The Black Lives Matter hashtag was created by three Queer Black women, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tomet as a call to action when Zimmerman was not held accountable for the death of Trayvon Martin. Garza states in, “A Herstory of the #BlackLivesMatter Movement,” that the hashtag is a “response to the anti-Black racism that permeates our society and also, unfortunately, our movements.”
As educators, we are responsible for assisting in the development of our future generation, therefore, we wonder how we can challenge ourselves and other student affairs professionals to read Garza’s statement and replace “our movements” with “our institutions.” The killing of Black individuals has not abated or slowed yet at least with #BlackLivesMatter, and other people of color-led grassroots movements (both in communities and on college campuses) have made these murders at least momentarily more visible to the dominant culture. Our society and culture breaths racism which includes our educational institutions, as seen in one explicit way by the recent video release of members of Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) singing their racist chant. How many times was this chant sung? Why do they all know the words? Why does it bring them so much joy? Could it be the the fact they get to say the N-word or because they believe they are freely saying it behind closed doors? Or so they thought. This was not the first incident or video release for SEA with a member using the N-word freely, as seen by the house’s mother video of her using the N-word in laughter as if the word holds no pain, no power, and no history. Her response reaffirms this fact: “I am heartbroken by the portrayal that I am in some way racist…”
As student affairs professionals we are all implicated. As we move up the power chain in our careers as professionals, sometimes it can feel like seeing Oz behind the curtain — we see more clearly the “realities” of institutional and systemic racism, racism, and anti-blackness. This may look like being in meetings where individuals share racist ideologies and prejudice, and assume that because the rest of us are these must necessarily agree because we are there. This also looks like the professionals of color in the room being in a double-bind of either not being able to really say what they would like to say or having to risk their power and influence when they challenge what is happening. Both sides of this double-bind come at a high cost both personally and as professionals.
The questions must be for white administrators in all this:
1. Do you see these dynamics happening? If not, look closer. Listen to your POC colleagues.
2. What personal work are you doing? Who are you reading? Who are your go-to higher ed books written by?
3. What are you doing behind closed doors to contest racism directed at your colleagues and your students?
Number three is the hardest, of course, because it comes with risk. However, it is one of the ways white administrators committed to anti-racism can use their privilege for good, because the privilege of whiteness means that the risks and the costs of speaking up are so much lower than for black and brown administrators. The two of us have compared notes about how we are responded to when we contest a racist dynamic or sentiment at the various institutions we have worked at, and Luz tends to be met with hostility, and Judy tends to met with nods.
For all SA professionals, are you re-creating a culture of institutional racism to assume power? Can you engage in forms of resistance if you chose to adopt structures of oppression? We are putting many questions out there in this post, because we ourselves are works in progress in anti-racist work, and we will always be in progress.
We are in a time where both the scariest, most violent forms of racism still exist, and co-exist along with individuals who smile in the faces of the oppressed and denigrate them with their policies and their closed-door words. So, what do you say behind closed doors? What do you support behind closed doors? What are you afraid will be your “leaked” video?
Photo Credit: http://bit.ly/18zry7G
> BONUS <
Podcast with Maryann Krieglstein on Social Justice & White Privilege