Author and culture critic Roxane Gay speaks at first Anti-Racism and Equity Institute event

Isabella Schreck, Reporter

Roxane Gay, New York Times Bestselling author of “The Bad Feminist,” spoke about systematic racism and white fragility in the Anti-Racism and Equity Institute’s inaugural event Tuesday in the Student Center Ballroom.

“Nobody should live in an echo chamber,” Gay said. “We love that there are many ways of understanding the world, but truth is truth, and lies are lies.”

“The Bad Feminist” is a collection of Gay’s essays about her life as a woman and a person of color while also commenting on culture today. In addition to writing several other written works, she is a contributing columnist for The New York Times and the first black woman to write for Marvel after writing a comic series titled “World of Wakanda.” Gay has a Ph.D. in Rhetoric and Technical Communication.

The Anti-Racism and Equity Institute (AREI) works to advance racial justice at Kent State “through scholarship, creative activity, advocacy and education,” Melody Tankersley, senior vice president and provost said.

“Anti-racism not only seeks to understand race, and racism from the context of individuals, societies and institutions, but it actively promotes ways to eliminate racism,” Tankersley said. “The term equity specifically recognizes that the need to reach equity is different for different individuals and different populations. The creation of the Anti-Racism and Equity Institute is timely as it acknowledges the history of Black events and organizations at Kent State while simultaneously addressing the contemporary manifestations of racism and other social inquiries today.”

After speeches from Carla Goar, director of the AREI, Tankersley and senior Chazzlyn Jackson walked to the podium to introduce Gay.

Jackson is student body president for the Undergraduate Student Government and majors in Africana Studies with a minor in sociology.

After sharing tidbits of her flight to Kent and a funny story about her dog’s eating habits, Gay opened up her conversation about racism with comments on an essay that was published by the New York Times.

Gay referenced an opinion guest essay titled “I Came to College Eager to Debate. I Found Self-Censorship Instead.” written by Emma Camp, a senior attending the University of Virginia.

Camp wrote about how she did not feel comfortable sharing her conservative views on her college campus.

“She’s entitled to her perspectives, and of course, how she wants to articulate them,” Gay said. “[But], it seems like what the student really wanted was to share her opinions and then have them embraced. Freedom to speak does not guarantee that people are going to respond to that speech that makes them comfortable or happy.”

Gay related this story, specifically the instance of people defending the woman’s ideas, to allowed and accepted “white fragility.”

“It was a knee-jerk protection generally important to white women, but also white people, whenever other white people see younger versions of themselves facing consequences,” Gay said. “[The woman who wrote the essay] was not a delicate flower. This is on my mind because I’ve been thinking about the weaponization of fragility, a tactic that anyone for any objective can use as an offensive or defensive tactic.”

Gay closed her section of the event with a discussion about Critical Race Theory, the concept of systematic racism and that racism is embedded in the country’s laws, and how politicians, specifically republicans, she said, are trying to ban talking about race in schools.

On Friday, the Florida Senate passed House Bill 7, which bans certain topics on race that could cause students to feel shameful or guilty about being taught in public schools. In June, Texas Gov. Greg Abbot signed House Bill 3979, banning “controversial” issues, which target CRT, from being taught in schools.

Gay said these legislations promote greater ignorance.

“[Conservatives] are trying to create a world where they can be comfortable with things exactly as they are,” Gay said. “They don’t want their children to think about racism or feel bad about racism. We are now facing a world where white fragility is the justification for obscuring the very real history of this country and the world. A generation of children are going to be raised without knowing the truth about slavery.”

Charmaine Crawford, associate professor of Pan-African studies, then came out to sit next to Gay for the question-and-answer portion of the night, where she asked Gay some of her own questions and also the audience’s questions.

After discussing various parts in Gay’s novel, Crawford brought up the world of racism today, one idea being that it is “dangerous” to say the Civil Rights Movement is over.

“It is dangerous because people would love to believe that everything is okay,” Gay said in response. “That the Civil Rights Movement is done, like we’ve done it all. Who wouldn’t want to believe that? A lot of the time, people are just so overwhelmed because even with everything that we’ve done as a human race, we still have so far to go.”

In one of her final answered questions, Gay gave the audience advice on finding their own role in social movements.

“It is important to recognize that you can’t save the world alone,” Gay said. “Oftentimes you see activists commit wholeheartedly to a movement, and they give again and again, and they burn out, so they don’t have the energy to engage in anything. I strongly encourage people who are interested in activism to pace themselves. If you burn yourself out, you will have nothing left for yourself, and you will often have nothing left for the fight. Everyone can only do what they can do.”

Isabella Schreck is a reporter. Contact her at [email protected].