Whenever I hear of another incident where a bigot or a racist is chased off campus, I’m reminded of the times my college failed to live up to that standard not long ago. It was a searing reminder of how complicit my generation is with those who preach hate.
I don’t know when it first started, but my earliest memory is of “Janitor Jesus,” who found a stage at the very heart of my school. He harassed everyone who walked by, and because he stood on the most direct route across campus, most of us were unable to sidestep his litany of racism and homophobia. I thought for sure the police would arrive at any moment to arrest him, or that sensible people would come shout him out and confiscate his sign, maybe rough him up a little to show him that this is a place of tolerance and peace.
But nothing happened. Did the college not know about this? Or did those who were in charge simply bury their heads in the sand, hoping it would all go away? And where were the counter-protestors? Were they simply taking extra time to organize an overwhelming response?
Incredibly, some students even stood there and listened, while others giggled and took photos. It’s as if they saw this as some kind of amusement and performance art, completely oblivious to the damage he is doing to the atmosphere of safety and acceptance we had built. Most simply walked by, either oblivious it all or as an act of defiance. I wanted to believe it was the latter, but I later found out that this had already happened once.
That is “Brother Jeb,” another man of hate and vile who came to spread his homophobic message just weeks before Janitor Jesus arrived. But while Janitor Jesus was clearly a lunatic, Brother Jeb disguised himself as a man of reason and respect.
Instead of yelling at the wind, Brother Jeb baited students into debating him, thus legitimizing his views as part of the mainstream. Instead of shouting him down in a hurricane of righteousness, naïve students actually took turns trying to reason with a man who clearly has none. I can only imagine how foolish they must have felt later, knowing they had sanctioned bigotry through decency. But once again I ask: where are the campus police?
Naturally this only encouraged Brother Jeb to return one year later, this time armed with a posse for protection (or was it intimidation?). Perhaps he knew that we knew that he knew his ploy from last time won’t work, and he was ready for the showdown that was long overdue.
At first it looked like my fellow students were ready, too, when they assembled in force, far outnumbering the bigots. But once again, they were baited into debate and discussion when they should have been re-accommodating the bigots to the ER. I’ve gave up on expecting a forceful response from the school, as they are either the incompetent guardians of our feelings, or in cahoots. I don’t know which is worse.
Things finally came to a head when we were assaulted by a group led by a woman who had just come out of an audition for Maz Kanata from “The Force Awakens.” For hours, she gave what has to be the most hateful and deranged course on sex ed ever taught in all of human history.
A larger group of students showed up this time, with student news crews in tow. Were they finally ready for a real confrontation? Was this our chance to make history? Were we going to be immortalized in the pantheon of civil rights heroes?
I waited in anticipation of how the first shots would be fired, but all I saw was a guy lay down a tarp a few yards behind her and pull out a small radio. Did they seriously expect such a tiny speaker to overpower so much vitriol? But then I looked on in disbelief at what they had planned after all these years.
That’s right, they were going to dance the homophobes to submission. I guess they felt it was only appropriate to fight back with one of the natural talents of the gay. But seriously? I held out hope that this was simply one eccentric student, and the real resistance was still loaded in the chamber.
MJ would be so proud.
I was wrong. This was the movement years in the making. This was the best my college had to offer. Instead of treating the bigots with the hysteria, intimidation, and violence they so richly deserved, my particular school responded to the great civil rights challenge of our time with civility, mockery, apathy, and krumping. May history have mercy on us all. This was our Selma.