Professors Lisa Tatonetti (left) and Tanya González (right) turn to literature — by writers such as Frederick Douglass, Gloria Anzaldúato, and Mohsin Hamid — to help fight against bigotry.
Trying to write anything about diversity in Manhattan, Kansas, at the current political moment seems impossible. Last week, there were incidents of homophobic chalking and reports across our community of aggressions (micro and otherwise) to the LGBTQI community and people of color. These events follow the invasive plastering of blatantly white supremacist propaganda across our campus, anti-immigrant chalking and statements, and the appearance of racist icons both on campus and in the greater community.
At the state level, two Indian engineers in Olathe were shot by a white man who yelled, “Get out of my country!” Srinivas Kuchibhotla was killed in that attack, while his friend, Alok Madasani, and a patron who attempted to intervene, Ian Grillot, were injured. These incidents are not the anomalies we often imagine — our state hosts at least five active hate groups that run the gamut from anti-LGBT groups to white nationalists.
While instances of hate and bigotry seem surprising in 2017, these kinds of hateful outbursts have occurred around us for years. In fact, when studying history, we find — from the first waves of settlers who entered and subsequently colonized the country we now call the U.S., to the present — that we exist in a continual cycle of violent acts, hateful words, and destructive behaviors towards underrepresented peoples of all kinds. Protests against such actions have been continual, though we see cyclical upsurges in solidarity movements as more and more people become aware of their own precarious positions within these systemic oppressions.
And so we feel. We experience the broad range of reactions, from rage to despair to hope. And from these emotions, we resist. Looking outward, we continue to see signs of resistance. Even in moments of fear and fatigue, we persist in our affirmations of community. We more actively express our love. We also engage intellectually. We search for stories of resilience to show us how to change the world.
Along with putting our time and energy and passion into these responses, as lovers of literature, we hold in our hands ways to understand, ways to speak, and ways to resist. From Frederick Douglass to Sarah Winnemucca; from Emma Lazarus to James Baldwin; from Gloria Anzaldúa to Viet Thanh Nguyen and Mohsin Hamid. Such writers not only define these ongoing realities, but they offer us ways to cope, to resist, and to change the way we see our world. They help us see the systems that would confine us, degrade us, and, most importantly, divide us. And they certainly help us see how to come together in empathy, compassion, and love.
As part of our active resistance to hate, let us open the pages of our books. It is imperative that we do so. To quote Audre Lorde’s famous line from Sister Outsider, in times of difficulty and peril, “Poetry is not a luxury.”