Commentary, Opinion

Campus conversations: Resistance

Resisting silence

Sepideh Afshar, Opinion Editor

Resistance, to me, is to be vocal about the injustices you see and experience. For about a year, I was part of a sorority at McGill. In this predominantly white space, I found myself silenced concerning the overt racism I was experiencing. I felt that my whole social circle, which was primarily made up of people in Greek life, would ostracize me if I spoke out about the way I was personally experiencing the institutionalized racism I had been so vocal about in the past. I put so much effort into trying to justify my silence to myself, effectively voiding the sorority girls and advisors around me of any responsibility. For months, I was wracked with guilt. I felt personally responsible for the racism any marginalized people joining the sorority might face—because at that point, I had become the token person of colour. I had students telling me they felt safe joining because of my presence and the positive experience I painted sorority life to be. Over time, this guilt wore me down and took a real toll on my mental health. I had joined with a fierce confidence that I could eradicate racism in Alpha Phi, naive to the institutionalized racism I was unprepared to tackle. It was only when I was disciplined, partly for the pro-Palestine content on my Instagram, that I realized the fiery resistance I had in me when I joined the sorority had turned to complicity. So I resisted in the only way I could think of: Speaking out. 

I posted about my negative experiences on social media and made sure everybody around me knew of the terrible things I faced while part of Alpha Phi. Silent resistance, especially concerning issues that so many work hard to bury, is not enough. When I finally felt confident enough to speak on my experience, it was not just for myself. My goal was not to receive an apology or to get revenge on an organization that took so much away from me––I just could not recognize the Sepideh who was silent in the face of oppression. Once I left the sorority, I regained that spark. I know the importance that my voice holds and the impact that it can have and for that reason, I continue to be vocal. I talk and post about my experiences and I write articles about issues that matter to me because that is what I know resistance to be. 

Queering resistance 

Aubrey Quinney, Opinion Editor

If I had to sum up my time spent at university, it would be three years of unlearning harmful social constructs and building an identity that I can truly call home. Even as my degree comes to an end, I can confidently say that I am still building that home, brick by brick. McGill threw a whole set of challenges my way, which I only overcame with the help of friends and a partner in crime. Throughout the process of overcoming experiences of gender dysphoria and internalized oppression, I have learnt that resistance comes in more shapes than one. 

At first, I believed resistance was only needed in the face of harmful social constructions which marginalized individuals like myself. I learnt of gender fluidity and found a meaningful connection with not only the non-binary label, but a whole set of theories linked to the topic, such as gender performativity. I saw gender everywhere and worked tirelessly to unlearn the wrongs I saw all around me. Throughout my second year of university, my passion for gender and sexuality rights burned and I felt restless to change the world. 

Midway through my third year, however, I began to feel a growing pressure in my mind to unlearn all the progressive conceptions I had newly built. It became increasingly hard to not see genders walking down the street. Especially as my classes became more specialized, my understanding of how the problematic world worked took a toll on my optimism. An anger roared inside me; I was constantly having to choose between fight or flight. Only those closest to me would hear society get the better of me when I pondered escaping to Bermuda.

On top of societal expectations chipping away at me, gender dysphoria started to creep back into my life, and this time, in one of the most intimate areas—sex. I have felt dysphoria with my upper body for several years. It was only when I met my partner that I started to experience gender euphoria. In my final year, however, I no longer felt comfortable during sex, often letting the moment die out. It was only thanks to my partner’s creativeness in queering sex, blending so-called male/female boundaries, that I rekindled that side of myself. 

So while challenges can come from many places, resistance usually comes from two: Yourself and relationships with those closest to you. As my time at McGill comes to an end, I feel pride in resisting those challenges, and thankful for those who helped me through them. 

Notes on fake resistance

Matthew Molinaro, Opinion Editor

Resistance has to be real, any potential stakeholder in a collective political uprising will tell you. That means there remains an excess of fake resistance to be disavowed. Much of it rose to the surface in 2020. Take how in the span of four days, and in the height of the Black Lives Matter uprisings, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau paused for 21 seconds in front of journalists and kneeled in front of his workspace—or rather, Parliament Hill. Not real: These actions, performed for happiness-focussed and order-seeking Canadians, symbolize how catering resistance to an audience undermines radical, meaningful measures.

This resistance is performative, self-serving, narrow-minded, superficial, exclusive, static. They tell you if you want to see fake resistance, go to Twitter leftists, or washed up celebrities, policing each other over terms that will be irrelevant in 10 years; look at your radicalized, convoy-supporting high school classmate’s Instagram stories; scroll through your family members’ Facebook. The results jar you, and shortages of fake resistance are yet to be seen in this stage of the pandemic.

I wonder if I’m a fake resistor. Elite university life intentionally separates itself from grassroots organizing. I’m still navigating what it is to exist in all-Black spaces one day, and spaces where I’m the only one the next. The stories of racism and microaggressions I’ve dealt with at McGill and in my lifetime are far too common, too easy to overcome to make me a real resistor—even if they’re wrong, everyone knows questions like ‘what are you,’ ‘where are you really from’; everyone knows that no one, from the state to private business owners, leaves Black men alone, unsupervised, uncontrolled. We begin to have nothing left to do but laugh and indulge in fake resistance. I tell myself it’s natural to think that.

The words of others, the people whose resistance is as real as it comes, give me solace in these doubts. The masterful Toni Morrison reminds us that we should insist on being shocked, on never being immune, on being surprised at the success of racist systems. The fact that fake resistance even becomes common suggests an immunity we ought not to have in the face of injustice. Even as McGill works its way to institutionalizing anti-racism efforts, if we lose our shock—if we give in to fake resistance and how it stymies any effort to mobilize the masses—we lose our power.

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