Editor’s Column – The Ghost of Racist Past

Geoff Guenther

The “Race Issue” came out from the back of people’s minds last semester in response to graffiti found in a bathroom stall. Some of it was unbelievably trite (The South will rise again? Really?), and some of it was misspelled, but it was all unbelievably idiotic. Literally: I didn’t believe it.

We are all a part of Colgate University: one of the oldest and highest-caliber learning institutions in the country. No student, no faculty, no staff, no matter how low on your list of priorities you place academics, no matter how much trouble you may have communicating the intricacies of quantum mechanics at 8:20 a.m. on a Monday, ended up here by accident. Not even you, first-year in the back row falling asleep whilst talking on AIM — an impressive feat.

When I saw the pictures of the graffiti run in The Maroon-News last semester, I couldn’t help but think that no one at Colgate could possibly have spelled the word “were” wrong and the thought of someone actually saying, “the South will rise again!” was downright comical in my mind. In my opinion, this person cannot be even marginally intelligent. Unless there was some cataclysmic error in the Admissions or hiring process, stay with me here, then this person could not exist.

And yet, there the writing was, literally on the wall. It did exist, somehow. Therefore, by the transitive property, uneducated racists from a bygone era must have built a crude time travel device and set it to transport them to 2008 at the site of what was then a miniscule Baptist college in the middle of nowhere. Of course, that is preposterous. But then again, Alumni Hall was built during the Civil War. It makes much more sense that the graffiti was added then, and that no one bothered taking something scribbled in sharpie seriously until 146 years later.

No? There is another possibility. I must first say (in a rare moment of seriousness for me) that it is not my intent to offend anyone. The ideas that were expressed in the graffiti were extraordinarily hurtful and raised many real issues. The showing of solidarity and investigation into the real Colgate, of which I am always a proponent, that occurred as a result truly made me proud to call this place home.

But what if the person (or persons, or ghosts or time-traveling racists) were not being entirely sincere when they said that it was time for black people to start serving whites again. What if the (again, woefully trite) comparisons between our new President’s skin color and that of the house he now resides in were something that amounts to an incredibly idiotic joke?

Hear me out: If all members of the Colgate community are at least marginally intelligent (and by that I mean capable of using the restroom without incident) and one would have to actually have no modicum of intelligence whatsoever to be able to say with a straight face, “the South will rise again,” then either we should declare Alumni Hall haunted or the comments haphazardly scribbled in sharpie while someone was (presumably) using the restroom (presumably) without incident were not entirely sincere.

Mine is only a humble theory: one could clearly argue that in order for someone to believe that there is any inherent difference of value in a person based only upon their race that person would necessarily be unintelligent and might very possibly spell the word “were” wrong. I don’t dispute that objection. But come on. Were. Were?!

So maybe, just maybe, there is not this swelling hatred of the other residing inside some dark corner of a Colgate student’s mind. Maybe that student just needs a better sense of humor.

At Colgate I have never seen a true moment of the kind of racism that one would have to have to write that graffiti. There is a degree of segregation and there are definitely prejudices – I don’t think anyone doubts that. I think that the examinations of these that occurred last semester were proof positive of their existence. Racism, for my purposes here, is a firm belief that one people have less worth or value because of their skin color, and a firm belief that one can, and should be able to order a member of that people around. These absurdities are what you would have to believe to write, “They where [sic] born to be slaves and serve White people, bout [sic] time for them to start doing it again.” Granted, the prejudices that do exist are hurtful, but some ignorant person who gives a black student a wider berth while walking along the sidewalk is not the same as someone who would like very much to enslave that student.

Or maybe it’s just the ghosts of racists past who’ve taken up residence in the Alumni bathroom.