Tunnel of Oppression

Patrick Hunter-Kilmer Copy-Editor, Vent/Sports Writer
Published 09-23-05
Graphic By: Tim Tuley
You are blindfolded.

You can see a little way ahead, but not enough to know if your next step will send you tumbling.

You can hear murmurs of uncertainty, of nervous chatter, of one among you feigning nonchalance.

Someone puts a hand on your right shoulder and gently pushes you forward. You have no choice but to acquiesce. You have been told where you will go and that others will direct you from there.

You take small steps forward and feel coarse, light fabric brush past your face. The path ahead is at best dimly lit, and there is little point in opening your eyes, so you keep them closed.

The hand pushes harder on your right shoulder, forcing you to turn left. You hear a doorknob click open, and the door is opened. Another hand, this one on your back, pushes you into a room.

"FAGGOT!" a voice screams at you.

Just then, the blindfold is removed from your head, only to reveal that nobody else is in the room. Forced from behind to step further into it, you and your group of six people find yourselves in a room covered with thick strips of black paper. On those strips are written hate words.

Some of them you have no doubt used before. Youíve jokingly called your friends four-eyes, ugly, fat, fag. You've used one of those words to refer to someone, and if that person was offended, it was of no concern to you.

Some of them are alien to you - what is a soup-cooler? You know what a Klondike bar is, but why would you call someone that? And how is Redskin offensive? The football team in our nationís capital is called the Redskins.

One or two, or maybe more, hit where the others miss. Youíre Arabic, not an A-rab, and definitely not a terrorist. Youíre a woman, not a dyke or a cunt or a bitch. Your grandmother, whom you never saw without her walker, raised you.

As you look around the room, you continue to read the words on the walls as you hear them on a tape. Some of them are merely spoken, with no hint of malice. Some are spoken with derision, while others are screamed at you with as much venom as you have used before when you were angry with someone. Maybe you think itís kind of funny to call someone ugly or stinky, but the combination of decrepit, which brutally and cruelly describes your grandmother in her last years, and Bible-beater, which equally describes her devotion to God, is more than you need to see or hear. †

You hastily step out of the room, ignoring the innocent "Are you okay?" from one in your group, and quickly make your way to another room. With your blindfold off, you are more easily able to navigate the distance between the first room and this one. The door is open, so you walk in.

A woman is being raped on the television. On another, dead bodies, no more than skin-covered skeletons, are being unceremoniously dumped into a mass grave. On a third, a man has his teeth on a curb, and another man has his foot on the manís head. You cannot help but turn away, but at the same time you can guess what is about to happen. On a fourth, what looks to be a young man is stripped of his shirt, only to be exposed as physically female. You continue watching only long enough to realize that this scene is going to end as the first did. The last plays host to a cross burning on what you guess is someoneís front lawn.

All of this is more than enough for you. After thirty seconds in this room, you lead the charge to the next and find poetry and quotations on the walls, CD players on tables with chairs in front of them and a woman reading poetry. The listening stations - CD player and chair - are all occupied, so you listen to the poetry. It details the life of a poor rural American in what can best be described as poverty on a good day. It is the United States in name only.

When the group of people at listening stations leaves, you take your opportunity and sit down to listen. You recognize this! Itís from a CD you own. But this ... this isnít hate speech. Itís rap music. These arenít hate words; youíre just listening to lyrics. Nothing harmful is meant by this, you think to yourself. (It isnít directed at you, after all.)

After a few minutes of listening to (your) music, you leave the room and go on to the next. You walk in, take a few steps, turn to your left and read.

What you find there makes you want to curl up into a ball and never think again.

It is a description of female genital mutilation, otherwise known as FGM, and to say it is barbaric is to leave things slightly understated. Before your eyes turn away, you make out "-crude blade, sometimes no more than a rusty razor or a shard of glass, is applied to the genital area of a young girl-"

It is almost enough to make you vomit. You have heard of this before, but it has been a few years and you werenít told very much about it. The level of detail, combined with what you know is there but donít want to look at, is more than you are prepared to take right now.

You move on to other displays discussing various issues from gay rights to the plight of the poor to people with developmental disabilities. Some of them are touching, or make you sad, and one of them - a picture of the Beverly Hillbillies - even makes you laugh. †That wasnít meant to insult, surely. It was just a comedy, like Green Acres. It wasnít real. †Oh, sure, it made the Clampetts look like a bunch of yokels with no worldliness at all, but it wasnít serious.

You spend a few more minutes in there and find your group has caught up with you. †Unwilling right now to discuss the reason you spent so little time in the first room (or the second), the topic quickly changes, courtesy of a guy you wish would spend more time in his room and less in your vicinity, to FGM.

Quickly, the tone of conversation shifts. His morbid curiosity, inside his mind, is one thing, but neither you nor anyone else in your group, save him, really want to discuss it.

He takes the hint, fortunately, and you continue to the debriefing room.

He brings it up again. He wants to know more.

One of the people who was in the room when you got there starts to go into the same stuff you read before you turned away in visceral disgust.

"Could you maybe talk about that somewhere else?" you say, then remember your manners and raise your hand. "I mean ... Iím sorry, but that part of this really disturbed me."

"Whatís the matter?" the guy jokingly asks. "I mean, itís not like theyíre taking a pair of scissors to your-"

"Because it fucking made me sick, you asshole. It didnít matter that it wasnít me. Would you want to read about someone getting his dick cut off?"

The emotion of the past several minutes catches up with you. Embarrassed by your loss of control, you find tears slowly making their way down your face. You wipe away a few and, unwilling to face that insensitive clod, walk quickly out of the room, almost knocking into someone about to go into the first room.

Out of that debriefing room, a woman in a business suit comes and walks up to you so you can see her before she speaks. "Do you want to talk in private?" she asks. Still unable to speak without breaking down in tears, you quickly nod and attempt a weak smile. She takes you to a private room and you discuss what you saw and how you felt.

You have just gone through the Tunnel of Oppression. The Tunnel is run at a number of colleges and universities, including our own. Organized by Kevin Nunley, the goal of the Tunnel is to "increase the awareness of different types of oppression that occur within todayís society and their direct affect on a college studentís outlook on different populations as well as within themselves." While the above example of one studentís trip through the Tunnel was entirely fabricated, it is not a stretch by any means. Working as a guide in the Tunnel last year, I talked to several students who were disturbed, to various degrees, by some of the things they experienced in the various rooms. More than one student didnít make it through the Tunnel.

The Tunnel of Oppression, a four-day event run by Residential Life, will be run in the basement of Heth starting Monday, Sept. 26, at 11 a.m. and ending Thursday, Sept. 29, at about 8 p.m. For more information on this event, contact Kevin Nunley at knunley2@radford.edu.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, Patrick writes a mural.

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Posted by Some Anonymous Whim Reader

wow! well i sure wish i could write like that...i felt as i if i was right there with the rest of the people. i think this is a good idea, but i think it would disturb me too much to acutally do it. but more power to those who can!
Posted by Megan

This was very emotional for me to even read. I dont want to sound like a sick bitch or anything but... I think I may go to this. Your an awesome writer.. dont tell the others but ur my favorite so far.
Posted by Andrew Lent

I'm glad this article has got some attention already. I agree, when I first read it, I thought it was a very, very powerful piece and was eager to run it. Whim really needs more power like this!
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Posted by Katey

Patrick- I thought this was an amazing piece and I'm so glad that I got to have it in my section! Great job!
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Posted by David

I agree with the rest of the comments. Good job.
Posted by Anonymous

Didn't they make an episode of South Park about this thing?
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Posted by Leigh Anne

That was a wonderful article. I felt like I was actually walking through the tunnel. Though - from what you described - many people probably won't go to it, I think that a lot of us DO need to go. I actually heard about it earlier this semester and I do plan on going. Sometimes we need to be reminded of some realities we ignore and think they aren't hurtful.
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Posted by Some Anonymous Whim Reader

To Uhhh...yes they did. It was the Big Gay Al's Big Gay Boat Ride episode, where Stan's dog Sparky was gay and he was having trouble dealing with it. My favorite quote from that one: Stan: "Now, don't be gay! Don't be gay, Spark! Don't be gay!"
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