Part of me understands the desire to catch and punish the person or persons who hanged the black doll in Cousins Studio Theater in early March. This act, no matter what its intent or motivation, violated our community's sense of propriety and its long-held, if sometimes unattained ideal of mutual respect. For good reason, then, I do not wish to judge or criticize those who want some kind of punishment meted out for this deed.
Nevertheless, a still bigger part of me hopes that the perpetrator(s) will be identified and given a chance to learn about the history of slavery in our country, about the oppression that followed that period in our history and about the continuing racial prejudice and other dire consequences of this sordid legacy. I would hope that through learning and reflection the perpetrator(s) would also come to understand the power of symbols and the hurt, fear, disgust and anger that the inappropriate use of symbols can cause.
The best outcome of this incident, to my mind, would be a lesson truly learned, an apology sincerely offered and a community willing to accept one or more of its own back into its good graces (albeit on probation), on the assumption that learning is one of our central values, along with respect and support for each and every person.
As for the rest of us, I think it is important to take a lesson from Mrs. Curren in J.M. Coetzee's novel "Age of Iron." When she finally realizes in deeply personal ways the effects of racial prejudice and injustice in her own society and comes to recognize her own past complicity in the apartheid system, she concludes, "what I cannot get over any more is that getting over" (126).
It is past time for all of us to stop getting over incidents of this kind and to start doing what we can on an ever-continuing basis, year in and year out, to make the next potential incident of this kind less likely to happen. Whether it's we faculty bringing up racism for discussion in class, or you, the students, doing something collaboratively with peers from very different backgrounds or staff members pointing out an injustice to the rest of us, we should each take responsibility for doing what we can to shape, reinforce and exemplify our community's values.