A day for voices to be heard

Posted on: June 16, 2020 | By: Tom Arcaro | Filed under: Hydra "privileging forces"

A day for voices to be heard

Image created by Tallia Scott, Elon ’06 @werd_assissin

A day of protest
Today, Tuesday, June 16, 2020, is a day of protest at Elon University intended to hear and amplify the voices of the many black students/parents, black faculty/staff, black alumni, and allies of this university. I support and stand with all who join the #BlackatElon virtual protest.

The image on the left, created as a visual representation of this protest, is powerful. The acorn in the center is a long used representation of Elon. ‘Elon’ is the Hebrew word for oak, and this one small seed can grow into a mighty and lasting figure. The yellow flame represents the Elon mascot, the Phoenix which rose from fiery ashes, and the clenched fist is a long used and respected symbol of unity, resolve, and power.

This protest centers on these messages:

Black Voices Matter. Black Experiences Matter and Black Lives Matter.

This protest is part of a part of the current national Black Lives Matter movement, and this movement is just the most current manifestation of the struggle for racial justice in the United States that has been unfolding for many generations.

Here is the voice of one black Elon alumni, a woman I an honored to call a friend, who has gone on to do great humanitarian work around the globe.

Read her words once, then again, and again:

“It has been a hard couple of months and I feel guilty being over here even as I know the work I do makes an impact. Everything is amplified right now. But it was only a matter of time before people began to realize the time for begging people to pay attention and playing a respectability politics game to avoid being seen as ‘divisive’ wasn’t going to be enough. I’m increasingly realizing, through the haze of many tears, that committing to love and rage is more necessary than ever in the face of ignorance and apathy. Committing to trouble the already troubled waters is necessary in order to foster significant change and heal. Our existence is already a target. Our bodies are already seen as disposable. If that’s going to be the way of it, I’d rather put myself right in the path to act rather than stand on the sidelines and wait for someone else to clear the way.”

Her words are a 2020 iteration of those wrote by Dr. Martin Luther King in his 1963 ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail‘. The urgency in her words are infectious, I hope literally so.

Bending the arc?
The #BlackatElon virtual protest is part of a long standing effort to help create a more just world for all. Here’s one global connection that I think has deep relevance.

Established five years ago, Namati.org is a global legal empowerment movement.  From their web site: “Namati means ‘bending the arc.’ With leadership from those most impacted, we will bend the arc of history together.”  This Elon protest, one of countless others not only in the United States but as well around the world, is a necessary and vital part of bending the ‘moral arc of the universe toward justice.’

This phrase has a long history, with President Barak Obama borrowing it from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who adapted it from abolitionist minister Theodore Parker. Parker said,

“I do not pretend to understand the moral universe. The arc is a long one. My eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by experience of sight. I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends toward justice.”

Bending this arc is a long process, and one that takes constant, coordinated effort. Gains won must be aggressively preserved or they can be lost very quickly. The Namati organization has it right: legal changes are key in bending the arc. But it must be stressed that structures within all other social institutions must be altered as well.

The black students/parents, black faculty/staff, black alumni, and allies taking part in this protest have a clear goal: to change the very structure of Elon University, and to provide a model for other institutions of higher education for such change.

Through many kinds of protests, confronting the deeply baked in systemic racism in the United States is happening in all 50 US states and around the world. This social movement is different because it fundamentally recognizes that all of the heads of the Hydra of ‘privileging forces’ are fueled by the demonstratively anti-humanitarian process of ‘othering’.

I’ll have more to say soon, but in the meantime you can contact me here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tom Arcaro

Tom Arcaro

Tom Arcaro is a professor of sociology at Elon University. He has been researching and studying the humanitarian aid and development ecosystem for nearly two decades and in 2016 published 'Aid Worker Voices'. He is currently working on a second book tentatively titled "Hearing Voices: Dispatches from the margins of the humanitarian sector".

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