As I’m sure many of you have read in the news, Oberlin College has suffered a series of hate crimes this past week. (see article below) There were several incidents that drew attention: the defacing of black history month posters around campus, a late-night sighting of an individual in a KKK robe, and the use of spray paint to mark bathrooms and water fountains as “whites only”. These outbursts have come as a surprise to many, especially the students and staff at the College, because Oberlin is historically a very liberal school.
I was struck by this article not only because of this shocking display of white supremacy and racism, but also because of the reaction of the school, both of which reminded me of topics discussed in our class. The college’s administration cancelled school today declaring a “day of solidarity” in order to address the recent hate-crimes occurring on campus. The college explained that this would still be a day of learning though by alternative means. Oberlin students crammed into the chapel to have an open discussion about the recent events and their ramifications.
To me, this recalled elements of the long civil rights movement we have so often spoken about in class. The civil rights movement is often restricted to the period between in 1954 and 1968. This creates a couple of misconceptions: first, that this was the period of time that African Americans took action against their oppression and secondly, that the rhetoric and culture of white supremacy was isolated to the time preceding and during the civil rights movement. Both of these assumptions of the master narrative dilute the reality of race-relations in the US.
In the case of the Oberlin College incidents, this is a testament to the idea that the civil rights movement cannot be tied to a specific period in time but is an ongoing movement. As demonstrated at Oberlin, there is still a strong culture of racism and antagonism between races in the US, even amongst populations perceived to be “liberal” or “accepting”. While I am unsure of the efficacy of Oberlin’s decision to shut down the school for a day in addressing these events, or how it might prevent future incidents, their actions demonstrate a will to deal with problems that might otherwise be depicted as irrelevant in our “modern” era. The civil rights movement, in my mind, is something that is still with us today in the form of education disparities, gay rights, access to healthcare etc. though they are usually not qualified in these terms.