I was recently informed by some Daily Trojan reporters that the bust of Rufus von KleinSmid was found vandalized hours before the inauguration of President Carol Folt. As a 2018 USG senator, I issued a petition to encourage USC to formally disavow von KleinSmid’s racist and eugenicist legacy and change the name of the building. With the help of my team, I also introduced and successfully passed a resolution to encourage USC’s administration to adopt a new name.
For this reason, I wanted to directly address those who committed this act of vandalism and those who might commit further acts: There is no need to take this type of action. Regardless of whether or not USC decides to make this change, the most important battle was won the day our student body chose to embrace its power to make change. By believing you have the power to forge a better future for USC, you have already embodied von KleinSmid’s greatest fear: that people of color can challenge power and reclaim their own destiny.
First, I understand why you may have decided to take this action. You might be a person of color like me, and you might have witnessed generations suffer as supposedly “democratic” institutions fail to take the concerns of your people seriously. You may have learned the history of people of color through an elective class, where you discovered how colonizers conquered their land and reduced their lives to a degrading servitude. Their cultures and languages were replaced and erased, leading colonized peoples to develop an inferiority complex around their own culture while fetishizing the status symbols of their conquerors.
You may have even come to a terrifying realization that people of color are actively participating in the education and society created by these same men and that, by merely existing within this system, they are being trained to think and behave in the ways these white supremacists desired. This realization may lead some people of color to nihilism and hopeless rage as they realize their minds have been molded by an oppressive system and their fate is seemingly forever shackled to a submission to white supremacy. This idea may cause people of color or those sympathetic to their condition to adopt a more absolutist mindset — one in which all actions that attack a racist system are appropriate. Including vandalizing the statue of an avowed racist like von KleinSmid.
There’s no need to vandalize VKC. No matter what USC decides to do, we are victorious.
I’d like to note here that I say this with a keen awareness of the track record of USC’s administration and that I continue to be highly skeptical it will ever take the opportunity to right this wrong and change the name.
During the campaign to pass that resolution, my own life was threatened. I had to reflect on whether this cause was really worth it. In the end, I decided that it was, even if it cost me my life. Not because I wanted to change the name of a building but because I felt a responsibility to show that no system of power can conquer the human spirit; that people of color have the power to throw off the yoke of white supremacy’s control over our lives and replace it with the absolute supremacy of our own human will.
So don’t busy yourself vandalizing VKC. To truly defeat racists like von KleinSmid, recognize that you are not destined to live a cursed fate, that you have the power to reclaim your own destiny, that you have the power to change the world.
Former USG Senator, Class of ’19