Opinion

Racism exists within the tunnel’s own walls

Tunnel of Oppression has been created on UM’s campus every year with the goal of promoting awareness of and encouraging students to speak out against oppression. Each year, it features statistics designed to shock students.

However, I was shocked and saddened to see that the same oppression that Tunnel seeks to eradicate was perpetuated within its very walls.

Midway through the tunnel, in the room about racism, is where I found this oppression. It was on a single piece of paper hanging from a wall in the corner. There was  a sentence about the Trayvon Martin killing. Like many media outlets, it told the story of the big and bad white man who killed the poor and innocent black boy. In a single sentence, this paper in the Tunnel vilified a man, presumed innocent until proven guilty.

More appalling than the sentence itself was its location, passively asserting that the killing was done as an act of racism. Though I certainly have no desire to defend George Zimmerman – killing is almost never justified and his lawyers will have a tough time in court trying to prove it so – but the amazing and saddening part was that the media, the general public, and now Tunnel, are all portraying this case as an issue of race.

There is little to no evidence of this killing being racially motivated. If there were evidence of it, prosecutors would have charged Zimmerman with a hate crime, not second-degree murder. Rather than wait to comment on this issue until after the trial, Tunnel and those in charge of the racism room made the ruling themselves.

Oppression will never end if we continue to paint ourselves as victims.

Jordan Balke is a senior majoring in biochemistry and biology.     


April 22, 2012

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Jordan Balke


24 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Racism exists within the tunnel’s own walls”

  1. Jordan Balke says:

    Sarah – I don’t disagree that the statements were facts. However, by placing those facts in the racism room, there was the implication that the case, the killing, etc were racially motivated.

    Again, if we continue to assume that if there is a difference of race that differences are because of race (or race is the only important difference), it only causes more oppression.

  2. Sarah says:

    Bottom line the quote in the tunnel was accurate and described facts, and should not be viewed as racist.

  3. Claire says:

    First of all, I seriously apologize if it came across as an attack- that was not my intent at all. I think conversation like this is healthy and very necessary, honestly, I apologize. I hope these conversations continue on campus in a respectful, meaningful way. Also, I truly believe we are all allowed to have our own perspectives, but that doesn’t mean mine is invalid. I never said my opinion on the case; I was just trying to point out that I do know race has been a discussion point around it so I’m glad it was included in the room in order to bring about conversation.

    For the record, I am not racist, you can confirm that with anyone who knows me.

    I encourage everyone to express themselves in healthy dialogue with each other… it’s the first step to changing things for everyone.

  4. Jordan Balke says:

    Robert – I hugely appreciate your response and am glad that you understand the intent with which the article here was written. My biggest complaint about Tunnel was not having enough time to see everything in every room – so I most definitely missed some of the things you referenced in your post. That said, I do appreciate the time and effort you and your team put into the room, and on the whole, it (and the rest of the Tunnel) was exceptional.

    I still stand by my assertion that a difference in race does not mean that differences are because of race, but I’m glad that someone who was actually involved is happy to have an open discussion about it, rather than blatantly attack me for my opinion.

    Thank you and I hope that this will encourage more people to voice their opinions and fight against the oppression, obvious or subtle.

  5. Robert Hupf says:

    As someone who contributed to the Racism room this year for Tunnel, I must first submit my own apologies. It was not intended by me or my co-contributors to perpetuate in anyone’s mind feelings of racist exclusion aimed at anyone or any category of race. If that was an aspect of the experience that our room fostered, I only wish we could have shaped that section of the room in a different way.

    That being said, I do believe that there are some specific nuances that are not being addressed, the largest of which is the fact that our room was intentionally cultural/social based. There was a very specific focus on memes, tweets, FB posts, societal jokes, ESPN articles, sh*t folks say, stereotypical depictions of Natives, Blacks, Indians, Asians, etc. Taken on face value, almost EVERYTHING in the room could be taken as us endorsing a racist position when our intention was to bring to light the subtle, systemic racism that occurs that few even acknowledge as racist. It’s just social custom.

    The Zimmerman/Trayvon debate is a microcosm of this discussion. Regardless of whether or not Zimmerman used racial profiling or racist assumptions based on a cultural understanding of neighborhood “security” (that boy’s not supposed to be here….what’s he up to?), there was white-on-black violence. That is what SOCIETY has focused on (and why we felt it belonged), and the consequences of this focus are too numerous to count. We only pulled up a few of them and put them all along the hoodie/description so that Tunnel participants would be able to appreciate this societal understanding and how it relates to race.

    One example that we included was “The Talk”. The Talk originally was a piece published in Time Magazine about black families telling their kids how to be “safe” in white society – always be respectful, never talk back to authority, be mindful of your community and what they expect of black teens wherever you go. Families were having The Talk because they themselves saw race in the Trayvon situation. Similarly, there was a writer who wrote the “white version” of The Talk (his name is John Derbyshire and has since been fired); advice from this piece included: “stay out of heavily black neighborhoods”….”do not attend events likely to draw a lot of blacks”….”Do not act the Good Samaritan to blacks in apparent distress”. His point was that there are a small group of blacks that are “ferociously violent” against whites and that these tips were a good way to avoid trouble. Let’s not even debate whether or not any of this is true – there are racist paradigms (not racist in the bad way, simply ways of thinking being SHAPED BY RACE) being discussed, and all because of Trayvon.

    There are many more examples of this in the room that we can discuss if you care to. There was a meme on the floor that was a KKK member calling the police about “a suspicious character hanging around the neighborhood” (he was hanging from a noose). There was an article piece on how the “hoodie” has come to be seen as an anti-white, emancipatory article of clothing that speaks of the black struggle. There was even a piece about how the Trayvon incident entirely is an example of blacks playing the “race card” and how black-on-white crimes that were occurring at the same time (there was a case where 5 blacks mutilated and killed a white teenager in front of his girlfriend for example) are ignored. Etc.

    In short, the Zimmerman shooting (we felt) HAD to have been included in the Racism room. It would be ignoring a major social discussion occurring right now in our society if we did not. And while I personally have my own thoughts on the racial nature of the attack, we did our best to simply show how it has played amongst American communities without explicitly stating whether or not it was racially motivated.

    Once again, my apologies. If you have further concerns or questions, please don’t hesitate to shoot me an email at roberthupf@gmail.com and I, along with my co-contributors, will address them as best we can.

  6. Richard Lyons says:

    Claire, I don’t feel that basing an entire room around the “chance it was racially driven” was a well thought out idea. In these kinds of social events (i.e. The Tunnel of Oppression) cold hard fact must be presented. In a court of law, a person cannot be convicted if there is any chance of reasonable doubt. By portraying the Trayvon Martin events as being racially driven, you have jumped to conclusions without considering all of the evidence. Had the people who created this room been in the jury pool, I can almost guarantee you they would have all been thrown out of the pool. The Tunnel should not have brought up an issue that has yet to be completed in court because with an issue so fresh in people’s minds, there are bound to be conflicts of interest. I personally feel that the Tunnel has criminalized a man who is innocent (until proving otherwise).

    That being said, choosing topics that are current is a great way to bring up the issues. It’s easier to relate, and the chance of disconnect is greatly reduced.

    Also, I would like to point out that Zimmerman is Caucasian and Hispanic.

  7. Kristy Sessions says:

    I believe Tunnel definitely is considering the feedback and always carefully considers all material that is put into the rooms. I would also guess that Tunnel is excited to have conversation being made, it is just important that these conversations are done in productive, not attacking or deeming ways. However, the statement in Tunnel about the case was in no way unfounded and simply told the facts of the case: he was shot, he was simply buying snacks, and he was deemed “suspicious”. Everything else for there simply fulfilled Tunnel’s point to make you think, not necessarily agree.

  8. Rob Rankin says:

    The problem with Tunnel in this case is that it has reduced the significance of the experience of the event by including relatively unfounded remarks about a current issue. I think this writer is right: this did detract from the overall wonderful experience of Tunnel of Oppression. I recommend that the creators of Tunnel take a few moments and consider what the contributor has said, and try to figure out a way to improve upon future Tunnels based upon this experience.

    Thank you to Tunnel of Oppression, for offering a fulfilling experience, and to the contributor, for your honesty which will hopefully yield improvements to this awesome event in future years.

  9. Jordan Balke says:

    Also – can we all please stick to the issue at hand? Bringing in anything about “Welfare… wages based on gender, lack of job protection for non-heterosexual workers, etc” is not at all what I was commenting on.

    I did not and do not think the Tunnel or volunteers were/are racist. and I will continue to stand by that. My view is – and remains to be – “Making the assertion that any time there is a difference in race that the difference is because of race will only further oppress us all.”

    Now if anyone has non-racist concerns and does not intend to call me one, I am more than happy to address any concerns you have.

  10. Jordan Balke says:

    Claire – By your assertion that the shooting was racially motivated, you show your ignorance and are perpetuating the oppression you preach against. I will not respond to overt racism – and if you don’t see it, I pity you.

    “there is a chance it was racially driven, and do you think that police really would have hesitated to arrest Zimmerman if he had been a black man who shot a non-black man…? There is pretty much no chance that if the colors were switched that he would have been able to wonder the streets for weeks”

  11. Claire Heckerman says:

    Hi Jordan,
    Thanks for responding. I appreciate and definitely respect the right to your own opinion about Tunnel, race issues, etc. However, I think you are missing a larger point. You are right – sometimes the race card is played unfairly, just as some people abuse the welfare system. But there is a much larger issue we need to see and address here. There are SYSTEMS of privilege and oppression that still exist in the world, the US, Miami, UM, etc. There are prevalent ideologies that continue to oppress people both tangibly and intangibly. Just because we are all seem legally equal (which by the way isn’t true, i.e wages based on gender, lack of job protection for non-heterosexual workers, etc), doesn’t mean oppression is gone.
    Regardless of what you think about the Trayvon Martin case there is a chance it was racially driven, and do you think that police really would have hesitated to arrest Zimmerman if he had been a black man who shot a non-black man…? There is pretty much no chance that if the colors were switched that he would have been able to wonder the streets for weeks. Food for thought.

    You said you learned something from Tunnel, what was it you learned? If you don’t mind sharing I would genuinely love to hear it. I don’t mean to attack you here, so here’s your chance to allow us some insight on what you actually internalized by experiencing Tunnel of Oppression.

  12. Jordan Balke says:

    Word choice on that last sentence was wrong – but I think you know what I meant it to say

  13. Jordan Balke says:

    Haley – I read the response and would like to point out that nowhere did I say that I thought Tunnel, or the volunteers within, was racist. My Tunnel experience was awesome and my original intent was to note that it was slightly lessened by the commentary on an issue that has little evidence of being racially motivated.

    As a side note – the article title was written by the Hurricane staff, not by me. I did not and do not think the Tunnel or volunteers were/are racist. My title (which clearly wasn’t compelling enough) was “Tunnel experience marred by Tunnel’s own oppression” – intended to highlight that assertions about race and discrimination (even passive ones like this one) only perpetuate the Oppression that Tunnel works so hard to educate against and eliminate.

  14. Coral Millican says:

    Jordan, I’d like to read what you said was edited out, would you mind posting it in the comments section? I would like to point out Natania’s column in response to your article, where the statement that you refer to only sought to highlight the racial issues that were raised by the shooting. As she stated, “It was not meant to levy any judgment on the case itself.”

  15. Coral Millican says:

    Jordan, I’d like to read what you said was edited out, would you mind posting it in the comments section? I would like to point out Natania’s column in response to your article, where the statement that you refer to only sought to highlight the racial issues that were raised by the shooting. As she stated, “It was not meant to levy any judgment on the case itself.”

    Whether it is your intention or not, I feel that in your own comment–which I do not know if it was censored in some way prior to print by the Hurricane–“Rather than wait to comment on this issue until after the trial, Tunnel and those in charge of the racism room made the ruling themselves.”–you are in fact trying to discredit the group that worked on the Racism room, as well as the Tunnel Steering Committee and the rest of the tireless volunteers.

  16. Jordan Balke says:

    In response to Coral – the presence of the statement in it’s location passively asserted that it was an act of racism. As a society we’ve been indoctrinated to believe that IF there is a difference of race that any issues are BECAUSE of the difference in race – which is not usually the case.

  17. Jordan Balke says:

    All – I would like to assert that a significant part of what I wrote was edited out, particularly near the end. Before you write me off as a racist or intolerant, please know that almost everything I said was taken out of context.

    Additionally, I did not want to discredit the group who put on the tunnel. This incident was a MINOR part of my experience and the primary goal of tunnel was hugely successful (a point I made in my original version of the article).

  18. Haley Gordon says:

    To read the response from Tunnel of Oppression, please see the next article or go to the following link: http://www.themiamihurricane.com/2012/04/22/tunnel-aims-to-challenge-views-of-current-issues/

  19. Claire Heckerman says:

    Dear Jordan,
    First of all, let me preface this saying that I believe you are entitled to your opinion, however I’d like to make a few points in response.
    I was involved with Tunnel and many other organizations attempting to bring social justice issues to light for all 4 years as an undergrad at UM. Not any program I have worked with was/is perfect, particularly when we are dealing with deep-seeded, systemic issues that many people do not want to face exist in our society today. Tunnel exposes students to various types of injustices that are occurring in the world, and opens our eyes so we can begin the process of creating a better world. Tunnel’s objective IS NOT to attack anyone or sway you one way or another on political issues, however it is to allow a venue for UM students to educate themselves on issues that they may seem invisible and motivate them to work toward changing these issues any way possible.
    I believe it is slanderous to take one tiny piece (1 article about Trayvon Martin) and discredit the entire organization. Again, you are entitled to your opinion about the Martin case, however I strongly believe you went about giving feedback in an entirely inappropriate way. I personally know the creators of the racism room would have listened to your concerns if you were to have brought them up to them instead of publicizing something completely untrue to the entire virtual world.
    Tunnel of Oppression is one of few organizations at UM that actually has the guts to address and discuss social injustices. It actually changes how people think about the world and their place in it. To discredit that over one piece that you didn’t agree with is not honorable in any way.
    I would encourage any one who is interested in Tunnel to talk to the organization leaders. It can be a powerful experience if you let it be.
    Thank you.

  20. Kristy Sessions says:

    To me this simply shows that people put their own cultural/media context onto the situation. No where in Tunnel did it say either person’s race. Without mention of race how do we get “big and bad white man” or “poor and innocent black boy”?

  21. Coral Millican says:

    It does not tell a story of the big bad white man (interestingly enough, he was NOT white, he is hispanic).

  22. Coral Millican says:

    “This paper read a sentence about the Trayvon Martin killing. It, like many media outlets, told the story of the big, bad, white man who killed the poor, innocent, black boy.”

    It does not tell a story of the big bad white man (interestingly enough, he was NOT white, he is hispanic). It tells the story of a young boy (and it doesn’t even actually even say he is black) who was killed by a neighbrohood watch man who was in a mostly white community. I strongly believe that the author put her own media influenced context, transforming a factual statement into a racist comment.

  23. Coral Millican says:

    “In a single sentence, this paper in the Tunnel vilified a man, presumed innocent until proven guilty.”

    This is in no way “vilified a man”. It was simple factual statement.

  24. Coral Millican says:

    Directly from the original document that was printed and posted in the Tunnel of Oppression room:

    17-year-old Trayvon Martin was visiting a relative’s house in a Florida gated community when he walked to the store to get Skittles and iced tea for his little brother. Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by a self-styled neighborhood watch leader, who told police he thought Trayvon was “suspicious” in the mostly-white community.

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