In light of the events over the summer, it occurred to us at the Black Student Alliance that it might be valuable to have a guide to navigating and understanding activism at the University when you are not black. Starting the new school year, many black students were faced with questions like: “Are you sure you want to go back?” Well, we have returned and we are frustrated. Here are some rules that will make this school year a progressive one. Listen up!
Don’t turn to the one black student in your class when the events of Aug. 11 and 12 are mentioned. It is more than an uncomfortable moment when the entire class turns toward you in anticipation for a profound analysis of white supremacy. Black students should not be expected to understand the intricacies of the injustices of this country any more than a white student. We all have access to Google and the intellect to come to our own conclusions on the significance of Aug. 11 and 12. Don’t make black students do your homework.
Tiki torches were a problem, so stop trivializing the issue. The white supremacists who made the University their stage this summer used a lot of symbolic language and visuals. Torches are not a new tool for lynch mobs, so we shouldn’t be surprised that the grandsons and granddaughters of the Ku Klux Klan decided to raid their grandparents’ attics. Cookout decoration or not, the hate is still present and palpable. These visual demonstrations have left a lot of University students traumatized and for that reason, we need to understand that the issue resides in their intent and messaging behind wielding torches.
You don’t get a cookie for being a decent human being. If you are going to go to the protest and proclaim that “Black Lives Matter,” do it for the cause not the credit. Today, we live in a society where you get claps on the back for not being a white supremacist when that should, in fact, be the norm. Taking an African-American or African studies class does not absolve your participation in oppressive institutions. Passive activism is not good enough. The most effective efforts to dismantle bigotry start with correcting the bigots within your personal circle of family and friends. If you are not ready to make this step, evaluate your reasons for joining the fight because the only way to make progress is through genuine intentions and actions.
Don’t feel guilty, just do the work and gain understanding. White guilt has never helped anyone, especially when it pertains to history. A common misconception is that black people want white people to make up for the deeds of their ancestors. The truth is that we want you to make up for current injustices. It goes back to doing the homework. Do not accept everything you hear on the news or are taught in your classes. Take the time to draw your own conclusions. Between mass incarceration, police brutality, gentrification, the Flint Water Crisis, living wage and whitewashed education there are plenty of research opportunities to open your eyes to the daily oppression faced by people of color. A black friend is not required for a self taught curriculum, in fact, it is better that you make black friends after the education process has begun. It cuts out the uncomfortable conversation about microaggressions and your parents inability to accurately pronounce or remember their name.
Realize what the University stood for and continues to stand for, even if it hurts. Every University student understands its importance differently. We should all be on the same page in regards to its connection with white supremacy. Our founder, Thomas Jefferson, was a complex man to say the least. He wrote the Declaration of Independence and set his sights on cultivating religious freedom, but let’s be clear that intelligence does not excuse racism or sexual assault. I know for many students it is hard to reconcile the founder and the slave owner, but understand they are the same person. That is why the University’s foundation is embedded with the evils of eugenics, slavery and Jim Crow oppression. Neo-nazis and the Ku Klux Klan did not invade Charlottesville, they simply came home. It is essential that each and everyone of us aim to understand and contextualize our University’s place in the history of the United States.
It is not hard to understand the struggle of being black at a predominantly white school. The hardest job one can take up is educating themselves on their current place in history. It requires self-evaluation and confronting the facts which are hidden in plain sight. For many students, it will be hard to look back on their lives and realize that a lot of their encounters with racism involved their family and friends, but that is where the growth begins. This realization will allow for open and honest conversations on and beyond Grounds. Now, type in the Google search bar “Ava Duvernay’s 13th.” Class has begun.
Keiara Price is a second-year College student and member of BSA’s Political Action Committee. This column is part of a bi-weekly series by the Black Student Alliance named “What’s the Word?”