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Losing It

On hegemony and rage

By Madison E. Johnson, Contributing Writer

Last week, someone tore down a hard plastic sign indicating an all-gender single-stall bathroom in Eliot House to partially reveal the word “men” painted beneath the splintered sign. The Faculty Deans of the House sent out an email stating that they couldn’t possibly know the intentions or motivations of the person who tore down the sign—who had torn down the sign three or four times before.

But I am willing to make assumptions.

There is a white serpent—a scaly, reptilian thing—becoming somewhat of a threat, fiery and hissing on the horizon. He is not a funny man. He is not a joke, and neither are his slithering legions, rising again in his fervent support. I will not speak his name into being here.

These are not the things I like to write about. This part is a secret: I have this dream all the time where I’m stuck in a place—a neighborhood, a decaying city, a home. Everyone in the place who is supposed to be there is armed. I am not supposed to be there.

I’m willing to make an assumption about the intentions of the person in Eliot who tore down the all-gender bathroom sign, because this is a trend. Not just a trend in angry boys tearing down signs because the signs are not for them, but also angry boys building walls to keep out people who don’t look like them, angry boys winning state after state primary, angry boys with guns in my dreams and on my newsfeed.

But for the sake of argument, lets say it’s just about the signs.

Earlier this year, on Indigenous Peoples’ Day—Columbus Day, as the university still insists on calling it—someone in Pfoho put up objective, factual signs about the atrocities that Christopher Columbus committed in the name of his genocide. There were no op-eds about it, but I walked past a dozen of those flyers torn up, crumpled, on the floor. What is it about simple facts on an angry white boy and the pile of bodies behind him that evokes the furious urge to put those facts away? What is it that drives a student to rage—physical, destructive rage—about a toilet? Or an art collective?

It is all the same message: You should be grateful to be here in the first place. We will have you how we want you. We will have you quiet, out of sight. And you shouldn’t ask for more.

This inclusive piece of plastic, making it possible for students to do something as revolutionary as use the bathroom in their own home? This poster for an all-poc art collective, putting words to the experience of being on this campus and not being white? This movement, taking space that should have already been given to us, demanding marginally more than the bare minimum, making so much noise? This is not how we wanted you.

When a place was made for one kind of person, a thousand working groups, subcommittees, and reports aren’t going to make it into a home for everyone else. There will still be the angry boys, tearing down things that are not theirs precisely because they are not theirs. There is, I guess, something scary about hardwood floor slipping out from under you. About giant white portraits falling from the walls. About unapologetic bodies in an unwelcoming space. About losing control.

Madison E. Johnson ’18 is a History and Literature concentrator in Pforzheimer House. Her column appears on alternate Wednesdays.

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