On June 30, Minnesota judge Peter Cahill - a White man - threatened to move the trials of George Floyd’s murderers if Floyd’s family, the public and public officials continued to “speak out” about the case. Stopping just short of issuing a gag order, Cahill will likely move the location of the trial from a predominantly Black county to a White one. His reasoning? The partiality of the jury.
To Cahill, despite the fact that the Minnesota Police Chief and Mayor have condemned his death as a “murder,” being vocal about it threatens the objectivity of the courts. Such ludicrous logic suggests that the more access the public has to the truth about police brutality, the more biased any jury will be in a trial. Our anger is emotional, they argue, not rooted in lived experiences. Suppressing the truth becomes objective.
This particular White judge’s threat is not new. Even since the Civil Rights Act of 1875, which sought to eliminate jury bias, countless studies have shown that White people have weaponized the judicial system against people of color. Whether it is their appearance, their voice or perceived intelligence, White lawyers have struck people of color from juries to maintain “race-neutrality.” Don’t be fooled. “Race-neutral” means White. “Rational” means White.
Whiteness’ sole claim to rationality extends from the courtroom to the classroom. I dread moments where my race determines whether or not my classmates deem my arguments to be rational. As an Iranian, I’ve always felt compelled to highlight the havoc America has wreaked in the Middle East. Doing so, though, requires vulnerability in academic conversation. As a result, it was excruciating when a peer, in response to one of my points based on lived experiences, retorted “where you’re coming from is personal; you’re not seeing the whole picture.”
My anger, to him, was emotional simply because it regarded my heritage. To be rational, you have to be removed from the situation. You have to be White. This, of course, disregards the fact that White people actually are involved. Someone had to drop the bombs after all. But by relegating the perspective of the oppressed to a space of irrationality, while extolling the perspective of the oppressor as the standard of rationality, logical debate suffocates students of color.
This mentality extends all the way to the UO administration. They, too, have privileged White rationality while condemning anger from their students of color. Just a few weeks ago, protesters tore down the Pioneer statue and dragged it to the front of Johnson Hall. The message was clear: the students would no longer tolerate a symbol of colonialism on their campus. Despite strong support on campus, President Schill condemned the acts as “unacceptable,” as he had encouraged a discussion about the status of racist monuments a week prior.
The loss of “opportunity for that deliberative process,” Schill wrote, meant that there would be no exploration of both the “good and bad” messages the statue espouses. Let's be clear, the administration chose to defend the deliberative process, which inherently assumes there is ‘good’ value in a racist monument, rather than unflinchingly standing behind students of color who have expressed discomfort on campus.
But isn't there value to the process? Historically, no. Weeks ago, President Schill recommended Deady Hall be renamed. But just four years ago, his administration rejected the same pleas, arguing that Deady was abhorrent but reformed, good and bad. The “rational” process favored the status quo, as it always does. Since 2016, the process has not changed, only the intensity of anger unleashed by the killing of George Floyd.
In the same way that Judge Cahill condemned the emotions of the protesters, the way my peer told me my facts were irrational, President Schill’s and the administration’s resistance towards change alienates people of color. These groups support each other. They all cast anger as irrational. Exalting tradition, process and objectivity maintains the White supremacist status quo.
If the nation and its institutions, UO included, really stands with people of color, it must accept our anger for what it is: rational. We are angry that Black people get slaughtered in the streets, that kids get locked in cages, that America puppeteered my homeland and then destroyed it. Rationality and anger can never be separated. If you aren’t angry by what’s going on, you aren’t being rational.