Nate Muramatsu is a freshman majoring in international affairs.
Colonials Invasion, no doubt a highlight of fall at GW, is an event where students and parents can have fun. It’s an excellent opportunity to meet fellow students, bond with friends, show support for our talented athletes and kick off the basketball season.
There’s just one problem: the name.
Language matters. So does historical context. A colonial is someone who colonizes, and someone who colonizes always does so against the will of the colonized – sometimes causing mass casualties, exploitation and centuries of violent oppression.
The name “Colonials Invasion” makes light of centuries of traumatic social exclusion and racism. Even though the name may not be meant that way, it feels wrong to make a play on words that harkens back to the idea that groups of people and their land can or should be invaded.
We need to recognize the small ways in which we perpetuate racism through language, and it’s odd that students haven’t been more vocal about this. As a person of Hispanic, Japanese and African-American descent, I find it appalling that anyone would find “Colonial Invasion” to be an acceptable name. Although the event has already passed, it’s time we start thinking about changing it next year to something that’s less historically and ethnically charged.
Last Monday was Columbus Day, and on my Facebook timeline, chaos ensued. My feed overflowing with vehement posts, links to Everyday Feminism articles and reminders that the Seattle City Council and the City of Minneapolis have replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples day. My friends, classmates and peers were determined not to celebrate or even acknowledge the holiday.
I was taken aback. Those same people kept excitedly asking me if I was going to Colonials Invasion. But the problem with Columbus Day is very similar to the problematic name of the kickoff to GW’s basketball season.
Christopher Columbus represents a legacy of violent colonialism and unjust oppression. Indigenous people, some have argued, aren’t celebrated, acknowledged or given a voice like they should be. But Colonials Invasion perpetuates a very similar problem in that it doesn’t acknowledge the connotations of being invaded by colonials.
An invasion is always violent. It’s never a passive event. Invasions set up a dichotomy in which one group of people is dominant and the other group of people is denied agency. Its meaning never changes depending on context, so it doesn’t become cute, cheesy or funny when we suddenly make it the name of a fun college event.
GW can and should change the name of this event. It’s representative of a problem that we as a culture gloss over, with ramifications that we often leave unaddressed. Racist and culturally insensitive language has real impacts on individuals and groups of people. It can subtly exclude students who are made to feel that historically traumatic events in their heritage are met with indifference or attempts at humor.
It’s unfortunate that so few of my fellow students who are so passionate about boycotting Columbus Day didn’t protest a similar problem on our own campus. Especially because our student body is so politically conscious and socially aware, it’s an issue that we should have tackled by now.
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