12 November 2007
I am sincerely honored and deeply gratified to salute the Columbia University students engaged in the present hunger strike against the generalized climate of racial hostility and tolerance for racism that pervade Columbia University.
The hunger strike could not be more perfectly or candidly explained than in the strikers’ own proclamation: “We strike because we abhor, viscerally, the failure of current administrators to address student concerns on these issues and because this failure constitutes violence against our intellect.” May there be no doubts about this fundamental truth: These students have been pushed and goaded by the arrogant and condescending intransigence of the university’s highest administrators into these desperate measures. These students’ persistent devotion to their cause has been routinely insulted; their exorbitant patience has been exhausted. Now, they heroically sacrifice their own physical comfort and good health in order to rouse the hearts and minds of the wider community to a higher calling. In so doing, these students valiantly embody some of the most elevated and truly universal human ideals: they dedicate their critical intellects and their moral imaginations – and more important, they put their bodies on the line – to decry and defy the racial oppression that engulfs them in contemporary society, and which is made all the more excruciatingly vulgar by the lofty pretensions and craven dissimulations of our university’s elitist presumptions of scholarly erudition.
Like their peers who, almost exactly one year ago, defied the repugnant paramilitary organization, the Minutemen, when it brought its thinly disguised racist advocacy of vigilante violence to our campus – only then to be publicly denounced and humiliated by the university’s president and then institutionally sanctioned – the hunger strikers represent and enact in practice the most esteemed and glorified aspirations of any university worthy of the name. They deserve only our admiration and encouragement as they truly teach the rest of our community and the wider society essential lessons about political courage and moral integrity, and turn abstract knowledge and theoretical concerns into elementary but fundamental practices of freedom and social transformation.
I am proud to share this campus with these student protesters. May their example flourish and inspire countless comparable acts of liberation!
Nicholas De Genova
Anthropology and Latina/o Studies
(from sabbatical leave in Great Britain)