Brown student paper given ultimatum after publishing 'racist' op-eds

Black and Asian student groups at Brown University are demanding that the student paper not only apologize for printing op-eds they deemed racist, but also demonstrate its contrition by supporting the groups’ efforts to fight other racist expressions, such as the term “Fall Weekend.”

The Brown Daily Herald reported Friday that it had received two ultimatums in the past week—one from a coalition of black student organizations and the other from a group of Asian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander students—in response to opinion pieces on the subjects of white privilege and Columbus Day.

The first column, titled “ The white privilege of cows,” examines the biological differences among races, especially with respect to the influence of geography on human evolution and the contemporary consequences of that development.

The author, M. Dzhali Maier, argues that while human societies around the world have adapted in various ways to the demands imposed by their environments, the unique availability of domesticable livestock gave those located on the Eurasian landmass a distinct advantage in establishing specialized, non-agricultural economies.

The second column, also written by Maier, has been removed from the paper’s website, having been “unintentionally published due to an internal error,” according to the editor’s note that now occupies the space, but was salvaged by several readers who posted comments with pictures of the column as it appeared in the printed edition of the paper and links to a cached version of the page.

In that op-ed, Maier expresses surprise at the controversy surrounding Columbus Day, as exemplified by a planned demonstration to urge the administration to restyle the holiday “Indigenous Peoples’ Day” even though Brown already employs the innocuous term “Fall Holiday.”

“All Native Americans should celebrate Columbus Day, even if they have reservations about honoring Christopher Columbus himself,” Maier opines, arguing that the holiday should be seen less as a way to honor Columbus as an individual than as a commemoration of the Columbian Exchange, which dramatically enhanced standards of living in both the New and the Old Worlds through the introduction of food crops and technologies that had previously been unknown to one or the other.

“These two articles are merely the most recent installments in a series of bigoted articles,” according to the letter sent to the paper Wednesday by the leaders of 14 black student groups. “Though it would appear to go without saying that both of these articles—and a number of previously published BDH articles—are flagrantly racist, this fact appears to have been unacknowledged officially and explicitly by the BDH Editorial Board for quite some time.”

Asserting that the paper’s editorial board “has the utmostobligation [italics in original] to ensure that the pieces it publishes are both factually accurate and not racist, classist, cissexist, heterosexist, sexist, or ableist,” the letter then proceeds to demand that the editors acknowledge their responsibility for “consistently giving a platform to racist ideologies,” apologize for “the resulting harm on members of our community,” and create a concrete plan for improving the diversity of its staff and ensuring that offensive opinions are not published.

The letter goes on to make the somewhat dubious claim that the op-eds “[harmed] Native and Indigenous students at Brown and other undergraduates who came in contact with their content.” Indeed, the groups even accuse the Daily Herald of complicity in “the continuous silencing and erasure of Native students [italics in original] on Brown’s campus.”

The next day, the editors received another letter, this time from a self-described “collective of Asian/Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) students,” making substantially similar arguments as those made in the previous letter, but suggesting a much more specific display or remorse in addition to endorsing the demands made by the black student leaders.

“If these demands are not met in a timely and empathetic manner,” the signatories warn, “the University must actively discourage alumni from financially supporting The Herald.”

According to the AAPI letter, Maier’s identity as “an East Asian girl” does not preclude her also being a “white supremacist” because “Asian American students are direct participants in settler colonialism,” insofar as they participate in societal institutions that were only created after “Native people were violently removed from lands that enslaved Black people were then forced to build upon.”

As a means of making amends for their complicity in “the oppression of Native and Black communities,” the letter calls on AAPI students at Brown to participate in two “die-in” demonstrations designed to promote a petition calling on the university “’to change the name of Fall Weekend to Indigenous Peoples’ Day,’ an action we wholeheartedly support.”

An op-ed published Friday under the byline “Native Americans at Brown” offers an explanation for the seemingly unnecessary demand, asserting that while the term Fall Weekend “halts an active celebration of Columbus’ torture, genocide and the dawn of the transatlantic slave trade,” it nonetheless “quietly [contributes] to the erasure of Indigenous peoples” because it ignores “the genocide that we had to fight back to get here.”

The Daily Herald has not indicated whether it will accede to the demands of either letter.

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