racism

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.

Advertisements

Why Having a Black Friend Is Not Enough

In case you missed it, on Monday a video surfaced of a policeman in Columbia, South Carolina dragging and pulling a black student from her desk while her classmates and teacher watched. Almost immediately conversation and speculation swirled around the internet.

While some wanted to wait to see if the student “provoked” the officer (which would not have warranted that type of force on a student) others immediately felt that it was another instance of police brutality against Blacks in America. And it was.

I don’t need to know what she did before the police officer attacked her, I don’t need to know if she had a history of disobedience at Spring Valley High School. What I need to know is why is this still happening after almost a year and a half of conversation about race and police brutality against Blacks in America.

So on Tuesday, to shed some light on the situation, Sheriff Leon Lott got up on a podium and tried to justify the deplorable acts that occurred Monday afternoon and it was very problematic.

First, Lott said their investigation would only based on if the officer acted within the training he received from the police department, insinuating that he force the officer used could have been appropriate. Then he patted himself on the back for “swiftly” asking the FBI to investigate this case as well. And finally, Lott attempted to dispel the idea that the officer treated the student the way he did because she was Black by saying the officer who used unnecessary force to handcuff the student “has been dating an African American female.” But since when does dating a Black women mean that a person can’t be racist? Why does dating a black women automatically excuse him from the crime?

It seems that any time a person says or does something that is racist the excuse to quickly follow is something along the lines of “I’m not racist, I have a black best friend!”

But what does that do for me? What does that do for the mother who has to watch her child get slammed to the ground over and over again on various media outlets? What does that do for 12 year old Tamir Rice whose life was taken away from him way too soon? What does that do for his parents? What does that do for the little black boys and black girls scared to leave their houses every morning because time and time again the world has shown them that their lives in fact do not matter? That they deserve to be treated as men and women when they are barely over the age of 14.

I need people to stop using having a Black friend, significant other, family member, etc. to excuse the racist comments that come out of their mouths or racist actions that occur.  Knowing a Black person, smiling at a Black person and even hiring a Black person are not reasons to ignore the problematic things that happen to Black people on a daily basis. These things are not the same as being an ally and should not be confused with that either. Racism is a systemic issue, it is deeper than your personal relationships with Black people.

You want to be an ally, use your privilege during intense moments, call friends and family members out when they try and belittle the treatment of Black people by police in this country. Provide overwhelming support for Black loved ones in your life, we need it. And finally never, ever use your relationship with a Black person as an excuse for why you cannot be racist or oppressive.

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.

Down with Yik Yak

I’m a pretty bold individual, there is no denying that, but even I am surprised to be writing this right now. But I’ve had enough.

When I first toured the University of Missouri, I fell in love. I loved the inclusiveness, the school spirit, the top rated journalism school, I knew it was where I was supposed to be.

I feel like this is the part where I’m supposed to say I was wrong, but I don’t think that’s true. No matter how good or bad the past three and a half years here have been, I have grown, I have grown a lot. Being at Mizzou has forced me to face some things I never thought I’d have to, it’s also helped me take risks and become a more well rounded woman. I will be forever grateful for the opportunities I have gotten by attending Mizzou.

But the one thing I can’t get over, the one thing I just cannot hold my tongue on any longer, the blatant racism.

Six weeks ago my teacher gave us a digital media assignment. We were to pick an online community or social network and immerse ourselves in it for at least a month, getting on it daily. I choose Yik Yak because I had been seeing a lot of Twitter ads for it and so I figured it was worth a shot.

I was almost immediately disappointed. This was the very first Yak I saw upon signing up.

first yak

For those of you that don’t know Yik Yak is a fairly new social networking app that allows college aged students to post anonymously on a virtual bulletin board about the happenings on their campus. Users can see other Yaks up to a five mile radius and can up vote, down vote and comment on individual Yaks. The main point of this app is that it’s anonymous. In fact, when joining all you have to do is certify that you’re 17 and you’re in.

Now I thought the petty name calling and rude jokes were reserved for high schoolers, but this app has taught me that college students definitely aren’t off limits, but I digress.

The reason I am saying down with Yik Yak isn’t because of a few rude comments about a girl’s weight (though that’s no ones business, but her own…and maybe her doctor if she so chooses), it’s because for the first time, I was actually hurt by what was posted on their site and I realized all the app does is fuel the fire. It allows cowards, bullies, sexists and racists to post their thoughts they’d normally keep to themselves for the entire world (or just the area that they’re in) to see. I don’t believe it’s a form of freedom of speech because these people are anonymous. They receive no punishment for their hurtful words. If someone was to (God forbid) hurt themselves because of something said to them on this app, I’m not sure how the creators of the app would trace it back to the perpetrator and that’s not okay.

Say what you want, speak until you’re blue in the face, wherever you want, you have the right to do that, but not anonymously. As adults, we need to hold ourselves responsible for what we say, tweet and even blog. This app doesn’t allow that, which is probably why there are so many rude posts to begin with.

But honestly, racism on the Mizzou campus goes well beyond Yik Yak. If anything, this app has given closeted racists an opportunity to well, still be closeted racists, but with an audience.

ferg

hmm

I guess I just don’t understand why my skin color is such a problem for everyone else. Why are people so angry at me and my black peers for protests in Ferguson that we have no control over? Why does the university continue to push an initiative that simply doesn’t work on this campus?

I’m sick of it. I am. I’m just tired. No I don’t need to grow a backbone, don’t even think I’m shedding a tear over the ignorance I read on this app or hear on campus, but I do get angry. I get angry because I’m expected to keep calm, I’m expected to apologize, I’m expected to “just deal with it,” because “that’s just the way it is,” but it doesn’t have to be.

And that’s why we protest, that’s why 104 (and counting) days after Mike Brown was shot and killed by officer Darren Wilson people are still tweeting and holding protests and demanding answers.

I refuse to let some petty social media app insult my race. I refuse to lie down and take it and that’s why I’m writing about it. To make someone, anyone aware of what’s happening on our own campus. So that my peers can see what other peers are saying about an entire race based of off a 30 second clip shown on CNN once or twice a day.

Grow up. Stop posting anonymous hate on social media sites. Stop supporting them altogether. I’m sick of seeing messages like what I posted above and so this is me doing something about it, join me.

P.S. as soon as I’m done with this assignment, Yik Yak is definitely getting deleted off of my phone.