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Clemson family’s drunk, racist uncle

I was not surprised by Monday’s banner defacement, to be completely honest. If I was surprised about anything to do with it, it was that it took this long in the semester for a racial incident to manifest. During all of my time here at Clemson, first as an undergrad a decade ago and now these past two years as a graduate student, I have witnessed incidents that speak to the nature of bigotry and hatred which persist not just here on campus, but in our nation at large. The counter-protest to #BlackLivesMatter is #AllLivesMatter, but the more I see of incidents like the bananas on the banner, the more I realize that no one actually believes that all lives indeed matter.

No, we’d rather get on our teams, in our factions, our white people and our black people and our brown people and our yellow and so on and so forth. We’d rather point out our differences, how we’re not like “those people” because really, who wants that? And you have your Jews, your Muslims, your Christians, your Buddhists, your atheists and so on. Let’s not leave out the gays, or the lesbians or the bisexuals. Transgender people … what do we do with that? Confusion reigns supreme! One columnist doesn’t feel safe in the bathroom anymore!

I feel like I’m forgetting someone … oh yes, the handicapped or physically disabled. How about the mentally challenged? People who are depressed or bi-polar? Why not throw redheads into the mix?

The “Clemson family” concept is a fallacious one, couched in public relations-speak to avoid the “unfortunate” use of derogatory terms that shouldn’t be put in print.

But here’s the thing: When you boil all those labels down to their bare essence, to the absolute root item that defines them, it’s alarmingly the same two-word phrase: “human being.”

We are all human beings, no matter what we say we are. The language of genocide, of slavery and subjugation, demands that we see the differences. It demands that we see our human “family” as having some offshoots that we don’t speak to or speak of. And we all do it, even those of us who don’t think we do. I’ve said racist, sexist, anti-stuff over the years. I’ve learned from it, and I would like to think that I’m a better person for learning from my mistakes. But I’ll make more, I’m sure. I am a human being, after all. None of us are perfect.

The banana incident is visual rhetoric meant to instill difference. It goes against the concept of “Clemson family,” but it’s more accurate of Clemson and of the nation as a whole. Language can lead to Auschwitz. We should be more aware of what we say, especially when we think we’re not saying anything offensive. If you’re looking for the drunk, racist uncle of the “Clemson family,” it might help to start by looking in the mirror.

My time at Clemson is coming to a close, I’ll be moving on to another school, perhaps a school with as loaded a history in terms of racial violence and hatred, but perhaps not. Wherever I go, I want to leave this message to the members of my Clemson family: Be better than this. Be better than what has come before you. Don’t allow the labels or the teams you “belong to” to rob you of the one essential fact that defines everything: We’re all human beings, deserving of respect and consideration. I don’t want to be ashamed of being a member of this family; make sure that I have no reason to be. It’s up to you now.

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