[Editor’s Note: The following article is a follow-up on the bullwhip ban at Olympic College last year. I asked Mr. Harris to write an article about his experience because I thought it would be of interest to most whip enthusiasts. Many of us were dismayed at the situation and wrote the college president in support of him. This is no way meant as an attempt to rekindle the issue, but for Jason to be able to share his experience with our community. I appreciate Jason taking the time to share his experience with us.]
Hello. Let me introduce myself. I’m That Whip Guy. No, no. Not ‘The’ Whip Guy – the venerable Chris Camp. No, my name is Jason Harris. Early in 2013 I ended up at the center of a small controversy surrounding a bullwhip, a local college, and me at the center of it.
Yeah, That Whip Guy. And here’s my story:
I started winter quarter of 2013 off fine enough; but managed to schedule a large break between classes. Given an opportunity between classes, I decided could practice my newfound hobby. To play it safe, I decided to ask campus security if they felt that bullwhips were weapons. Quizzically they asked if I intended on using it as a weapon. When I replied I wouldn’t, they were fine with me practicing. One of the security guards even came up to me on my second day, just to check on me and tell me he had a whip too (Good ol’ Texan boy). I had explained to them that if anyone had any objections to my practice, to please tell me and I would knock it off. I wanted to make sure that I was as congenial as possible in the face of any objections.
My initial concern was that I was going to be too loud and disruptive to class. I had no idea what was on the way…
I used their open field in the middle of their campus, with my back towards the main pathway that was fenced off. Here, I worked on my 6’ hand-made whip that I had built watching an Adam Winrich YouTube video. I also worked my 8’ leather Indy-on-a-budget whip that I was struggling with. I practiced many cracks: over the head, cattleman’s, figure eight, etc. I tried to keep the cracks soft, but did not always succeed (especially when I was frustrated with the 8’ whip).
I did not do this every day, and eventually tapered off to once or twice every two weeks (I live in Washington State, so the weather in winter doesn’t really cooperate). The responses I seemed to get were mixed neutral-to-positive. Most just gave me long, curious stares, while others made amusing comments. I was also asked all sorts of questions such as “What class is this for,” and “is there a club I can join,” and “what is your major?” Jokingly I said that I was taking the whip as a prerequisite to Archaeology (I don’t think they got it). A few people even were curious to try the whips. I showed them a simple crack they could do (safely) and they were very happy with themselves and went on their merry way.
I will admit, now that a year has passed I did hear one negative comment. Behind me was a chain-link fence and a ramp that lead from the upper court yard to the lower, and I had heard, “Can you believe that? How could he be so insensitive? If he saw Django Unchained, he’d know what we went through.” I whipped my head around and scanned for who might have said this, but whomever it was had already disappeared from sight below the level of the park. However, the comment was so asinine I could not take it seriously. Regardless, I packed it in early that day.
The quarter passed at college, and it wasn’t until the last week or two of the term when I was spoken to by a teacher’s assistant in the gym program; warning me that I had angered a professor on campus with my activity. Immediately I said “aw, man. I must have been too noisy.” An E-mail was sent around campus by this individual, which was causing an uproar.
I was a little mortified at this stage, and ceased my whip practice (of my own accord). That evening, I was contacted by the college head of security; who instructed me that I was not allowed to bring the whip to campus again. I went over the situation quickly with him – confirming that he knew that I had asked security first before practicing, and that I was voluntarily ceasing that activity. He agreed.
Over the next few days, I was hearing that the E-mail that had been sent around contained implications of racism – that my practicing a bullwhip was insensitive and innately racist against African Americans (due to historical slavery). I was appalled, and incensed that my actions could be skewed in such a way. I suddenly became known as “That Whip Guy.”
Upon talking with a staff member, I learned that the E-mail thread now included the entire campus, and teachers were arguing with teachers. Subjects of racism, reverse racism, as well as the 2nd Amendment was brought up, and it was snowballing to the point of creating quite a stir. I was then informed there would be a public forum concerning this issue and as I knew that I started this mess, I needed to face the music and take the heat for the incident, in hopes of calming the situation down.
I showed up for the public forum dressed in my Sunday Best. I met a few members of the Olympian (the college newspaper) and gave a short statement. As the room began to fill up, I stood at the back, intending to let everyone have their say. It seemed no one but the reporters knew who I was.
The Professor in question was a black woman I had never seen before. She is a professor of ‘ethnic studies’, and allegedly a former veteran. She had the most to say it seemed; bringing up the cultural heritage of an African American, and the symbolism of a whip. She equated modern bullwhips to instruments of punishment and oppression up until the U.S. Civil War.
Apparently her anger was only flamed when she approached the security department to inform them of my activities. Their reply was “yeah, we know about him. He’s safe.” This apparently enraged The Professor, whom wrote an E-mail with her views and complaints – and E-mailed it to the school faculty. All of them. Past and Present. Over 900 people were informed of The Professor’s ire. (Interestingly enough, I was not included on this list).
She was asked why she E-mailed it to all 900+ E-mail addresses of the faculty, and not take it directly to the college president himself. She dismissed this suggestion out of hand, citing that the president mishandled a hate crime several years earlier. I learned that the hate-crime in question was someone scrawling the “N” word on a bathroom stall, which was painted over later that day – which was either too slow or an unacceptable response to the Professor – who wanted public statements and gestures of a horrified administration that such a crime had rocked our quiet little college. She defended her actions, stating “she didn’t care if she had to E-mail everyone, if she had to E-mail the governor, or President Obama himself, if she was feeling victimized, she wanted it stopped right then and there.
She blamed the administration for not reacting quickly enough to her complaint. The administration countered with suggesting that the Mass E-mail does not necessarily deliver the E-mail promptly to everyone. Each reply to the E-mail thread also slowed their response time. They were working all day with their legal department and other departments in order to get the correct response out. It took them all of four hours to confer with the legal department, confer with the administration, with the handbook, and various other departments.
I was already off campus, so they could not locate me. So they contacted the Security office and asked them to do the honors. This was not fast enough for the Professor – who stated, “There needs to be rapid reaction task force in place; because if I’m feeling victimized for four hours, two hours, half an hour or fifteen minutes, that’s being a victim too long!”
She raged against the security department because when she complained about me, they said that they knew about me and that I was being safe. She stood up and recounted the situation, “I could not believe that in this day and age in the United States of America that we would allow such a thing. I looked around at all the international students and saw the horror on their faces, as if asking ‘how could this happen here?’” Apparently, my activities were terrifying our exchange students – who grew up in completely different countries (which had different histories and cultures) than the United States of America – and the cultural heritage of assaulting African Americans with bullwhips.
The Professor then turned her anger towards the responses she got to her complaint E-mail. A few people supported her stance (far too few in her opinion), quite a few people disagreed with her (far too many in her opinion – with one or two even suggesting that she was being racist for the accusation, citing that the situation was not about race until the subject of race was brought into it), and a great many more complaining that they did not wish to see the E-mail (or its responses) in their E-mail box, taking exception to being bothered with the situation in the first place.
The Professor stated that she looks around at people on campus every day and sees the racism in their eyes, that our school was “so far behind the rest of the country,” in terms of equality and ethnic sensitivity. She demanded that whips be banned, and that the college should lead our city in terms of setting what is right/wrong, allowed and prohibited (Suggesting I couldn’t practice my whip ANYWHERE?!? Whoa now).
A couple other teachers spoke up in support of the Professor, recounting their horror at the earlier-mentioned ‘hate crime,’ and that people (me) were being racially insensitive concerning the whip activity, we (me) did not take into account the potential feelings and sensitivities of minorities when inflicting my oppression about noisily in the air. There were suggestions for required cultural sensitivity classes, citing not only my actions but also the negative/neutral response E-mails.
A couple individuals spoke up about their 2nd amendment rights, objecting to all weapons being banned. A few people voiced their opinions that this entire affair blew up out of proportion, which caused another round of discussion, intimating that people who did not share the African American Heritage “just wouldn’t understand.”
After 45 minutes of debate, the discussion sagged. After a couple of heartbeats of silence, I took the ‘stage.’
I introduced myself. At that point, I was in the middle of my 2nd year of school. I was a 4.0 student on the honor roll, and a part-time tutor. I explained that the reason I picked up a whip in the first place was closely tied with why I went to their college: To start over and find myself.
You see, several years earlier, my wife was diagnosed with cancer, and for 2 ½ years I dedicated myself in taking care of her, and tended to her every need. I quit my job in order to take care of her, I traveled the country with her in search of treatments when primary treatments failed. And in the end she passed away after a very steep six-month downturn. She was 28. She was everything I had, and everything I had dedicated myself to. With her absence, not only did I lose my love and my companion, but I also lost my purpose in life.
Over the next couple years I worked through my grief and began undertaking finding new hobbies, rediscovering old ones, making new friends. I switched from passively gaining experiences to actively seeking new experiences. Ones that weren’t necessarily something I would have gone through in my ‘old life.’ I joined gaming groups, I wrangled fish at the local tribal fish hatchery, I got a motorcycle, I learned a minor bit of leather/armor crafting from my local SCA chums, I picked up Airsoft as a hobby, and I got back into writing (something I had given up years ago). I was a sponge, and if it was new, I sought to soak it up.
I also met a young woman who helped me heal, and encouraged me to go to college (something I had put off for years and years), who was a great teacher and supporter of me. It was during this period that I discovered Adam Winrich’s videos on YouTube. I became a fan and wondered what it would be like to one day be able to learn such a cool and unique skill. Then I came across his “how to make a whip (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gOcRZrESYCI)” video, and suddenly I was off to the races.
My wife did not have a chance to fully explore life, and if I was left behind, I didn’t want to have a blank resume when it was my time to go. I figured “hobbyist whip-cracker” went along well with a variety of unique skills and hobbies I was picking up.
I explained that it was never, in a million years, my intention to cause any sort of discord at the college. I defended the Security office, which not only went by the college manual, but also reacted quickly in notifying me when the complaint was received. I defended the administration, stating “this is an esoteric hobby – not a lot of people do this, which is partially why I got into it.
Who would have even considered adding bullwhips to the list of prohibited items? Might as well add in atlatls or other such things there (I did not mention that one of the martial arts classes on campus offers nunchuck lessons). There was no way they could have the foresight in banning whips, and you can’t ban every little hobby out there. I also thanked the 2nd Amendment’ers for their participation, but I could not necessarily comment on their standpoint as that’s not why I was there.
In the end, I was very apologetic, and regretful of one thing. Why could I have not been asked personally to stop? Why did it require the 900-member E-mail? I was certainly congenial enough on the subject (and made sure to convey that to Security). I was told by the Professor that I was too intimidating with the whip; that although she had stated that she was a navy vet and could “Take me;” she didn’t want to come anywhere near my whip.
I apologized to the gathered staff that my actions caused the need for this forum, to the administration and to the student body that such a ruckus was caused by me. I then extended my heartfelt apology towards the Professor that I caused her to feel this way – although it was not my intention.
She gave me a sour look and said, “I don’t want your apology, man.”
I was stunned for a moment. I think the entire room was as it went completely still. After an awkward pause I said, “Well, uh, you have it anyway.” I then gave up the floor. The mood of the room seemed to shift. The Professor was unhappy – and others were uncomfortable after the apology was declined.
Others piped up (thankfully) that they had noticed that during the entire controversy, nobody ever sought me out and tried to figure out who I was or what my motives were – that the entire story seemed very one-sided. There were a few people (whom I had never met) who lauded praises on me, or at the very least, defended me now that my side was told. None of this seemed to please the Professor one bit.
There were a few more people who spoke, one who even brazenly accused the Professor of racism, which I winced at, as it caused another twenty minutes of heated discussion, but the forum was called due to time.
Afterwards, I met and shook the hands of the college president, as well as several other staff members – who were very appreciative of my tone and respectfulness, saying that I was a real stand up guy, and they were proud of me. To be sure, I was quite humbled by the praise.
After that, the college newspaper did an Op/Ed on me; I got a whole page in the news paper just about me; which was rather embarrassing and fun at the same time. The Professor refused to partake in her own Op/Ed. Apparently the debate continued with a second forum at a later date. I declined to attend, I said my piece. (I did snag several copies of the Op/Ed. Hell, what a conversation starter).
But it’s not over yet. During my interview they had informed me that they were receiving a lot of E-mails over the controversy, from all over the world. I was awestruck, and asked to see them. One that stood out in particular was an E-mail from none other than Robert Dante himself! I was humbled at the outpouring of support for me, and for whip cracking in general. I contacted him and thanked him directly for such support.
I was even contacted by a whip instructor from Utah, by the name of Dan Stuart – who offered to meet me over the summer during a visit with his family, to meet with me and give me free lessons! I was touched by the offer and accepted gratefully.
The whips were banned, citing that the college found them to be weapons – or at the very least an insurance hazard. I accepted this decision (although, I really had no choice). At least the brouhaha was over and done with, at least my part in it. I heard that there was hell to pay over the E-mail thread, the content within and words said on both sides of the discussion. Leaving me out of the E-mail chain was a hidden blessing.
Considering what could have awaited them had they not banned whips – well, there was every indication that a lawsuit could have happened. There were some rumors one was happening anyway.
Over the summer, on a whim, I looked up to see how far the story had spread – and found articles on Robert Dante’s page (http://www.bullwhip.net), as well as Rhett Kelley’s Facebook page, whip-cracking forums, and others. I became aware of communities and organizations and pages dedicated to whip cracking, which all had supportive things to say over the fiasco. I even saw that one group had a letter writing campaign to the college going on, E-mailing the President as well as the Professor, and offering to teach them about the history of the whip. I simply had my hand over my mouth while reading through most of it. I will admit, there were some laughs.
I did end up meeting Dan Stuart over the summer, and he gave me a several hour lesson for free, and let me try out some of the whips from his impressive collection. He pointed me in the direction of Rhett Kelley for future whips, as mine were either of poor quality or beginning to show signs of wear. I ended up contacting Mr. Kelley and made an order, and he offered me the great honor of writing this article for you today.
Admittedly, I waited until I had graduated from that college (kept my 4.0 honors throughout), and got my transcripts before I started writing this. I did not want any backlash from the college for this article. I write this article in hopes that the issue is dead enough that if certain parties back at that school get wind of it – that it won’t stir the hornets nest.
Despite any concerns, I suffered no backlash. Most people were congenial about the subject – indeed, many did not even know the true identity behind “That Whip Guy.” One gal started calling me Indy; which I promptly corrected her “You Call Me Docta Jones!” Sadly, it didn’t take off.
Before anyone gets the idea of starting another campaign towards the college, please understand that that is not what I want – nor the purpose of this article. There were a great many teachers and staff that were supportive of me (names withheld to protect them from backlash); and while whips are banned it does protect the college from any damaging litigation from people who may not want the subject dropped – or who want to make a larger political statement.
What I learned: There are people that are people who are predisposed to being offended. When one “looks around and sees racism on every face pointed towards them,” then the problem might be more internal than external. It seemed to me, listening to the rantings and the reasoning behind skipping the chain of command, that this was a bit of a larger issue, and one that existed well before I decided to pick up my whip at college.
I learned that many, many people – people I had never met, met in passing, or simply were in their class at one point – whom supported me. For the tiniest little while, I felt like the whole world was against me. Speaking with students and staff, as well as seeing the overwhelming support of the Whip Nation (can I trademark that?), I felt both not-alone, as well as very humbled.
When I look back on this affair, I am filled with mixed emotions. Some times I lean more towards “live and let live,” and other times I am very suspicious and cynical about the intentions behind the situation. It seemed to me that I provided a good excuse to air dirty laundry; and I don’t particularly care for that feeling.
I hold no real grudge against the individual I clashed with. I disagree with her, and I feel that she may have been disingenuine, or at the very least did not consider the opposite side when her crusade for “more ethnic tolerance” in stamping out such horrible, symbolic, oppressive hobbies. After all, Ethnic Diversity includes me too, doesn’t it? Sadly, the answer to that has colored my world views a bit. Mores the pity.
I also learned far more about my hobby that I had ever imagined. After the outpouring of support from Whip Nation ™, I began friend’ing and following people like Robert Dante, local martial arts instructor Restita De Jesus, Rhett Kelley, and others. I found Whip Cracking centered forums and Facebook pages. I also met and studied briefly under Mr. Dan Stuart, who took time out of a personal family vacation to visit me, to whom I owe an enormous debt of gratitude.
To these people, and the countless of others that wrote their support, or even just had a kind word about the situation – I say thank you. Truly, from the bottom of my heart. You showed me just how diverse and wonderfully supportive this community is. The fact that this story reached far and wide, and had dozens upon dozens of people speaking up about it really shows that this community is special. And I am honored to be considered a part of it.
I am also thankful for my time at college, and the experiences. They have certainly opened doors and given me opportunities, as well as unbelievable stories to share. I have met many people that have been supportive in my hobby as well as my academics. I am a proud alumnus and savor the few mementos that I’ve kept from there.
In fact… I ordered my very first Rhett Kelley whip with the sole purpose of commemorating my time at that college. It will have a plate that I will get engraved with my time and graduation date. It will also sport my school colors of Red and Silver (White). Just as a nod towards this story in particular. It should be here any day now, and I will treasure it for all the different meanings it has.
What? I’m allowed a *little* snark, aren’t I?
~Jason C. Harris