Student Life Archives (2001-2008)

Menus, police alerts stick to stereotypes

Mallinckrodt food court has an Asian station, a Latino station, an Italiano station, and on Tuesday, it had a Diversity station. Or rather, in “Observance of Diversity,” as the menu proclaimed, the Carvery served fried chicken and cornbread to any patron who wished to commemorate Black History Month through a hearty meal.

Now I know Bon App‚tit (probably) meant well. After all, this is a gross improvement over previous flyers that showed pictures of Malcolm X and Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. alongside a menu that featured gravy smothered pork chops in honor of Black History Month. But for a business that to me already does not seem too friendly to black people, this cursory gesture is just further proof that they don’t get it.

In fact, I don’t think a lot of students at this school get it. It’s not just the fact that I’m more likely to see a person of color clean my room, make my order at Bear’s Den, or shovel snow than I am to see them teach a class. It’s not just the fact that fried chicken and cornbread represent black people when in actuality these foods better represent soul food or Southern cooking. It’s not even the fact that Black Anthology struggles every year because people do not feel like watching a show that doesn’t feature song and dance. It’s all of these things – and then some.

For almost four years, Wash. U. has forced me to become the Angry Black Woman time and again. My blood pressure rises as I have conversations with would-be liberals who to me don’t seem to have a clue about any real issues. I grit my teeth in classes where ignorant students proclaim racism no longer exists or ask why slavery is still relevant. I want to scream when Student Union won’t give the Association of Black Students (ABS) funding, even though it has one of the largest active memberships of any student group on campus, because its members don’t understand why ABS needs to have so many events in the month of February. I pull my hair when I realize Student Life covers more stories about what black people do outside of this campus than they do about the ones who actually go here. Not to mention the many smaller, seemingly insignificant events that drive me crazy but would not make sense to many of you even if I tried to explain.

And now this. A black man assaults a woman on the South 40. I am in no way trying to defend the assailant. What he did was wrong, plain and simple. But when I first heard of the assault, I prayed that this man was not black. I knew it would just lead to the reinforcement of already prevalent stereotypes of black people by ignorant, sheltered people on this campus. And if you think I’m not talking to you because you have two colored friends or listen to hip hop and somehow you are enlightened because of it, guess what, I’m including you, too.

Wash. U. thinks black people are scary, or dangerous, or both, and now this assault has provided a way to justify these suspicions. And I know this, because I just heard someone say something to that effect this evening. But let me tell you, black people are no more or less scary or dangerous than other people.

Did I just reinforce a stereotype by yelling at you? I don’t care. White people yell, too. So do Indians. And, last time I checked, Asian people enjoy fried chicken just as much as anyone. And they damn sure all have the same potential to steal or to assault someone or to teach a class or to make your meal at Bear’s Den as any other race does. It just doesn’t seem that way because of what we are presented with at this school. All I’m asking is that we keep in mind that there is diversity within communities as well as among our University as whole. Not every black person you see is lurking about campus waiting to steal your iPod.

Sheleena is a senior in Arts & Sciences. She can be reached via e-mail at sdtaylor@artsci.wustl.edu.

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