Of course I’m gonna feel some type of way about the current incidents at Mizzou (University of Missouri). Any visibly black, othered body on an educational campus would. But I have to make a distinction between what I feel and what I can only imagine black students feel on Mizzou’s campus.
I’m upset. I’m frustrated. I’m tired.
However, I do not feel the level of terror that Mizzou’s black student/faculty population must be feeling. My physical distance and current space of no known or perceived threats to my safety allow me the privilege of feeling anger and not fear.
This is also why I have the time to express my frustration with academic institutions as complicit actors in the continuation of bigoted students and faculty sharing hateful words and actions.
What is happening at Mizzou is not new. Hateful actions and speech from the offensive to the dangerous are common occurrences for students of color at school. We are prepped from primary school what the presence of othered bodies encourage people to say.
From elementary when I was asked how I and other black people knew how to shower, to middle school when I was told that black men are on the news the most because they are all criminals, to high school when I was lectured about why black girls aren’t deserving of love or affection, to college when I’m expected to politely counter my classmate’s view about how the increase of people of color in America will result in a “new racism against white people”.
Students of color, particularly students on predominantly white campuses or programs, are much learned in the ways of receiving and digesting racism.
We are not sensitive, self-absorbed, dramatic, angry, reading too deeply into things, making everything about race, or “reverse racist”.
We are correct.
We are correct in being “sensitive” to racist commentary after years of hearing it.
We are correct in being “self-absorbed” after years of sacrificing ourselves to make others comfortable.
We are correct in being “dramatic” after years of speaking quietly to allow others to yell over us.
We are correct in being “angry” after years of self-denial and all the work that comes with unlearning internalized racism.
We are correct in “reading too deeply into things” after years of education that hid, edited, or lied about our history.
We are correct in “making everything about race” because, indeed, white supremacy made sure everything was about race.
And we are correct in being “reverse racist” if that means for once you can begin to recognize and acknowledge what it means to be singled out based solely on an aspect about yourself that can only be blamed on nature.
When acts of racism occur on campus, to the degree that it receives public, national attention, universities are very good at identifying all responsible individuals/parties, removing the bad apples, apologizing to the public, and creating new rhetoric about how every student deserves to feel safe on campus.
This is not enough.
There is a reason why so many students and faculty alike feel comfortable sharing racist or hateful views toward students of color and/or other students of marginalized identities. There is a reason why, despite affiliation with an academic institution and the repercussions that can come from said institution, university members continue to publicly show hate and distrust.
It’s about time institutions of higher education address why this persists in spite of the actions taken post-incident.
Colleges and universities need to ask themselves in what ways are they complicit in this comfort to bigotry.
Even taking into consideration all that we’ve done in the name of diversity and inclusion, how do we, as academic institutions, set examples of racism, elitism, and an overall disinterest in why students of color still feel unsafe and why white students still feel justified in promoting hate?
Of any place, academic institutions should be safe spaces. The resources that university members are privileged with access to should prevent misinformation and ignorance. The classes, lectures, and events faculty create should prevent silence or self-serving discussions. The very desire to be educated should encourage students and faculty to challenge what they thought they knew upon arrival.
I’m asking universities who really wish to address and help correct acts of hate on campus to talk with their students of color. Because there is so much these institutions just don’t know.