A new online documentary features several students and a professor defending the harsh punishment given to a college student who had the temerity to say, on the Internet, that black women are not attractive.
Titled “The Yak in the Room,” the 13-minute documentary by Nathan Gelfand-Toutant concerns Thad Pryor, a student at Colorado College who was given a two-year suspension last fall after quipping anonymously on Yik Yak, in response to a post saying “#blackwomenmatter,” that “They matter, they’re just not hot.” According to YouTube, the documentary was uploaded in mid-January, but it only appears to have attracted public notice within the past week.
Pryor appears in the video to express his deep regret for his Yik Yak post, which he said was simply a result of getting caught up in an online environment where offensive jokes were flying freely.
“If I could take [my actions] back, I would,” Pryor says. “I’ve been very embarrassed of myself and my immature actions, and of coming off in ways that to some were hateful and racist.”
Several other Colorado College students who appear in the documentary are unimpressed. Shayna McClure, Shiyen Sinclair and Clay Edwards each argue that Pryor’s punishment was justified.
“People that are calling this ‘just a stupid joke’ are being a little hurtful,” says Sinclair. “Black women are always a stupid joke.”
McClure pitches in to say that Pryor’s statement about black women was especially bad, not because it’s false, but because most people see it as true.
“We don’t have the ability, really, to participate in the hook-up culture at CC, because we know as black women that we’re unwanted,” she says.
Heidi Lewis, a professor of feminist and gender studies, sharply criticizes Pryor for attending a student gathering after the Yik Yak furor where students were trying to recover from the deep emotional distress of reading his six-word comment.
“When I heard that one of the perpetrators went to a healing space, that victimized students were in, and participated in that, and absorbed that, I felt that was really sick,” Lewis says. “That’s crazy to me. To me, that you would inflict harm on a community and then go watch. What? Only a certain kind of person could get away with that.”
Pryor argues that Lewis and other critics are overreacting. Pointing out that students claimed his six-word sentence made them feel “physically unsafe,” Pryor says there was perhaps a degree of “miscommunication” involved.
While Pryor says that the statement that got him suspended was counterbalanced by offensive statements about whites, Jews, and other groups, his critics reject that argument’s validity.
“You can’t go from … something like ‘white people need to shower’ to ‘go back to the cotton fields’ [or] ‘black women aren’t hot,'” says McClure.
Pryor’s critics also generally defend the harshness of his punishment.
“I think that his suspension … showed that CC is taking a stand on this,” says Sinclair. “I think that he was punished for something that was wrong. I don’t think that it’s promoting silence. I think that promoting silence would be not giving him any type of penalty.”
Sinclair also expressed displeasure with the fact that, after an appeal, Colorado College cut Pryor’s suspension from two years down to one.
“It really just goes to show that people can get their way out of anything, specifically rich, white men,” Sinclair said.
Edwards suggests that it may have been better if Pryor was forced to publicly apologize rather than being suspended, but he also expressed strong displeasure with the suspension being reduced.
“What’s the message that that sends,” he asked, “So you can just be a dipshit? Say stupid shit? Not have to apologize, go out into the community and the greater world, make a bunch of noise about your plight in the stupid shit, and all of a sudden you’re just allowed to come back? That’s what that means?”
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