A T O M

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What’s going on in our city?

  1. Yesterday morning, the words “Long Live Zimmerman” were found spray-painted on the side of the Frank Hale Jr. Black Cultural Center on the Ohio State University campus here in Columbus. Clearly, this is a reference to George Zimmerman, the man who shot unarmed, seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin on February 26. This was unquestionably an act of racism and hatred meant to intimidate and terrorize.
  2. Today, a community mural depicting a sea of hands reaching up to an image of President Barack Obama at the corner of 4th Street and 11th Avenue was found vandalized with swastikas and the word “niggers.” Again, an unquestionable act of racism and hatred meant to intimidate and terrorize.

I really do find this shocking. I don’t live in a whitewashed fantasy world where racism is a thing of the past - no thinking person in their right mind could possibly believe that. Even so, such bold acts of hatred seem utterly foreign to me, like relics from another world. The reality is that these things happen, that they’ve never stopped happening, and that part of the shock is my own Midwestern isolation.

The reality also is that this sort of thing should not go on and cannot be stood for. Already the university community has responded, with President Gordon Gee issuing a statement about the incident today, after having spoken at Hale Hall last night. A piece on the incident ran in The Lantern, OSU’s daily student newspaper, and a sit-in will take place at 4PM this afternoon at the Ohio Union, to promote unity and diversity in the student body and to make a declaration against hate.

I am utterly supportive of the sit-in and the University’s official response, but I also think it is important - absolutely critical, in fact - for this conversation to branch out into the greater community of Columbus and not be swept aside as “something going on at OSU.” With the new vandalism today, the geography of hate has shifted beyond of campus, but that’s not why the city-at-large should be engaged. While the university is its own community, it does not exist in a vacuum. It is as much a part of the city-wide community as any population or neighborhood. What happens there (at OSU) happens here (in Columbus). Not only should the student body and University administration boldly declare that they will not stand for this sort of hate crime, our city as a whole should do the same.

The conversation about race in Columbus, as anywhere, is not simple, pleasant, or clean, but it’s a conversation that must be had. If we find it to be an uncomfortable topic to broach, that’s all the more indicative of the necessity of discussion. The good people of this city - the people who believe in unity, equality, brotherhood, and justice - must take it upon themselves to push a conversation into the culture and to stand up against racism and intolerance. I’m not here to outline a course of action, but simply to encourage you to talk.

Talk to your friends and family about what’s happened and about what’s right. Talk to your neighbors. Talk to the person waiting in line next to you at the bank or the coffee shop or the Gap. You might be met with blank stares or indignation, but if nothing else you’ll at least have gotten someone to think about what’s going on. At best, you’ll have a conversation with someone who will carry it with them to their roommates, to their co-workers, to the people they see every day at the bus stop or the bar or wherever. This discussion should occupy our classrooms, our living rooms, our offices, and our public spaces. Our Mayor and civic leaders should broadcast this conversation as well, but it is not meant to nor should it remain within the realm of authority. The heart of this issue is not one that can be legislated away or addressed by committee or patched up by a riveting speech - the heart of this issue exists in each and every one of us, in our spirits and in our minds.

We have to find the ugly part of ourselves, the parts that are indoctrinated by prejudice, the kernels of intolerance rooted in our community. We have to take that darkness and hold it up. We have to turn it over in our hands and look at it with clear and honest eyes. We have to pick apart the poison and wash clean the wounds.

These hateful acts are not simply an attack on the black community - they are an attack on our community in totality. An attack on a community that believes in justice, love, and the brotherhood of our species. Take a stand against hatred, if you are a member of this community. I know that I am.