In the pines, in the pines

In the pines, in the pines November 13, 2020

It’s Christmas tree day at the Big Box. Here in Pennsylvania the temperature’s in the mid-50s, but in a few hours my fingers and toes will be frozen from the Canadian snow that accompanies a box truck full of live trees (or, I guess, formerly live trees). It’s always a resin-y, prickly, soaked-to-the-skin and needles-everywhere kind of day. But it smells great.

A longer day at the Box means a shorter day here, so let me just quickly share this story: “Gordon College students hold sit-in protesting racial incident; school investigating.”

A group of some 100 students at Gordon College held a sit-in on campus in response to a racial incident involving a defaced T-shirt, with organizers arguing that not enough is being done to ensure African American students feel safe at the Massachusetts Christian institution.

The student group, All For Reclaiming Our Hamwe and Gordon College Student Association President Shineika Fareus, organized the sit-in protest last week at Frost Hall, which is the administrative building for the Wenham-based higher education institution with over 1,500 students.

The demonstration last Tuesday was sparked by a Nov. 1 incident in which a pro-Black Lives Matter T-shirt with the phrase “Yes they do” on the front was defaced with a racist slur and displayed on a residence hall laundry room table.

This is not an unusual story or an unusual incident at white evangelical colleges where the overwhelming majority of students are white kids from white churches. We had ugly stuff like this happen at Eastern back in the ’80s — slurs scribbled on the message boards of dorm-room doors, racist fliers left in a bathroom. It prompted the same kind of inadequately tepid official response, followed by student sit-ins, etc.

It seems like there’s a scripted set of motions everybody goes through — activists and administrators both — that eventually helps treat the symptoms without ever addressing the underlying disease.

But the dismal familiarity of the story above made the one strange new line stand out:

Gordon College is looking to take active steps in response to the racial incidents, including the creation of a staff position aimed at assisting minority students, the installation of additional surveillance cameras, and making sure diversity and inclusiveness are an integral part of the campus experience.

Surveillance cameras. Surveillance cameras for racism.

I mean, I kind of get it? For the very specific symptom of Somebody’s Writing Racial Slurs on Shirts in the Laundry Room, a surveillance camera would let you catch that person, and maybe deter others from doing that specific thing in that specific space. But still, the notion of surveillance cameras as a response to white supremacy is jarringly odd.

It couldn’t be less effective than, say, the past 25 years of spinning our wheels with flaccid talk of “racial reconciliation” (both sides!). And I suppose it’s a positive step in that it acknowledges, elliptically, that racism involves something more than just feelings and sentiments in people’s “hearts.”

But also it seems like a defiant rejection of any willingness to consider systemic racism, preferring yet again to consider only the distracting specific actions of specific individuals who can then be individually and specifically condemned.

Like, “Hmmm, it seems that our misshapen theologies of salvation and discipleship, and our warped hermeneutics, have produced a culture in which 80 percent of us enthusiastically endorsed another four years of Stephen Miller’s white-supremacist agenda. Should we do anything about that?”

“Drones! What if we put go-pro cameras on drones? We could have them fly around campus and …”

OK, then. I’m going to go unload some Christmas trees.

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