Lund slave auction response: ‘stop being defensive and listen’

In the aftermath of the recent 'slave auction' stunt carried out by several students at Lund University, there has been too much protesting, and not enough listening, argues US graduate student Cate Bridenstine, who witnessed the event.

I have debated whether or not to add anything further to the discussions currently taking place at Lund University about race and bigotry and the role of the nations in all of this – especially since it has become clear that along with abundant support and kind words, those who choose to speak and be named will face a host of disturbing consequences.

I do not wish to hash out the potential humor in blackface or reiterate my disgust with the tacit acceptance many students demonstrated at the sittning (official banquet) in question. I would, however, like to weigh in on how the conversation is being conducted.

Since filing a complaint with the police last week, Jallow Momodou has endured an incredible degree of harassment ranging from having his personal information plastered over the internet to photoshopped images of him naked in shackles being distributed throughout Lund.

He has become a lightning rod for the defensive and angry in Sweden who have felt personally implicated by the mention of racism at the university.

Let us be clear: what has been inflicted upon Jallow Momodou constitutes hate speech. It is also an obvious attempt to silence those who may wish to speak up in the future.

These acts warn us against change. Stop speaking, they say. You are overreacting, they insist; it was simply a joke. Slavery happened a long time ago, we are told. Get over it.

But instead of coercing silence, we must listen.

Listen to the students who feel marginalized and silenced when their countries, histories and bodies are mocked and derided.

Slicked on face paint, bafoonish red lips and the mock selling of human flesh is a violent assertion that there are spaces on campus where only select students are welcome. The virulence of the community’s reaction only confirms our need for this discussion.

Please listen. Instead of insisting that your reality must also be another’s, accept the possibility that what you have been taught might have come at the cost of another history.

Listen to the students who no longer feel safe because they are being threatened virtually and on the street.

For those of us who have grown accustomed to institutionalized racism and the white privilege it ensures: we have almost always been told that our experiences are the norm, that how we feel about the world is valid and important, so listening might prove difficult.

But it is time for those who usually speak to quiet for a moment and listen. Please stop insisting that your beliefs are universal, that those who feel differently should stop speaking their truths.

Our school is filled with unique individuals and that multiplicity deserves a conversation governed by civility and respect.

However, not all perspectives receive equal consideration in social, legal and cultural spheres. Some are constantly and with great institutional backing, privileged over others.

I’m writing this because I would like to say again: please quiet your defensiveness and listen.

Listen so that perhaps instead of hate and violence, the useless destruction they cause may succumb to mutual understanding and the soul-expanding possibilities of looking at the world through someone else’s eyes.

Cate Bridenstine is an American graduate student at Lund University. She saw the Lund students portraying "slaves" complete with blackened faces and ropes around their necks the Helsingkrona nation after they left the banquet at Hallands nation. Her article was first published in Lund Uninversity's Lundagård newspaper on April 25th, 2011.

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