VCU’s “We Built This City” shirts sparks racial firestorm

by | Nov 11, 2014 | POLITICS

Did VCU “build this city”? T-shirts distributed by the VCU’s Students Today Alumni Tomorrow (STAT) organization have been proclaiming as much, and some students are not having it.

Did VCU “build this city”? T-shirts distributed by the VCU’s Students Today Alumni Tomorrow (STAT) organization have been proclaiming as much, and some students are not having it.

VCU’s footprint on Richmond is hard to ignore, and connections to the university changing the city, particularly near the Monroe Park Campus, are easy to see. But a shirt produced by VCU’s STAT organization proclaiming “We Built This City” has caught the ire of students who say history paints a different picture.

“This city, as well as this nation, was built on the genocide of Native Americans and the metaphysical destruction and enslavement of blacks,” reads part of an OpEd by student August Wade, published in the CT, VCU’s student-run independent paper. “Layered onto that is Richmond’s time as the capital of the Confederacy, an aggressive actor of the slave trade and a participant in disenfranchisement laws.”

Wade took no prisoners as he connected the t-shirts to a broader message about the mistreatment of blacks in Richmond’s history, and the gentrification of RVA.

“The achievements of black people in America, both modern day and enslaved, are routinely forgotten, especially by whites, as a matter of convenient ignorance,” wrote wade. “To live with eyes wide shut and to address issues of race by saying, ‘I’m colorblind’ exclusively serves to perpetuate a status quo of misinformation.”

Wades piece got over 1.4 thousand shares on Facebook – whether for hate or love, his message was one people thought needed to be noticed.

And there was hate.

“It’s articles like this is why racism still exists,” wrote Kendall Marie Lipscomb of King William, Virginia, in a comment on the piece. “Yes racism exists in our past and we should never deny it but trying to pin it down on a tee shirt that could just be reference to a pop song is just plain stupid. If you truly want to give us a history lesson, please stop tying old racism to modern things and move on.”

Wade got enough hate that he wrote a follow up piece. This time, he addressed some of the comments people had – mainly debating how post-Civil War Richmond was really built, whether by whites, slaves, or otherwise. After all, the city was all but burned to the ground after Ulysses S. Grant’s troops over took the city (or not, depending on which texts you read).

The historical accuracy of Wade’s argument aside, the writer’s rebuke clarifies that his argument was about how enslaved blacks both physically and metaphorically built RVA.

Wade cited pre- and post-Civil War texts explaining the use of slave labor in the city’s reconstruction (it’s an interesting breakdown, read it here) but the point he really drives home is the information people seem to be ignoring.

“It’s about the message, the arrogance and the ethos that created it,” he wrote. “Richmond is VCU’s home, not the other way around. To assert otherwise, as the message on the shirts does, is yuppie egocentrism.”

Wade’s not alone in his fight; fellow VCU student William Carino plans to go before the school’s Student Government Association tonight and ask the group “to stop all distribution of the shirts, issue a public apology including an explanation as to why this shirt was inappropriate, and institute a voluntary recall of the shirts.”

The SGA meeting is held at Harris Hall 2107 at 8 PM tonight.

Brad Kutner

Brad Kutner

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