Support Our Students
The terror is all around us. It always has been. Our own country was founded on terror, on genocide, on dehumanization and mass murder. The bodies who've had to bear the weight of terror have been many- First Nations tribes, Mexicans and Mexican Americans, Black Americans, Chinese Americans, Japanese Americans, and the list goes on. Even some European Americans experienced harsh dehumanization before racing through the escape hatch of whiteness. And while America has an uncanny ability to proclaim freedom and democracy while simultaneously excluding entire groups of people from the same, the US is not the only country with its feet caked in the blood of others.
I know very little about the world outside the US. I say this with no amount of pride. The truth is I have been dedicating myself to learning the truth of America's own history- wading through books, movies, lectures, and essays to separate fact from fiction, to fill in gaps of missing information. So I will not now pretend to know enough about the relationship between the Middle East and Europe to give any sort of political insight to the recent attacks in both places. I will simply say that I was profoundly saddened by the attacks in Paris and profoundly ashamed to not have known about the attacks in the Middle East until Twitter asked me why I didnt know.
As we all sat engrossed by the pain, fear, and confusion unfolding on our televisions, many of us noticed a curious thing happening on social media. There are people out there who decided it would be an appropriate moment to "teach" student activists about "real oppression". The problems with this statement are many:
1. It ignores the history of white supremacy in institutions of higher education. We, in the US, dont have to twist ourselves into a pretzel to identify the history of racism in public institutions. There is a desire of so many to interpret events of today, a-historically, to pretend that some veil dropped out of the sky, clearly separating past from present. There have been plenty of articles outlining this history specifically for #Mizzou, and we have access to the history of many more. We must take seriously America's history of segregation, animosity toward integration, and considerable lack of support for students of color in years since. Contrary to popular belief, Black people didnt fight for civil rights because we desperately wanted to hang out with white people. We didnt seek integration into previously white schools because we wanted admission; we wanted equality. We wanted an equal education. If there are still forces, rooted in history, prohibiting an equal education for black students, than we all have a duty to stand with those students and demand the fulfillment of that civil right.
2. It minimizes the online threats being leveled at black students in the wake of their protests. Our students have every right to be fearful about a gun threat. I was a freshman in high school when the Columbine Shooting changed everything. I turned on the television and watched kids just like me racing out of their high school away from peers who decided to take as many lives as they could. Since then mass shootings have almost become common place. They are no longer unimaginable. And therefore, it is absolutely ridiculous to suggest that black students shouldn't have been afraid on yik yak postings started threatening their lives. Our students dont just have school shootings to be fearful of; just 5 months ago they watched breaking news of a white racist who walked into a church building for the express purposed of killing black people. There is every reason for black students to take these threats seriously. And so should all the other students on campus, and so should their parents, and so should the professors, and so should the staff... Because when the safety of one group is threatened on a college campus, everyone is at risk.
3. It perpetuates the myth of the casual racist. There seems to be this idea that casual racism "isnt that bad". Its a luxury of white privilege to think that there are some white people who just havent caught up to the modern age, or that folks who still say the n-word or 'colored' wouldn't actually hurt anyone, or that people who just dont want to be politically correct should be laughed at for their ignorance, or that those who use swastikas, nooses or confederate flags for intimidation would go no further. What black people know is that its only our bodies that separate a casual racist from an infamous one. We cannot assume that casual racism wont evolve, wont churn into hatred, wont become a plan, wont result in violence. Until we are fed up with "casual racism" students will continue to be concerned about their safety, and they should be. The desire to not be a hashtag is strong, and they have no crystal ball to tell them who to fear and who not to fear. They need university officials and the police to take their concerns seriously.
4. It suggests that black students must wait for terrorism. It is appalling to even suggest that students have no right to advocate for themselves unless they are experiencing absolute terror. How dare anyone suggest that oppression takes only one form, as experienced by Paris, and make that the standard for having the "right" to protest mistreatment. Students of today know all too well the potential for being terrorized (see #2) on their own campus. I will not tell them they must wait for that terror to arrive.
We live in a frightening world. Our students are well aware of this fact. Rather than berate them, judge them, scold them... perhaps we could try a different approach. Perhaps we could try standing in solidarity with them, encouraging all systems of protection to do just that... protect them. Their black lives matter while still alive.