Is Chancellor Jones in the ‘Sunken Place’?

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by Kurtis ‘Sunny’ Ture

Kurtis ‘Sunny’ Ture is a music producer, organizer, and graduate student at UIUC. As a founding member of Black Students for Revolution and the Speak Truth Collective, Sunny seeks to raise political consciousness, celebrate Black culture, and empower Black institutions both on campus and in the community.

Reprinted from Drums!, a publication of the University of Illinois Black Student Association, February 8, 2018

Is Chancellor Robert Jones trapped in the ‘sunken place’?

His reaction to a petition, signed by each of the ethnic studies departments during a campus senate meeting in spring of last year, would indicate that this is the case.  This petition called Chancellor Jones out for his administration’s poor response to the ongoing white supremacist violence on campus. In a telling response, the departments’ critique that the university’s actions thus far equated to “tolerance” for racist violence was called “offensive” by the chancellor.

Yes, you read that correctly.

Chancellor Jones claimed he was offended that the ethnic studies departments on this campus—the very academic departments that specialize in race and racism-related issues—urged him to do more to address the racist violence on campus.

It is no surprise that UIUC cannot publicly admit its inability and unwillingness to meaningfully address the racist violence of its white student body and alumni. Because racist violence is endemic to white amerika, meaning that it is part of the social and political fabric of this country, white institutions such as UIUC cannot sufficiently protect Black people from violence (or speak truthfully on the issue), because to do so requires an indictment of and confrontation with the capitalist system that it, in part, constitutes.

Since the oppressive nature of this system infects every interaction we have with its institutions, we shouldn’t be surprised that the agents of this system, whether they are presidents, police officers, or university chancellors, defend and protect this oppressive system through their actions and words—no matter their race.

Chancellor Jones’ words, actions, and inactions on the racist violence on this campus show clearly his effectiveness in fulfilling the role of a friendly, yet patronizing representative of white amerika’s interests.

Take for example Chancellor Jones’ collaboration with pro-“chief” supporters during his time here. Despite decades of student-led campaigning for a new mascot to replace the racist caricature of the “chief,” Chancellor Jones declared in February 2017 that finding a new mascot wasn’t even a “priority” for his administration.

Last semester, during the Fall 2017 homecoming parade, the Chancellor chose to ride alongside his partner in the backseat of a convertible driven by ardent pro-“chief” supporters.

Students that were present, led by the Illinois Student Government, protested the inclusion of the “chief” caricature within the parade by halting it in the street near the intersection of Green and Wright streets just before the car carrying the Chancellor could pass. The chancellor’s car came to a complete stop in front of student protestors before the driver rammed them aggressively several times—all of which was caught on video.

With a strained smile, the Chancellor had to comfort the angry, old white driver and convince him not to continue his assault on the students present, while white onlookers in the crowd screamed for him to “run them over!”

Luckily, no students were seriously injured in this exchange, although several students had significant bruising and soreness. The events of that night did however more clearly show the contradictions between Chancellor Jones’ claimed support for vulnerable students and his actions.

Chancellor Jones has yet to publicly apologize to students for the assault he played a role in, and is still unwilling to support the election of a new mascot—prolonging the racist “chief” caricature even longer. (ISG recently voted to support the banning of the “chief” logo from being displayed on campus property, a small step in a long fight that NAISO [the Native American and Indigenous Student Organization—the editors] is leading on campus.)

In Jordan Peele’s 2017 classic Black horror film Get Out, the “sunken place” is the visual representation of the rejection of Blackness one must make to be truly accepted within white amerika. While in the film this rejection is symbolically forced on the protagonist through hypnosis and a teacup “trigger,” it is through our socialization within white amerika that this rejection of Blackness is urged of us—with many “triggers” and incentives to assimilate even further into white amerika pressuring us daily.

The amount of white supremacist violence on this campus the past three years alone has been staggering. Physical assaults, torn-off hijabs, death threats against student activists by alt-right UIUC student groups, student protestors rammed with vehicles by white alumni, hateful imagery posted publicly around campus, a noose hung in the communal work area of university staff, reporting of undocumented students to ICE, attempted invasions of private POC (People of Color) reading groups by white students, vandalizing of Black Lives Matter signs, and other actions have been carried out by white UIUC students and community members hell-bent on promoting and carrying out a white supremacist agenda.

There is no righteous neutral position to have in this situation, yet Chancellor Jones seeks to hold one regardless.

Chancellor Jones, if you are reading this, please ask one of your assistants to break President Killean’s tea cup. It is white supremacist ideology and violence that has brought this country to the brink of implosion, and any public figure worthy of their platform should have the courage to say so openly and act on that truth—if indeed an honest conversation and movement against racism is what they truly support.

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