Michigan in Color: Deconstructing the term 'divisive'

BY BAYAN FOUNAS

Published April 3, 2014

Below is my speech I shared with Central Student Government representatives at last week’s CSG meeting. As part of the #UMDivest movement, students brought forth a divestment resolution urging the University to create an ad hoc committee to investigate socially irresponsible investments in multinational corporations facilitating the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories and international human rights violations. What we witnessed Tuesday night was a fight against minority students’ issues, yet again seeing a dismissal of people of color’s narratives and concerns. Although the representatives voted in majority to not pass the resolution, I am hopeful of the movement moving forward and proud of the strong solidarity that continues to grow across races, religions and sexualities. I am also so honored to have been in the presence of such powerful and inspiring individuals, and proud to have witnessed how much students have grown over the 7-day #UMDivest sit-in.

I’d like to further deconstruct the argument that divestment is a divisive issue that has no campus or global consensus by raising three points. First, this is a very privilege-centered perspective that dismisses the voices of Palestinian, Ethiopian, Eritrean, and South Sudanese students on this campus. It is no surprise that those with race and gender privilege would make such a statement as they could never understand the daily oppressions faced by native Palestinians, and Ethiopian, Eritrean and South Sudanese asylum-seekers, particularly the strong women who are facing the brunt of occupation and internment. To ignore this reality would ignore the livelihood of our very own students on this campus who have directly been affected by and have experienced the harsh realities of displacement, abuse, and losing loved ones. To ignore this reality would ignore the anti-Arab racism, Islamophobia, and anti-Black racism that Arab, Muslim, and Black students face on a daily basis on this campus because of their very essence, which has been a direct consequence of the dominant discourse where this exact argument is rooted in. To ignore this reality would privilege the bodies are deemed more worthy, rejecting brown and black bodies of any sympathy, rendering their existence as irrelevant and robbing them of humanity and justice.

Second, the rhetoric of divisiveness is a common tool that has been operated by those in power against those stepping out of mainstream society with outspoken voices. The tactics used in the Civil Rights Movement were labeled with the same language raised today: as being too divisive, too controversial, too radical, or unrealistic. The late honorable Nelson Mandela was listed on the U.S. terrorist watchlist until as recently as 6 years ago. This use of words like “terrorist,” “radical” and “divisive” have continuously been used by those with power and privilege against those who threaten them because they are challenging the oppressive dominant structures that continue to persist today. By suggesting to students that they take alternative forms of action, such as dialogue, which was similarly asked of students in the Civil Rights Movement, is a form of policing students on how to take action to simply maintain the status quo without challenging the structures that continue to oppress communities of marginalized races and sexualities. Dialogue can only happen when there are two equal sides and the oppression of the natives and asylum-seekers has ended. Then we can attempt to dialogue.

My third and last point is that arguing there is no global consensus would be a complete erasing and whitewashing of the history of activism led by marginalized communities. In the divestment push against the system of apartheid in South Africa there was no clear consensus and it took over 20 years to finally reach one that was struggled for and pushed by student activists across university campuses. Our university was in opposition to divestment and was unfortunately one of the later schools to finally pass it. Student representatives, let’s not repeat history. A clear consensus has been growing on this campus with over 35 student organizations and over 30 faculty members supporting us in this action, as well as numerous divestment successes spreading across the globe. Let’s be the leaders and best by holding our university accountable to being an ethical and moral institution.

Michigan in Color is the Daily’s opinion section designated as a space for and by students of color at the University of Michigan. To contribute your voice or find out more about MiC, e-mail michiganincolor@umich.edu.