You expect a certain amount of bad decision making during a homecoming weekend. The University of Western Ontario has an especially fratty reputation: People are blackout drunk. They're wearing purple paint on their faces. They're standing on roofs, playing beer pong, and leaving a shit ton of garbage in the street for some reason.
But let's just imagine for a second the many levels of bad, ignorant decisions that must have taken place for this Instagram photo to exist. Here we have four young bros in Western gear, posing in front of someone's homemade "Western Lives Matter" sign in an Instagram photo that is tagged "We matter." There are over 100 likes on the public photo as of Tuesday morning. (I reached out to Jana Luker, VP student experience at Western, and she said the school is aware there are photos of the sign and is discussing how to meaningfully respond.)
Being from London, I have a pretty good idea about what the fuck anyone in this general vicinity was thinking. They're not thinking "woo, racism!" despite what appearances suggest. They're probably saying to themselves, repeatedly, at this moment: "It's not racist, it's a joke." (See: why London is a racist asshole).
Here's how I imagine this going down. At least one person was armed with a white sheet, purple spray paint, and an unforgivably poor understanding of the real-life threat of violence, incarceration, and death faced by black people. They wrote this "joke" out of school spirit, and likely got someone to help them hang it up in a very public place—a two-person job at least. Who made the sign and what they were thinking is unclear, but we know that at least six people (there are multiple photos of the sign online) decided to pose in front of it, and then several people posted those photos to Instagram. Hundreds of people have liked the images since then.
At this point there are already witnesses—already opportunities for a roommate or classmate or party attendee to advise strongly against co-opting an expression meant to spotlight widespread racial injustice. Someone—anyone—could have told them that doing so belittles the all-too-real experience of oppression faced by people of colour in America, Canada, and yes, even London, Ontario.
For me, this raises some serious questions. Namely: What the actual fuck? Was everyone at this party white? Was someone told to lighten up just for mentioning this is offensive? Did nobody learn from whichever asshole wrote "No means yes, and yes means ANAL" on a window just down the block last month? Did anyone get a "I'm not racist, but..." count at this party?
And finally, a question for the jokester, who was clearly only making a joke: would it be funny if that white sheet was used as a hood, too?
Be honest, Western.
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