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Op-ed submission: Wash. U., we need to talk

Wash. U. Black Organizers

Ever since the murders of Trayvon Martin in 2012 and Michael Brown in 2014, there has been a monumental increase in the national discussion of race, particularly how African-Americans (and by extension, all other minorities and oppressed people) are treated in the United States. This has prompted more people to publicly proclaim what they think about the subject. Along with those who use differences in people as weapons of terror, there are people who want to educate themselves on race to make a positive difference. They seek out conversations with minorities to better understand how the world continues to systematically oppress certain populations and how they might benefit from it. The black community has waited far too long for this conversation, but it is not our duty to begin your racial education. Yes, we will engage in constructive conversations and actions, but being tasked with initiating the conversation about race in other communities is not our responsibility. It takes a monumental amount of energy to be a black Washington University student, and one course that we don’t have is “Teaching White People about Race: S— Black People Know by Age Five.”

This semester, there have been two very public demonstrations by the black community in attempts to engage meaningful conversation and actions about how race is viewed and handled on this campus: the “die-in” in the Danforth University Center and B-WILD. The die-in was not only in response to another St. Louis cop killing a black man but about how frequently law enforcement violates the rights of millions of Americans because they have darker skin and about how the white population at Wash. U. just went on with their days, while their black counterparts were again in mourning. There are hundreds of stories and thousands of pages of government reports that detail the numerous ways law enforcement oppresses minority communities, particularly in cities with a high population of African-Americans.

B-WILD was in response to the selection of Lil Dicky to headline fall WILD. Ignoring the lack of transparency and oversight Social Programming Board has, the inclusion of Lil Dicky demonstrates a distinct lack of awareness and simple respect to the black community. The ignorant and exploitative nature of this artist is apparent the moment you do any research on Lil Dicky, but for the students at this institution to not only be ambivalent by the selection, but excited by it, has publicly exposed this community’s real priority: entertainment over its minority students’ well-being.

These are the two largest physical attempts to spur change at Wash. U., but there are thousands of smaller moments that happen every day. Constantly having to convince that East Coast 20-year-old that police brutality is only one facet of oppression is tiring. Being told to state the ways you are oppressed on a daily basis is draining. Being in a class where there isn’t anyone who looks like you is depressing and isolating. When we step out of the Wash. U. bubble, it only gets worse. So while we are glad to see more people becoming aware of the continuing racial injustices we face on a daily basis, the decision to become active in your learning is not on us. The oppressed are not responsible for convincing oppressors to see them as equal. To put it simply, the progress so far is good, but we aren’t your magical black person that will guide you to be a better person.

There are continuing efforts by the black community to make Wash. U. a place all are proud to call home; whether writing to the administration for black spaces, or fighting for the hiring of more black faculty and administration, we are continuing the march toward true equality that is as American as the Constitution. We want participation from everyone, but we will not force you or do you a favor by awakening you to something our parents made sure we knew as children: The world sees us as black first and a person second.

So what can you do? Realize, even though you don’t carry a flag meant for traitors (Southern pride my a–) or protest the removal of statues glorifying horrible people (history is still in books, you know), you still benefit from systems used to keep black Americans oppressed. Better loans for homes, not having a routine when approached by police so you don’t die and even being able to walk down the street without anyone holding their bags a little tighter are just some of the ways white people do not have to live the same as black people. The sooner this is accepted and acknowledged, the sooner we can be in a world where the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence can become a reality, that truly “all men (and women) are created equal.”

  • Anon

    If you’re wondering why “[t]he world sees us as black first and a person second,” perhaps it’s because you’re continually emphasizing your group identity instead of your personal identity. If you want to be treated as an individual, stand up for your *own* ideas and beliefs, not those of some group you identify as a part of. I can sympathize with where you’re coming from (and if that me saying that evoked disgust or anger in you, that’s part of the problem with identity politics.)

    To see how absurd appeals to identity politics are, take what you’ve written and try replacing “black” with another group identifier. For example, I’m somewhere on the autism spectrum (I have light Asperger syndrome) so I might identify as “aneurotypical.” We could rewrite the first paragraph of your piece as follows: “Yes, we will engage in constructive conversations and actions, but being tasked with initiating the conversation about aneurotypicality in other communities is not our responsibility.”

    Do you realize how absurd that sounds? Why should the onus be on other people? It’s your responsibility to expose people to new ideas and to tell them about your experience, because ***your opinion about race isn’t automatically correct in virtue of you being black.***

    Yes, you have lived experience that most people can’t relate to; but no ones going to listen until you hit them with hard data and facts. In this piece, you point out two incidents–the acquittal of Stockley and Lil’ Dicky coming to WILD–and assume that this is further evidence of the obvious systemic racism in our country. Well, perhaps you should provide some hard data on the systemic racism in this country. That’s a pretty strong presupposition to have, so you ought to back it up.

    We live in a western society where a plurality of opinion is allowed. Don’t expect to shove your ideas down other people’s throats. If you want to win the battle of ideas, go convince people of your position. Have you read books that espouse ideas diametrically opposed to your own (for example, the work of Thomas Sowell or Glenn Loury)? Do you know your opponent’s arguments better than they do? Once you can answer yes to both of those questions, then we should talk.

  • Val Ryland

    “Ever since the murders of Trayvon Martin in 2012 and Michael Brown in 2014, ”

    Self-defense isn’t murder, buddy.

  • Martin and Brown were murders? Sez who?