Mintaka Angell is a student and Brown university and Financial Coaching Fellow at Capital Good Fund. I invited her to respond to my recent post titled ’Wading Into The Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly Debate.’
Thanks for writing such a well-considered post. It captures a lot of the frustration I’ve found it hard to articulate about the methods of the protesters. As my suitemate thoughtfully pointed out about Gandhi’s nonviolent protest, it was a successful model because “It was done out of love, not anger”. I completely agree that the movement should be about the policies and values themselves, not the people involved.
I’ve been torn over the past week and half between what I felt deeply in my bones to be a move that fought back in a visceral way against the invisible violence built into the structure of our society – a move that felt triumphant, finally, over the relentless interlocking mechanisms of Stop and Frisk, voter ID laws, the prison-industrial complex, widening income disparities, attacks on affirmative action, and other legislation and cultural attitudes that perpetuate a subtle but powerful attack on people of color in this country – and the intellectual realization that the effects of the protest have drawn attention to Ray Kelly and Brown in ways that will not be productive for social justice in the long run. Your point about effective protests being about movements instead of people is painfully true: the protest that occurred here elided the needs and wants of other students – particularly students of color who wanted to hear Ray Kelly try to justify himself – and did not allow for the challenging of ideas crucial to combating those same ideas in the long run (the issue of Kelly’s free speech is a blog post all on its own. While he was prevented from speaking at Brown, which has a host of intellectual implications that will be discussed later and was not conducive to productive discourse, as someone who has lived in a country where people are imprisoned for daring to speak, calling him “oppressed”, as some have done on campus, seems nothing more than a rhetorical tactic to make it seem as though the conversation is happening on equal terms between Kelly and those affected by Stop and Frisk. It is not in any way).
While I appreciated and was proud of my fellow students for trying to take a stand against the racist systems that we are all complicit in, I cannot condone their methods. On October 28th, the day before the Kelly protest, students at Duke staged a walk out of scientist and Bell Curve author Charles Murray’s sponsored talk at their university, allowing the opportunity for open dialogue while protesting in a dignified manner. The stark difference between the protests is something to for our student body to think hard about in the long run, and appreciate your thoughts on dignified protesting.
I disagree, however, that Kelly should have been invited here in the fashion that he was. As part of the Taubman lecture series, he was paid an honorarium and not placed in any kind of context that could have allowed, in my opinion, for meaningful debate. I would have loved to see him asked the smart and incisive questions that I know many Brown students are capable of formulating, but I believe that it would have been more productive – and appropriate for the students who felt pain at his presence on campus – to invite him here as part of a panel or in a context where he could have been critically and consistently challenged on an intellectual and practical level. More importantly, he should not have been paid. This, more than anything else, felt like a legitimization of his position and what triggered such a passionate response to his presence on campus. I feel like bringing him in another fashion would have been a way of giving his views a voice without it being essentially a vertical power structure where he simply taught his policies and had a small allotment of time for questions afterwards. While the Brown administration now claims that Kelly would have only spoken for twenty minutes, with forty-five minutes for questions, this fact was not advertised at all before the protest. That being said, the chosen format would have been more productive than not having him speak at all.
Something good that I have seen from the protest is the amount of dialogue it engendered on campus. The event is still debated constantly over a week later, and I can honestly say that I cannot remember an event (that wasn’t Spring Weekend) hold sway in the minds of so many students. I appreciate how much it has been turned into a productive conversation on the best way to advance the cause of social justice – a conversation that has had both sides exposed to perspectives they are unaccustomed to dealing with. I have heard people much more intelligent than me state eloquent arguments for both sides, and have walked away from the experience with a much greater appreciation for the complexities of such an issue. It has also generated a lot of intellectually honest talk about what we should be debating as academics, and what responsibility we have to the community around us. Racism shouldn’t be up for an intellectual debate, but what about policies that have racist implementations? What is the line between taking a principled stand and shutting down views that we must learn to combat in the long run? How can we have conversations about these painful topics without alienating those it affects most?
When I was a kid I used to think that the answer to the world’s problems was simple: “We should all just be nice to each other”! A lot of my higher education has at Brown (rightfully, I think and hope) been focused on unraveling the complexities of that statement, and coming to terms with the fact that there’s no fast track to equality. Much as we would like, the Ray Kellys of the world cannot be shouted down; they must be defeated in the arenas that the American democratic system has erected, and this is much more work. Social change is hard, and slow, and exhausting, and very worth it despite those things. More than anything else, I hope that the protest has prompted all Brown students to think about more effective methods of obtaining that change.