. I don't want to hear about your people anymore. I've spent too much time hearing about your people.
Unidentified student No. 6: I just have one question for you guys: Do you guys think that GSU students are mature enough to know whether he's wrong or right?
6: Well then why are we caring? Just ignore him. Imagine if he's walking by here right now. He's just one guy. And [if] he sees all of this group talking about him, he's going to be happy. We're [rallying] for him, we're [rallying] for his ideas. In my opinion, just ignore him. I mean, one guy, and we're like this huge group against him? C'mon, just ignore him. He's happy now. Ignore him and he'll die. He'll stop. I swear to God. Just leave him alone.
I'm an international student, I'm a Muslim, I'm Middle Eastern. I came to this university and you guys accepted me. We know that this university, they accept variety. Just ignore him. If he's sick, he sick. Leave him alone... . I was just walking by. I was going to take the MARTA and suddenly I saw this group; I came in and said "good idea." But I think you guys are working for him. If there's another sick guy, he's gonna know about [Patrick Sharp's] sick organization and he's gonna join him. C'mon. Don't think about him. Ignore him. That's it. Bottom line. Done.
Unidentified student No. 7: Let's move away from talking about whether or not we have the right to live our lives and let's move toward talking about how we can get stronger in this campaign against racism. Let's stop talking about Patrick Sharp and let's start talking about all the systems of oppression we can attack.
Abigail Justman: This right here is a movement. This isn't about Patrick Sharp. This started a long time ago from the beginning of man. We're raised and we are taught this way - about racism, about subjugating people with this horrible abuse of power, whatever it is. The sad thing to me is that when everybody leaves here today, they're gonna forget. They're gonna go home and be like, 'Oh there was this great rally.' That's kind of how it's gonna go. So why not from here out, we start some sort of group or society that is multiracial. The Multiracial Society for Peace, or whatever you wanna call it... .
All this bullshit is going to keep happening unless we organize and we actually do something about it and we stay together. There's gender inequality still, all over the world. It's so sad to me. Don't go home and just forget this. Don't act like it was a dream and forget that it happened. Keep this in your mind and keep it in your heart and move forward with it and maybe we can get something started right now - A group, something, that can keep this momentum moving. Not just for this stupid "white" group, but for America as a whole. That's just what I have to say.
Theodore: [To] suggest that [we] could go home today and forget the things we've discussed is, no offense, something that is specifically attributable to white people. Because when I go home, I do think about racism. When I walk down the street towards the Five Points [MARTA] train station, I am faced with racism. It's not something that I have the convenience to go home and say that was a good rally because this is something that i talk aobut because it holds a special place near and dear to my heart and my brain. And as much as the politics of peace and compassion goes, I don't feel like it gets to the point. I'd don't want to advocate politics of silence; I don't want to ignore [it]. Yeah, some people do want attention, but the fact is those people are ... symptomatic of a larger problem. And as other people have said so eloquently, we do have to own up to the fact that these institutions are inherently destructive against people of color. And so, with that in mind, for people who are thinkihg about going home and perhaps saying 'That was a nice experience. Oh, let's [plan] another one.' I think what you should also consider is that these are realities that persons of color have to live with every single day. It's not just something we can ignore at our convenience.
Unidentified student No. 8: I think as white people we have a big responsibility when we see our fellow white people and we're like, 'Oh, what's the big deal about a white student union?' I think calling each other out and actually fighting racism when we see it, like using our privilege to be like, 'Hey, friend on Facebook, it's not OK to where blackface on Halloween.' Or, 'hey, friend on Facebook, stop making excuses for a white student union.' I feel like in additon to coming together, which is great, we really need to start calling out racism where we see it, as we see it. And using that to educate people in a kinder way. So hopefully it doesn't get to this.
Unidentified student No. 9: The thing to do is ignore this guy. It's not to organize. That just gives him unneeded press.
Unidentified student No. 10: If you ignore them they grow louder.
Unidentified student 11: Say that again!
10: If you ignore them they grow louder!
11: That's right!
Unidentified student No. 12: I read this book one time that said the way to end racism is to quit talking about it. So I don't think we should promote anti-racism, I think we should promote peace and equality. And that's how I feel about it.
Unidentified student No. 13: We've already established that the history of whiteness is white supremacy, under which this young lady [pointing to the black student next to her who previously spoke] has already suffered and so many people have already suffered. The fact that he's starting a white supremacist group is already a racist thing that he has done. So there's already a problem. We don't have to wait for him to do anything racist; it's already occurred. And I think even on the flier there was something that was really annoying - something about majority and minority. And when we're talking about groups of people, the majority is not about numbers, it's about who holds the power. And so when we're talking about in this country who disproportionately holds the power, it is white men. So the white student union is already the world.
Unidentified student No. 14: It seems so far that the debate has been whether to ignore it or not to ignore it. And it seems like the general consensus has been not to ignore it because that would make it metastasize possibly. But what it seems like I'm sensing here is what the fuck are you going to do about it.
We've got a couple of good ideas. This guy is like, have some big naked black dude follow him [Patrick Sharp]. [laughter] And [we] mentioned things like artistic expressions that would illustrate the case against [racism]. But other than that there's a lack of pragmati[sm]. Like, what do we have, 50 people here right now? I feel like we might have trouble articulating exactly what we would do. So if anybody can, comment on exactly what can be done. If this [white student] group is informal and remains that way, how do you shut down a group that doesn't exist? There are practical issues that we haven't addressed. And we can feel self-righteous and morally indignant against it all we want, but if we don't know what the fuck to do, we're just sitting around pissed off. So, I don't have the answers myself, but I'm hoping that we can focus the [conversation] and talk about that a little bit.
Stark: I think that I'm going to be here next Thursday. By next Thursday I want to [be able to] say, 'Hey, I'm Rob Stark, I did a banner drop and the banner said: Fuck all racists on campus. The next Thursday, I want to say, I went on a march with all these people and report back the next Thursday saying, I don't know, I brought a bunch of chalk to school and [wrote], Fuck all racists. This seems to be a theme here. [random laughter] So I'll be here next Thursday if anyone want to meet next Thursday.
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