Racism is not just a problem when it results in murder. It happens in the small moments — when you clutch your purse or wallet closer to your body because a black or Latino man walks past, or when a job applicant is turned down for an interview because their name “sounds ethnic.” In a class on race I took a few semesters ago, a white student voiced her struggles and exhaustion with having to think about race so much during that class. A black student responded by explaining that that is how her life has always been — she has no choice but to think about race. It is constantly visible in her life.
This piece is prompted and influenced by the Listen In/Speak Out conversation that discussed the events in Ferguson, Missouri and the role of race on our campus. It is not the only reason I am (or should be) speaking out. People rarely want to have these conversations until the media declares it’s a good time to talk about black people being killed because of their race. Even when people have deemed it a good time to get angry, as a Listen In/Speak Out participant voiced, “White fear trumps black existence.” The power lands back in the hands of white oppressors, even when they are plainly in the wrong.
I am a white woman. I do not understand the experiences of students of color at Goucher. I want to acknowledge that because, even as someone that works on being awake in her own racialization, I too rarely register that people experience racism here. The murder by the police officer who killed Michael Brown happened because of a learned fear that exists among all of us that have grown up racialized in America. We all have that moment of fear and judgment that influences our reflexes.
At the Listen In/Speak Out conference, I heard more than one person voice frustration at the fact that the individual’s identity as a person of color seemed to require them to be a primary educator of white people on the subject of racism. We, as the Goucher community, must change this. A thought that often deflects blame is: “I don’t hate black people so I’m not racist.” It is in these small moments when we react the way that we have been quietly (and sometimes not quietly) taught to do, and we become an active part of this terroristic system that kills too many innocent people. Individuals go to absurd lengths to avoid being called or even thinking of themselves as racist. The first step to changing that is acknowledging the racism.
We need to do something on this campus. We need a sustainable and intentional effort to radically change the way we interact with and view the racist systems in and around us (and our relationships with them). I don’t know what to do other than to talk about it — call yourself out, call your friends out, and don’t let the passion for this problem die out when the mainstream media stops talking about it. In regards to the people that don’t think racism is a flaw of theirs, a culture of perspective and accountability must exist. I would like to hear suggestions from the Goucher community about what can be done to change our culture. One of the thoughts that closed the Listen In/Speak Out was: “The power doesn’t want anyone to get angry.” Who is the power? What should we do with our anger? And how do we get those who don’t care enough get angry about this terrorism?