Racism 101…alive and well on every college campus

“Colleges have become cesspools of political correctness run amok and perpetual victimhood…Mizzou’s first “demand” was for the now former president to acknowledge his “white male privilege”?! WTH is that?!?! Yale just had a big deal in regards to Halloween costumes offending others? The list is never-ending…

This “racist” nation has a black president, a black man is the leading candidate to succeed him (my guy, btw), there are countless programs like Affirmative Action and groups like the NAACP that exist to benefit minorities and we have kids protesting what? The fact that a white man DARE to be in charge at their university? I dunno if that’s why but they certainly didn’t make clear WHY they were upset.

My point in all of this is this…They, as in ALL of the brainwashed students everywhere will continue to feel they are “victims”…it’s a never ending cycle”

– Steve Plympton Jr. A poster on on the BGIM Facebook page

For the past several days I have been watching the events unfold at the University of Missouri and realizing that the situation was starting to feel a little too close for comfort as a mother who once sent a child off to college only to have that child  realize in quick fashion that racism never went anywhere.

My eldest child graduated from high school in the spring of 2010 and his future seemed bright; he had started high school in New England and his first year in high school proved to be rather lackluster. Yet the decision to have him move back to the Midwest with his father in his sophomore year would be the turning point in many ways. Going to a racially mixed school, where he would have teachers of color as well as being surrounded by students of color, took a kid who had spent elementary, middle and the first year of high school muddling by and seemed to ignite the long-needed spark that he needed to find himself. He got involved in theater, music, his grades shot up, he was selected for Boys State and he even ended up being a governor for Boys State.  By the time graduation arrived in the spring of 2010, he was offered a four-year scholarship to a private college in Northern Wisconsin.

The downside of having had my son as 19 was that there was never any opportunity to stash away money for college. Like many parents, we meant to but it never happened. Which meant that in the spring of 2010, my son was facing some hard realities and we his parents and stepparents were facing some hard numbers which meant that while St Norbert’s College had never been on my son’s wish list of schools, it was where he had to go because it was the only place that we could afford with the scholarship.

We should have known better but in 2010, we as a nation were still basking in the afterglow of a so-called (but illusory) post-racial America. There was no reason to assume that my son was going off to a racialized zone but that’s just what he was doing. More importantly, like sending a young person off to a war, my son would emerge from college a very different person who would learn that his biracial background meant that he was just a light-skinned nigger to the average white person. Having a white father and a family name that traces its roots backs hundreds of years in Maine is meaningless to him and to the world. The same young man who used to chide me for talking about race suddenly understood why I made him read the books that I had made him as a youngster and why I insisted that we talk about race and how the world would see him.

My son’s early months at St. Norbert’s seemed promising. He settled into a major that suited him well. He joined the crew team and turned out to have quite the aptitude for rowing. He was even able to room with a white friend from high school. Yet he would soon learn all about microaggressions, those so-called “small” slings and slights that start to take a toll on you by gnawing your dignity and psyche to death by small, incessant degrees. By the end of his freshman year, music and philosophy would be his salve yet the “good” times were just starting.

We as a family would learn that on many predominantly white college campuses, diversity is nothing more than empty words and photo ops for the school propaganda to make the school look good. That when racialized events happen, too often administrators do nothing; in fact when a student of color speaks up, often it comes back to hurt them.  During my son’s time at St. Norbert, he encountered white students in blackface and yet when my son went to complain and admittedly he did take pictures of the offending students and post them on Facebook, the students in blackface (who happened to be white girls) told the powers to be that they felt threatened by my son’s actions.  By the end of my son’s freshman year, almost every non-white kid who had started the year with him was transferring out.

Too many times during my son’s college career, I sat on my hands knowing that he wanted to make us proud and earn his degree and several times he explicitly asked me to not share what he was facing publicly.  In other words “Mom don’t write about it.” However, my son’s junior year was the tipping point; it was the year that to be honest, I thought we might lost my son. You can only be called out of your name so many times before it affects you on a molecular level. There is a point where racial microaggressions becomes death by a thousand pin pricks and you bleed out slowly. It was around this time that my ex-husband and I became a unified force to support our son and that rap music the hobby became rap music the possible real career.  

My son would spend the summer between his junior and senior year as a touring musician and would eventually decide not to return to college despite being less than 20 credits away from his bachelor’s degree. At the time, the respectable Black mama would wince that he chose not to return to college yet Mama the realist understood that a piece of paper wouldn’t mean a thing if my son were pushed too far and ended up in a cell or a body bag.

Far too many people want to lay the recent spate of racialized events on college campuses at the feet of the Black Lives Matter movement and other organized actions. Yet the truth is Black youth have been facing racism on college campuses forever, it’s just that no one really talks about it. Yet the Obama years in many ways have emboldened those who harbor racial prejudice towards Black and Brown people to let their inner hatred run amok. Too many white people think that because they voted for Obama or because they aren’t actively wearing white robes and hoods, they couldn’t possibly be racist.

More importantly, because white culture is so very polite and often steers clear of uncomfortable topics such as racism, white people often don’t realize that when you are not actively engaging in an anti-racist lifestyle, you are centering whiteness. If you live, work and love in all-white spaces and your kids never see you engage with non-white people, what message are you sending to your kids? Sure, you “like” all people but is that evident in how you are living? Our media centers whiteness and pretty much sends the unconscious message that we all feed on: that whiteness is superior unless you are an ass-shaking Black entertainer or ball-handling sports player.

So the only antidote to society’s prerecorded program that whiteness is best is to actively dismantle that notion and live your life as someone who truly is inclusive of racial differences and truly accepting of and substantively interacting with non-white people regularly. Period.

Otherwise your “non-racist” kids show up on college campuses with my kids and other kids of color with 17 to 19 years of programmed messages that you never took the time to dismantle. Finally, when in proximity to real people of color, these white kids who have never really shared space with real, live people of color basically interact like a pan of piping hot oil and chilly ice water. It’s not pretty and the result is often racialized microaggressions.

As for the young people across this nation fighting for basic humanity at Mizzou, Yale and other schools, keep ya heads up high and fight the good fight. Technology means your message travels fast and we can dismantle this racist system a lot faster than we could just a few decades ago.
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1 thought on “Racism 101…alive and well on every college campus”

  1. Hello,

    I want to say that I’ve truly been moved by all of your recent posts–your vulnerability and openness in sharing about the big life transition you are moving through with your divorce.

    I thank you for this heartfelt piece on your relating to the Mizzou students’ plea for ridding the school of its racist football coach and university president. I felt sad hearing how your son went from being confident in himself, thriving in his school environment, and free in seeking out leadership roles before college, and then at the hands of countless micro-aggressions, he realized all that you had wanted to prepare him for, warn him against, was an all too harsh reality, so I can only begin to imagine what it felt like for you, his mother.
    Thank you again for your honesty, and important dialogue on what is going on on both a personal, and yet, universal level. The actions of the Mizzou students, that brought about a radical, positive change, makes me hopeful that people of color are finally starting to be heard. I know we have miles and miles to go, but it’s a start.

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