I was partying like it was 1997 this past weekend — homecoming for Norfolk State University.
You may remember my alma mater as the little school that upset the University of Missouri in the first round of the NCAA tournament three years ago. It was one of the rare occasions people actually celebrated my school, a historically black college that people often side-eye. I’ve had people scoff at the fact that I went to one of “those” schools. One guy even said it’s probably how I got my job, because equal opportunity hire.
So yes, I reveled in the short-lived victory and attention my little state school got. It felt like validation. Take that, Mizzou.
But when I got back to work Tuesday and plugged back into the real world I became a concerned student of life. I shed a tear for Mizzou — a school with a history so rooted in racism that even professors regularly deal with the N-word.
For months, I have been reading about racism there. I didn’t want to write about it. I was exhausted from the never-ending flood of injustice I see as I write about women’s rights, #blacklivesmatter, marriage equality and more.
It hurt to dive into the dynamics at the University of Missouri, where two students scattered cotton balls outside the campus Black Culture Center a couple of years ago.
I was interviewing Gloria Steinem — yes that Gloria Steinem — and I told her I felt emotionally beaten down. She said you cannot feel fatigue if you remember there are people fighting with you, people laughing with you, people who share your desire to change the way things are done. We must share our stories to build connectivity, she said.
And then I remembered when MU student government president Payton Head posted a passionate call to action on Facebook after men in a truck called him the N-word.
How could I have been silent so long when that post reminded me of my time as a Minnesota intern when a woman hurled the word at me like a grenade as I stood silently in shock in the elevator of my building? You see, I went to a historically black college, a safe place where I could learn without discriminatory interruption, but it did not shield me from the racist world off campus.
No one wants to believe what is happening at Mizzou.
They are calling Jonathan Butler’s hunger strike cowardly. They say the football team was misguided in its protest. Despite the police report, some are calling the poop swastika in the bathroom of a Mizzou dorm last month a hoax.
I know we aren’t in a post-racial world. I know what it is like to seek solidarity, to feel the harsh bite of inequality, to be judged and dismissed solely on my race and gender. This is not what students in America should have to contend with in the classroom and on campus. Schools should be safe spaces.
And despite the popular Internet argument, black students should not have to go to black schools to feel safe. And frankly, we’re not safe there either. Howard University was forced to beef up security today after a threat to kill the students.
At Mizzou, following the forced resignation of the school’s president Tim Wolfe, and chancellor, R. Bowen Loftin, black students’ lives were threatened this week. Some white students, teachers and parents didn’t feel classes should be canceled. There was this strange idea that to not go to class was cowardly, it was giving in to the bullies.
Excuse me? When someone threatens to bomb a school, schools go into lock down. We have a history of school murders. In this country, we also have a history of slaughtering black people. We are currently in a battle against police brutality. And before a single person says it, yes I am aware of black-on-black crime. The numbers are about the same as white-on-white crime. Do we need to address those issues? Yes. But that doesn’t change the fact that hate crimes and systemic racism must stop.
But people don’t want to admit we have a race problem in America. If it doesn’t affect them individually, it must not be real. If they admit this is happening, they might have to actually participate in changing the system. If you are silent, you are part of the problem.
So many people don’t understand how to step outside of themselves and simply consider the reality of others. As Star columnist Steve Kraske said, get your heads out of the sand.
Understand that what is happening at Mizzou is happening systemically across the country. At a lunch I attended with Leonard Pitts a few weeks ago, he said the freedom train doesn’t stop, we just get new drivers and passengers.
We aren’t post-racial, we aren’t post-feminism, we are still fighting for equality and humanity across the board.
You cannot really fight for your individual rights until you recognize that we all deserve those rights. Until we rise and rise together, we aren’t moving much further.
You don’t have to attend Mizzou, be a graduate of it or any school like it to stand with #ConcernedStudent1950. You don’t have to be black.
You simply have to be more human.