Bigger than blackface: The continued urgency of now

The CSIL Circle was filled to the brim a few days after the blackface incident. (Photo courtesy of Gloria Chung)

 

Rasheed Wesley

Staff Writer

 

The blackface photo has been posted. The outrage has been called. Internet trolls have popped up, and racism apologists have had their say. The town hall has already finished, and statements are left to sift through as answers. Apologies were promised, but not given. This has happened. On our campus. Now we must trudge through the wreckage to find some form of progress as resolution.

 

The Problem

This photo is not new. At least, the symbolism is not. It is a reminder of something spoken of at Galley lunch tables, telling glances shared between students at Marauder Courts, or in awkward class discussions. It is a fact that the administration does not like to address, unless there is campus unrest when its rumblings threaten to become much more.

It is a problem that no amount of Cooking with Soul events, African American speakers, or well-meaning, but not well attended, marches can solve. It is an unavoidable truth: that there is a staggering large divide amongst the campus. It is a gulf much deeper than any of us like to admit, but it is there. We must come to terms with its existence. Because at the bottom of this gulf, is a monster.

This monster seeks to make the gulf bigger, wider, so that it may grow and influence those on each side of the divide long after they leave this campus. This monster has multiple names, such as racism and ignorance, and has many brothers, some bigger or smaller. They live in different places, like your Thanksgiving table, South Suites, or the halls of the White House.

There are people that have even thought to make the monster work for them, a symbiotic relationship as they both feed off the hatred it flings up from the divide on to both sides of the divide, poisoning both sets of people. And worse yet, some people are the monster itself. Like the devil, the most powerful trick the monster has in its arsenal is by fooling us into thinking it does not exist.

It sings a lullaby so sweet, that we forget that it is passing through jagged teeth, and from a being that has devoured dreams, dignity, even lives. It sings a song of post racial societies, it hums the phrases “I don’t see color”, “my best friend is black”, and “it was just a joke”. And all the while, it feeds on our ignorance. But the monster has been threatened by this photo. It has the potential to accomplish the one thing it cannot fight against. It has the ability to wake us up. And for many of us, we are now awake.

For many of us, we have been awake for years now. It would always seem that melanin acts as a natural antidote to the monster’s siren song. It makes us immune to the lullaby, but makes the presence of the gap that much more painful. For us, it is not a sweet song, but a mocking laugh, reminding us of an equality that it is keeping from us. But this address is not for those that are awake. This is for those who are asleep, and those searching for what to do with their new found awakeness.

For those who are just begging to awaken or who are still asleep, I warn you. Being awake is not easy. It is painful. When you wake up, it is akin to the scene when Neo first escapes the Matrix. At first you will be wondering how this could have happened, how could so much bad in this world exist when you believe you are so good. But then you start to see, it is not about you, that you are just a small part of a much larger entity, and that your good intentions aren’t the only intentions that exist.

Then you start to see the ills, the mistakes, the crimes.  You are no longer hearing but listening to the stories, not watching but studying the footage, not learning but retaining the history. You will become confused about the very world you live in, and it is disorienting. This will soon pass. Then, you begin to fill with a rage. A rage so deep, so raw in its despair, that it makes you sick to your stomach. But you must learn to use that rage, aim that despair, at the apparatuses, ideals, and power structures that enable these injustices to continue feeding the monster.

 

The Obstacles

Now the question may be asked; who exactly are these apparatuses, ideals, and power structures that act as would-be obstacles to true equality on this campus? Who would ever, even unwittingly, aid this monster in its goals? The answer is both unfortunately obvious, and surprisingly complex, simultaneously simple and complicated. Although there may be different methods, they are arms of the monster, whether they mean to be or not. The first obstacle on this campus specifically, would be the administration.

There have been numerous examples of missteps in the handling of students of color and minority students in general, missteps that may only be seen by those being stepped on. From the student code of conduct, instances of faculty and student insensitivity to diversity, to the mishandling of the blackface incident, the administration has shown to only truly answer the call of its minority students not to in fact properly heal what has been wounded and make the campus a more inclusive environment, but to quell any potential unrest that could be brewing on its grounds.

The second obstacle, although still technically an arm of the university by extension, would be some specific groups that supposedly advocate for minority students on campus, but do not successfully put in the necessary work to enact the change many of the people whom they wish to represent beg to see in its university. They may have the best intentions in the world, but no number of events will accomplish actual change. There needs to be action, and no longer catering to people that only look like you. That is an echo chamber, and those only provide a place to make your ideas feel affirmed. If you want change, you must challenge those who are keeping the change from you.  

“We have tools to fight for the change we wish to see on this campus and in our education.”

The final, but most important obstacle to overcome, is this feeling of complacency, of apathy, and of self-importance. Too often, we let our personal feelings get in the way, which result in the people we need the most saying “We’ve already made so much progress”, “This isn’t my problem”, or simply only getting involved when it can be beneficial to them. These ideals would have derailed numerous movements from the 60’s and was the downfall of countless organizations that potentially could have done amazing work for this country and its people. And make no mistake, that same ideology runs rampant on this campus, from the administration, through some organizations on campus, down to the student body itself. I, of course, am generalizing; by no means does this apply to all faculty, minority organizations, and students. But in the areas where people in positions of power can be the most effective, this arm of the monster is the strongest.

 

The Tools

We are not helpless however. We have tools to fight for the change we wish to see on this campus and in our education. But it will not be easy. Human nature dictates that we shy away from hard work, shirk it off on the next person, in the hopes that they will do what we could have very well done ourselves. We must overcome this tendency, if we are to accomplish any form of change. Once we have battled within ourselves, the next task is battling the obstacles.

Our first step is organizing, and learning to move as one organization. This may be hard for those involved, because human nature dictates that we would strive to act as a leader. This role is not for everyone, and it should not be. It takes a particular person, who is willing to take the slings and arrows that will be thrown against them. And yes, they will be thrown. No party of change can exist without opposition, and the weight of all the decisions, critiques, and blame rests solely on the head.  Once we have organized and learned to move as a single unit with a single purpose, now we act.

On our campus, there are two avenues through which we can hope to enact change. The first would be direct appeals to the university, meaning to directly challenge the current policies we have in place. This may sound simple, but that would be far from the truth. We must have a thorough knowledge of what we are challenging, including the ins and outs, whom it benefits and whom it leaves out. We must have thorough knowledge of the historical background on what damage this particular policy has had on the student body, or what potential harm it could do in the future.

Secondly, after study of the policy, we must not only come to the administration as one with our grievance, but also offer a solution. It is very easy for those in power to dismiss voices of dissent as merely aimless complaining when those voices do not have a viable alternative that is an airtight solution. If a problem is made public, a power structure can only respond in logic, because now they either have to act with their biases exposed or openly deal with our requests in the public eye with fairness.

However, no change can ever be had unless there are actual feet to the ground. This party that has been organized and has learned to move as one body must be willing and able to take physical shows of solidarity to the places in which their voices need to be heard the most. Social media will not do, eyes and ears need to be upon the protesters. And do not fool yourselves, eyes and ears WILL be on you. The monster loves and is an expert in twisting words and actions, using acts of resistance and morphing them into acts of hate and aggression. That is why it is imperative that these demonstrations be non-violent.

Although the demonstrations be non-violent acts of solidarity and dissent, we must conduct the protest with the severity of what is being protested, and the strength of the power structure that needs to be toppled. Raise your voice, congregate, create signs and chants. The monster thrives on the silence and grows quietly in the slow normalization of his influence. So we must not only raise our voices as one to drawn it out, but disrupt the routine he has created. This is our weapon, and we must use it.

 

The Call

Fighting back is imperative. In this current era, we have run out of time. We no longer have the luxury of sitting and hoping for the best. We forfeited this right on January 20th, 2017. Arguably, we lost it long before that day. Whenever you deem the date may be, the fact still stands that on that day, the clock struck midnight and our idealist carriage turned back in to the true pumpkin many knew it was already was. At this juncture in time, in history, the monster grew emboldened. It heard the bells of democracy as a calling to lead. It slithered through the cracks of The Liberty Bell, and infected the hollow halls of Washington D.C. Now, if we care at all about the future of this campus, or more importantly, the country at large and those whom inhabit it, we must act boldly, and act immediately.

It starts here. You may think that this is an exaggeration, but I assure you nothing could be further from the truth. We, as humble Millersville University students, will soon join the ranks of future leaders of this country and the world. How we conduct ourselves now will dictate who we will become, as individuals as well as the nation. We must take this moment in human history to dictate what later history will say of us as a people.

We, as a university, must take a stand together, in order to ensure the peace, stability, and equality we were sold when we decided to attend this institution. If not, I fear for the future of this university. Perhaps not today, or the next semester, but I fear that if behavior such as the photo continues, the monster will become a titan of unstoppable proportions and an event will  occur that none of us can come back from. For the sake of the future of this university, and the country in which it resides, swift and effective must be taken and soon.

This address is not a threat of any kind. This is a call for peace. A peace that will not be easy or pleasant to achieve, but peace nonetheless. It is a peace for all, not just a peace for quiet and blind order. We deserve a peace that treats all with fairness and equality, not a peace that will still allow the monster to sing to us and continue to feed, widen, and grow. I pray that this work does not pass away from the collective conscious, as I wrote it in order to stand for much more than one issue of The Snapper. For this writing serves a purpose.

This address should be a reminder. If things do not get better, it is a catalyst to inspire students for change, and a warning to keep vigilant and hold the university tasked with making you and those around you better people, as well as maintaining a just and safe campus, accountable for doing or not doing just that. If things do get better, it should serve as a reminder of where we have been, and why we can never go back there. Back to the rift, being taunted and sung to by the monster. I write this because I am part of this university, and I am we. And we are a multitude. We stand together. We are Marauders.

“And I can see nothing more urgent than for America to work passionately and unrelentingly to get rid of the disease of racism. Somewhere we must come to see that human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and the persistent work of dedicated individuals who are willing to be co-workers with God. And without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the primitive forces of social stagnation.”

          -Martin Luther King Jr., 1968

 

  • Man with Axe

    This commentary, while well-written and no doubt heartfelt, doesn’t include enough particulars to allow the reader to know what, exactly, the problems are. What university policies need to be changed? What student behaviors can be changed short of changing human nature?

    When one reads about how there seems to be a similar race-based crisis on every campus these days, he wonders how much of it can be real.