LETTER TO THE EDITOR: In response to Matt Colleran’s flimsy apology

A Vanderbilt alum’s commentary on apologies, forgiveness and changing our minds.

Kirkland+Hall.

Hunter Long

Kirkland Hall.

Musbah Shaheen, Guest Writer

Dear Matt,  

I don’t like you. I saw, heard and read you mocking, dehumanizing and devaluing many marginalized people who have been oppressed by people who look like you. I don’t like you because you seem to hate everything about me– being Middle Eastern, being queer, being Muslim. 

That hasn’t changed.

I read your recent response to yourself, and I was shocked. You put yourself out there and were vulnerable. You admitted that you were kind of, sort of wrong. To be clear, the response you wrote doesn’t change that you hurt people deeply. They haven’t forgotten. Neither have I.

Do you blame me? You said what you said. The apology won’t take that back. However, your response gave me a glimmer of hope. You said, “my column should have countered the culture by explaining my faith and values and how they impact the way I see issues facing our nation and the Vanderbilt campus.” I agree. I wish I knew more about why you believe the things you believe because, frankly, the only reason I can think of is that you are a racist and homophobic bigot.

Do you actually have beliefs and values beyond the “traditional American” nonsense and the conservative political talking points that you seemed to be parroting? 

I know what you think about pretty much everything because your column made that perfectly clear. I think you liked the tone you were putting out. You enjoyed arguing. The more people pushed back, the more outrageous and problematic your writing got, and the more people were hurt. In the mess that is your column, I didn’t get to know your values. I don’t know what you actually believe in and why. I don’t know how your values show up in your fiery rhetoric. However, I am glad that you got to pause, reflect and try to amend. 

You were and still are the epitome of extreme partisanship. I think you enjoyed representing the most extreme conservative policies and ideologies. You have a lot of work to do to truly know whether you are Matt Colleran or the conservative martyr of Vanderbilt—the name that all the “liberal snowflakes” hate. Following any ideology blindly is a bad idea—that goes for liberals too. 

 I’ll admit, I do experience internalized racism and complacency. I am complicit in perpetuating racism and systems of power through the mounds of privilege I carry. As complex as my life is, I hold so much capital; I am a man with relatively fair-skin. I can go jogging anywhere without fear of being targeted. Like you, I don’t know what it is like to walk this world as a Black man. The role of my complacencies in motivating my reaction to your recent revelation is not lost on me. Perhaps the reason I am cutting you some slack is that I am privileged. 

We all need to say what we believe in and why. I challenge you to sit down and write: “I believe that….therefore, I think that…”

I believe that people do grow and change and morph and evolve as they experience life. Your response to yourself is a good thing. 

 Writing and claiming your own beliefs is harder than it sounds. Separating what we believe from what we think is difficult. If we don’t recognize that our actions, opinions and thoughts come from our beliefs, however much we are aware of them, we can never change. You can’t convince someone to support something if it doesn’t fall in line with what they believe. You can’t convince someone to see things from your perspective if you don’t demonstrate that you do have values, that you are not just being a racist homophobic bigot. I don’t know what you believe, so any conversation or debate will never go anywhere. You would just be trying to win, which you now recognize. That is a good thing. 

I am not saying that your apology is adequate. The hope that your apology gave me perhaps comes from my role as an educator: in it, I saw some change. An indication that you are actually thinking and a lesson that you learned, however minute that lesson is. Granted, it seems to have only come after even you could not rationalize why and how Black people are killed – you could not unsee what you saw. It took more people dying for you to finally admit that there is an issue of systemic racism in this country. Let that sink in.

I don’t think anyone should forgive you if they don’t want to. I don’t think anyone should disregard what you said or did in the past. This is not a call for kindness. Fuck that. Kindness and civility arguments have often been used to silence marginalized people. Nobody has to like you (I still don’t) or me for that matter. Nobody has to engage with you, but I hope that someone can see the hope that I see.  

You’re not going to get a cookie for going from very shitty to shitty. Some people won’t forgive you—I don’t. I don’t forgive you for hurting people. I don’t forgive you for devaluing my identities and my story. You are going to have to do much more than writing a cryptic and round-about statement. 

However, I am glad that you wrote it because you made me think: Maybe if more people were grounded in beliefs, not political talking points, we could have social change. Maybe we need more people to take back or reevaluate things they have said and done.

Who would have thought you would take back something you said? Not me. Who would have thought Matt Colleran would admit to being wrong? No one ever. I have been seeing this meme about it being okay to change our minds. I am choosing to believe that for you and for myself. I am choosing to say, “I don’t like him, but I can see wheels turning.” Today, I am taking a sigh and thinking to myself “maybe there is hope.”

What you learn and do from this moment onward, that is up to you. Whatever it is, it won’t be fun, it won’t be comfortable and it won’t be pretty.

Musbah Shaheen 

Vanderbilt Class of 2017