Students at the University of Buffalo (UB) are expressing outraged after what appeared to be a “hate crime” turned out to instead be an art project intended to “expose white privilege.”
UB students awoke Wednesday morning to discover “White Only” and “Black Only” signs posted near bathrooms and water fountains around campus. The signs were almost immediately torn down by students, but the incident stoked outrage among the school’s black community. The police were called, and over 100 students showed up to a meeting that night to discuss the signs.
But when they showed up, they found the signs were hardly a hate crime. Instead, black graduate student Ashley Powell stood up and admitted she had posted the signs as part of an “art project.”
Now, Powell has submitted an immense 2,145-word statement to The Spectrum, UB’s student newspaper, justifying her action and attributing it to “white privilege.”
“I am in pain,” Powell says in the statement. “The afflictions I suffer from are self-hate, trauma, pain and an unbearable and deafening indignation. White privilege and compliance only exacerbate my symptoms. Non-white suffering is the greatest psychological detriment that I have ever faced, and one that many individuals undoubtedly face as well. It manifests as a blatant or furtive acknowledgement of inferiority to the dominant group. It results in a trauma that is perhaps more destructive and damaging than any physical, legislative, or societal oppression an individual may ever face.”
“This was not a social experiment,” she continues. “I do not need to experiment with non-white people’s trauma, nor pain, to know that is there. This was not a joke. I do not need to, and will never joke about my own reality, or anyone else’s, because our reality is grave, it is frightening, and it is one of constant endurance, resilience, and burden. This project, specifically, was a piece created to expose white privilege.”
Powell then says that anybody who saw her signs and didn’t immediately rip them down has now revealed themselves to be racist.
“Any white person who would walk past these signs without ripping them down, shows a disturbing compliance with this system,” says Powell. “These signs do not allow a white person to give the age old excuse of “I didn’t create this system” or “I never asked for this white privilege.” They attempt to give those people the individual agency to rebut the very system that puts them in a place of supremacy. These signs illustrate that white people do not have to be active aggressors, like the KKK, to be responsible for this system of racism and white privilege that threatens, traumatizes, brutalizes, stunts, and literally kills non-white people every day in the United States.”
Powell goes on in a similar manner for several paragraphs, and says she has no intention to apologize.
“These signs made you feel discomfort. They are tangible objects that forced you to revisit your past, to confront your present, and to recognize here and now the underlying social structures that are directly responsible for your pain and suffering. This project makes forceful what has been easy for you to ignore.”
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