What legitimizes a group of people who feel they have been done an injustice on the part of another person or group of people? This question has been circulating around in my mind all week considering the recent events that have taken place on campus and the way that they have been handled or addressed by some of the faculty here. Do people reserve the right to decide when someone else has hurt them? We talk a lot about consent in this class and what the standards of consent are, but I am beginning to realize that people struggle with understanding the nature of consent and how, in my opinion, it should be applied to society.
Big Machine deals with the themes of consent and legitimacy throughout the book in many different contexts. Ricky Rice seems to have been placed in many situations that he did not consent to, the first being his participation in the Washerwomen cult. Not only did he not consent to being in the cult, he was not even aware of the “escape plan” set in place by the Washerwomen in the event of conflict.
“I didn’t scream because it still seemed impossible. The Washerwomen weren’t going to shoot anyone. No, no, no. But then each sister put a gun to a child’s head, and those kids still didn’t run.” (214)
Ricky was so unaware of the lack of consent that he had that he could not even believe that in the moment while the others were being shot that this was possible. Following this incident, he continued to face a lack of consent throughout his life in many other areas including his invitation to the Washburn Library. Although he chose to get on the bus that day and travel to a unfamiliar location, he was still not fully aware of the intentions of the Adele and the dean or what his purpose would be within their intentions. This also raises the question of legitimacy in both of these examples. Were the Washerwomen justified in their belief system and their actions based on their beliefs? Can Adele and the dean use Ricky Rice in any way that they find suitable considering their manipulative power over him and their status in the Unlikely Scholars? Each group sees their causes to be legitimate and insists on continuing their agendas, even at the cost of the person they are using to orchestrate this. This is specifically proven by Adele when Ricky is in the hospital and she doesn’t insist that he stay until he recovers, but instead allows him to continue the search for Solomon Clay with her.
Considering the events that have most recently taken place on the Geneseo campus regarding the black face incident and the administrations reaction to the incident, I have began to notice that only some people are given the right to give consent. For some students, who face what is considered to be an immediate threat or lack of consent in a safety situation, they can consult UPD or other resources to address their un-comfortability, but for other students who feel like the administration is only prolonging what will eventually become an eminent threat, they are treated as a secondary concern.
As of recently, many faculty and allies have reached out to the minority community at Geneseo to show their support, however not everyone here has been supportive. In fact, a professor decided to use this situation to have a media day and express his support for free speech on college campuses, including hate speech. While we are granted freedom of speech as a First Amendment right, I find it interesting that a person who is contracted by a university that promotes diversity and outwardly does not support hate speech, would see this as an appropriate time to promote his “free-speech” and anti-diversity agenda.
Without giving too much attention to this ignorance, I mention it to once again bring up the question of what constitutes consent. By allowing someone to promote anti-diversity at a school that revised their diversity just a year ago to be more inclusive of the student body, is the university consenting to promoting the hateful events that have been taking place in the past 5 years? By remaining calm and collected is the student body consenting to being disregarded in major campus decisions? This brings me to a concept that I blogged about last year on whether it’s more effective to be a “Martin or a Malcolm,” but I digress.