Opinion guest column

When hate strikes

Leaders of the Black Students’ Union reflect on racist retaliation to BlackHack

We are two students who, through our identities, are inextricably tied to the racial progress and racist retaliation of both MIT and the United States. Here we provide our narrative on the Black Students’ Union’s (BSU) recognition of Black History Month and what it exposed about MIT. This is love:

BlackHack serves a dual purpose. First, for the black community at MIT, BlackHack brings us together. It is a time to gather in the BSU’s storied lounge and reflect on our shared history and culture, finding pride and resolve in our blackness as we kick off Black History Month and a new semester. Our community shares ownership of the project. And, for one week, we are able to see ourselves reflected in one of MIT’s most iconic spaces. Our choice of Lobby 7 is purposeful; day-to-day, we pass under the lobby’s inscripted words — “Established for Advancement and Development of Science, its Application to Industry, the Arts, Agriculture, and Commerce” (punctuation added) — which are reminiscent of MIT’s ties to slavery and the agricultural south. However, for five days in February, as our Black History Month banners draw our eyes away from that inscription, we are able to find joy in that space in spite of that legacy. Our second purpose is external. Through BlackHack, we send a message to everyone who passes through Lobby 7: We are here, we matter, and we will not remain silent.

Though this BlackHack tradition was born in 2018, it honors a much richer history of black people at MIT: a history of activism that was catalyzed by the founding of the BSU over fifty years ago and continues through today. For this year’s BlackHack, the BSUPAC spotlighted three moments of protest, conflict, and solidarity in this community’s history.

The images used in BlackHack were chosen carefully. Looking from left to right, you read fifty years of this community’s racial history; you read fifty years of protests and of struggle; you read the enduring and incomparable legacy of the BSU. In one glance, you can see how we got to the place we are at now.

The first image was taken in 1968 when the MIT BSU was founded by the handful of black MIT students who sought refuge from the various forms of discrimination they faced on campus. The second image, titled The Soiling of Old Glory (1976), depicts the violent reality of desegregation in the United States through the lens of the Boston bussing crisis. The third image depicts a shantytown created by students in 1987 to protest MIT’s failure to divest from apartheid-era South Africa.

At noon on Monday, seventy members of MIT’s black community gathered under our display in Lobby 7 to commemorate the legacy of activism that defines black history in the United States and to protest the pervasive injustice in this nation that equally defines our history. Less than 24 hours later, we wove with urgency through the Infinite to return to Lobby 7. We were there not to protest, not to reflect, but instead to tear down a banner that had been vandalized with a two-foot diameter swastika.

Leading author and historian Ibram X. Kendi said it best when he expressed that racial progress in America has always — and in all ways — been followed by racist progress. In 1968, the MIT BSU was founded; in 1968, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. In 1976, young black Bostonians were being bussed from their local neighborhoods to schools in white neighborhoods; in 1976, violence was employed by white supremacists to discourage these young black scholars from seeking educational equity. In 1987, MIT students joined together to protest MIT’s stance on apartheid; in 1987, the MIT Police disregarded the students’ legal and permitted right to protest by arresting them and destroying their politicized shantytown.

On Monday, black undergraduates, graduates, faculty, and staff came together to assert our presence, power, and purpose at MIT. However, if 1968, 1976, and 1987 saw the cycle of racial and racist progress, why would 2019 be any different? So, on Monday, we also readied ourselves for the inevitable racist retaliation that was to follow BlackHack.

Consistent with the cyclical nature of racial and racist progress, it came only 23 hours later: not in the form of an assassination or a riot — that is, not in the form of physical violence — but in the form of hate expressed through six lines that represent global systemic violence, racism, and anti-Semitism.

Though this act of hatred disturbs us, it neither destroys us nor diminishes our power. We remain grounded in the strength of our community.

To the Black community at MIT and those who face hatred every day,
We hear you. We are with you. And we will continue the fight.


K. L. Green II is a member of the MIT Class of 2021 and the co-chair of the Black Students’ Union. Mimi Wahid is a member of the MIT Class of 2021 and the attorney general of the Black Students’ Union.