Black Lives Matter

Why We Need To Listen To People’s Experiences With Racism Instead Of Brushing It Off

Tuesday night at around 8 pm, I got a call from my best friend about a threat being made to students on the University of Missouri campus, via the popular anonymous social media app, Yik Yak.

For the next four hours, we watched our Twitter timelines as the events unfolded at my alma mater.

This was a place I had just called home a few months ago. But it was also an institution where I had experienced more racism than anywhere else in my life.

It’s so easy for those not affected by the threats last night (or even the killing of black citizens by white cops) to say racism doesn’t exist.

What these people fail to realize is their privilege allows them to feel that way.

It’s white privilege that allows you to ignore the voices of the black students at Mizzou. It’s white privilege that allows you to walk around campus and not fear for your safety. It’s white privilege that excuses you from educating yourself on systemic racism and how it manifests.

In my four years at Mizzou, I have been called the N-word every semester. I’ve been told to go back where I came from.

In one embarrassing moment, I’ve even been stopped at the university bookstore and had my bag completely dumped out because a cashier swore she saw me take something.

I hadn’t taken anything.

These acts are more than just coincidences. They are more than just a few bad apples at our university.

They are examples of a deeper problem, not only at Mizzou, but all across this country.

Racism is so deeply engrained in our history that white students on the Mizzou campus today don’t even recognize it. The very campus they walk on was more than likely built on the backs of blacks in 1839, before slavery was abolished.

Missouri was one of the last states to abolish slavery. Our rivalry with the University of Kansas actually stems from the Missouri Compromise and the Kansas Nebraska Act, where Kansas was declared a free state and Missouri was declared a slave state.

Last night, as I scrolled through Twitter and Yik Yak, I saw so many of my white peers and alumni claim getting called a racial slur was no big deal.

They said former UM System President Tim Wolfe’s lack of reaction to racist incidents on campus was not enough reason for him to lose his job.

But they just don’t get it.

What Concerned Student 1950 is fighting for is bigger than one man’s removal from office. It’s bigger than the football team boycotting practice and a game that could have cost Mizzou a million dollars.

It’s even bigger than Hunter Park, who is the student believed to have posted the threats to Yik Yak last night.

Systemic racism is the issue here.

It is why Mizzou put out a tweet saying there was no real threat to campus, even though hundreds of students had seen and heard threats on campus in the time it took the university to craft the misinformed tweet.

It’s why it took four hours for the police to release Park’s name out of fear for his life, as if black lives aren’t under attack every day on campus.

It’s why the University of Missouri can get away with having only 3 percent of its faculty be black, when the black student population is more than double that.

Systemic racism isn’t understood by the majority because it doesn’t affect them.

Unless a person of color decides to give information about the systemic racism he or she has experienced, it doesn’t exist to whites.

White students would rather focus on everything wrong with the protests that have happened on campus during the last 18 months than admit their beloved university has a problem.

It does, as do many universities across the country.

Marginalized groups on campus need their voices heard.

They must be heard.

Last night was not the first time threats have been made to the Black Culture Center on campus, or to black people on campus.

Administrators need to listen to students, create action plans for situations like these and stop brushing them off as isolated incidents. Dylan Roof and other white supremacists have shown us what happens when people ignore online threats.

My fear is if white students, administrators and faculty don’t listen now, they’ll regret it one day.

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The weight of the n-word

I have a confession to make: I grew up privileged. I grew up in a suburb of Indianapolis, IN called Fishers, which has been voted one of the countries safest cities multiple times.

I went to a public high school that’s one of the best in the state where for the first I was surrounded by white people. But I’m getting ahead of myself, let me back track. While I’ve always lived in Fishers, I attended a private school in Indianapolis that housed grades K-8 before trekking out to the suburbs for high school.

My first month there was truly a culture shock. After being in racially diverse classes for the first 14 or so years of my life, I was one of maybe two or three black students taking AP and honors courses and I hated it. I wanted to be in classes where I fit in, where teachers didn’t talk to me like I was stupid.

For my entire freshmen year and honestly all throughout my high school career I felt like I had to choose between being an “Oreo” and being black. I chose to be an “Oreo,” but at the time I felt like I had no choice. I couldn’t help that I was smart, or would have rather written yearbook copy than played sports. I was still trying to figure out my blackness and where it fit in at a school as large as Fishers High School.

I never found it. At least not in high school.

In those four years I let a lot of stuff slide, but the thing I regret the most, letting people who did not identify as black use the n-word.

The word is rooted in hate. It has sense been reclaimed by the people it was once used against and to me there is nothing wrong with that. In fact, in my opinion, there’s nothing wrong with anyone using it, as long as they understand the repercussions of it. But so many don’t (or choose to ignore them) and that’s what I have a problem with.

A little less than 24 hours ago nine blacks were killed in Charleston, South Carolina for being black. How unbelievable. Equally unbelievable is the radio silence from my white peers. The same people that used the n-word consistently in my presence (and still on social media–yes I do still follow you) have nothing to say about the consistent slaughtering of Black lives that has always been happening, but especially since the murder of Mike Brown last August.

I have a problem with that. You see, when you choose to say the n-word you’re choosing to except all the baggage and history that comes with that word. You’re saying that you understand that blacks are systematically oppressed and the problem isn’t black on black crime, or a lack of education, but that this country was quite literally built by us, but not for us. You’re saying that you understand racism is institutionalized and goes so much deeper than a white kid not wanting to play with a black kid during recess. It is not a word that is exchangeable with “homie” or “friend” it is deeper than that.

My problem with this word and all who use it freely is that they don’t get what it means. You see you can’t use the n-word and then say Black lives don’t matter, you can’t use the n-word and then not stand up for your black friends when you see something unjust happening to them, you cannot use the n-word openly on Twitter and then have nothing to say when 12 year old Tamir Rice, 18 year old Mike Brown and too many others to name are getting killed every week in the country just for being black.

James Baldwin once said “To be black and conscious in America is to be in a constant state of rage.” Well, here I am, 5 years removed from high school and furious. I am furious that I never spoke up and let that hate speech slide. I’m furious that I worry about my boyfriend walking home alone at night, I’m furious that every day it seems like another black life is lost to police brutality and racism. I’m upset, I’m pissed off and I am tired. Because all I’ve ever done is live; and somehow in America, living while Black is punishable by death.