JAYMIE BIANCA ’21
This past summer, Professor Johnny Eric Williams sparked a nationwide controversy with one hashtag- #letthemfuckingdie. At first glance, the hashtag seems to incite violence. If one were to read Johnny’s Twitter post, they would think to themselves: “Does Johnny Williams hate white people?” The answer, put simply, is no. I have come to this conclusion after having the privilege of hearing Johnny Williams and his colleagues speak twice during Common Hour at Trinity. His statement did not cross the boundaries of academic freedom. Rather, he opened up a forum for important discourse.
It is vital to address the fact that Professor Williams was quoting an article written by an author with the pseudonym Son of Baldwin. In Baldwin’s article, he addresses the shooting of Steve Scalise, who is notorious for speaking at an international conference of white supremacists and describing himself as “David Duke without the baggage.” While Scalise was left in critical condition from the attack, his life was saved by Crystal Griner, a Capitol police officer who happens to be black and identify as queer. Son of Baldwin saw the irony of this situation, and suggested throughout his article that “white/cisgender/heterosexuals, have created entire systems, philosophies, and values in which goodness, peace, and benevolence are virtues—but only, always, in other people.” Baldwin’s rhetoric epitomizes that as a society, we cannot allow discrimination and prejudices to define our lives, so these ideas must die in generations to come.
That is exactly what Professor Williams meant to convey. He believes that the concept of whiteness must die, not white individuals. When listening to him speak, he explicitly stated that race is an ideology; created by human beings to make sense of diverse culture and categorize ourselves into the groups. Yet, isn’t it ironic that while we attempted to obtain a sense of belonging through categorization, we sadly achieved the exact opposite through the stark separation of humanity through the ideology of race? Professor Williams emphasized that oppression must cease, and that if we continue to label ourselves through our self created racial name tags, we will never attain a unified nation.
Another topic of discussion that appeared during the forums I attended was an organization called Campus Reform. Campus Reform claims to report bias and abuse on college campuses, and, according to their website, “ holds itself to rigorous journalism standards and strives to present each story with accuracy, objectivity, and public accountability.” While this is a positive goal in theory, Campus Reform failed to accurately interpret and research Professor William’s post. They took the phrase out of context, believing that he was conveying the demolition of an entire race, when, in actuality, he was aiming for the destruction of an ideology. Campus Reform completely altered the context of William’s words, morphing them into a racist post as opposed to a plea and piece of advocacy for equality and the abolishment of defining labels.
Additionally, Connecticut is the only state in America that protects free speech in both the public and private sector for employees, meaning that, according to the Connecticut Employment Law Blog, “there are broad protections for employees who raise issues of public concern in both the private and public workplaces.” Therefore, even though Professor Williams was an employee at Trinity, a private institution, his speech is still protected under the First Amendment as emphasized by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). FIRE reads “Such speech can only be limited where it is likely to incite imminent violence or expresses a sincere intent to act violently.” Alas, Professor William’s post did not pose any threats to white individuals or groups. Instead, it criticized prolonged ideology in the United States.
For those who do not know, academic freedom is the principle of insight that is crucial for the understanding and truth of education. Academic freedom emphasizes the fact that we live in a broad world. To shelter ourselves from this vast land and shy away from the fact that our carefully constructed ideologies must change is not only ignorant, but terrifying. When speaking, Professor Williams said to the audience that if one does not speak up, or do anything about the current situation of our remaining society, then they are a part of the problem.
I have personally gained a great deal of knowledge from Johnny Williams, and understand that while his original post was misconstrued by numerous individuals and organizations, he was able to utilize academic freedom, educate people, and display that there is an evident issue, which must be eradicated through discussion and problem solving.