To the Editors:
Since the revelation of unsettling Facebook posts by Assistant Professor of Rhetoric and Composition Joy Karega in February, there have seemingly been two non-overlapping dialogues going on on campus which exist in a void rather than in conversation with each other. I think that both of these groups have fundamentally correct points but that their ideas need to be considered in conjunction with one another, rather than against each other, to reach any meaningful resolution.
The posts made by Professor Karega were despicable and inexcusable, which I think is — to the large majority of campus — beyond a shadow of a doubt. When I first heard rumors about what had occurred, I wrote them off as likely overblown or nonexistent, as I had found most previous accusations of anti-Semitism at Oberlin to be. I figured they were criticisms of Benjamin Netanyahu or the politics of Israel that some people had simply been overly sensitive about. But when I actually looked at the content she had posted — which contained imagery suggesting, among other things, that Jewish bankers run something akin to the New World Order and that survivors of the Holocaust, some of whom I know personally, are the people to whom President Obama truly reports — I felt disbelief and anger. These weren’t political critiques; they were extremely bigoted portrayals of a group that accordingly felt very hurt. So if that is not proof of antiSemitism, at the very least according to the intent versus impact framework so often cited at Oberlin, then I don’t know what is.
Meanwhile, many parts of the response Professor Karega has faced are themselves inexcusable and reprehensible, such as the wave of racist and misogynistic hate mail that she has received. To ignore that this has occurred is negligent and abusive, but to focus solely on the response Professor Karega has received and ignore the posts that brought about this controversy is equally so.
Time and again at Oberlin’s campus, disagreements over who has been most harmed have derailed any attempt to approach and resolve substantive issues. So yes, we need to acknowledge that vicious anti-Semitism, as evidenced by these posts, does exist, and yes, we need to acknowledge that vicious anti-Black racism, as evidenced by the hate mail received by Professor Karega, does exist. But we need to acknowledge and consider them simultaneously, without disregarding one in favor of focusing solely on the other.
The past few months have been extremely disheartening for me. But I know that Oberlin, as an institution and as a collection of intelligent, conscientious individuals, can do better, and I hope that I will be here long enough to see that happen.
– Josh Goodman