Race is a constant factor weaving its way overtly and indirectly throughout my personal and professional life. A part of my own professional identity, I work every day to not be seen as the “Angry Black Woman.” I tiptoe around conversations and make sure that my emotions are kept at bay, in addition to navigating the micro/macro aggressions in the workplace. Though I do not want to speak for all women of color or men, I know such oppressions can exist. It makes it difficult for one to be authentic and true within a field we hold so dear.
As an educator, woman of color and sister, my heart was filled with sorrow after the verdict. I felt uncomfortable for my future child, my siblings and students. The endless amounts of inappropriate racist, prejudice and disgusting statuses filled my Facebook page and Twitter account. Though I was upset, I was not shocked. Such social media tools became a platform for a variety of opinions. That night I struggled to understand and to find hope.
Yesterday, I sought comfort in student affairs networks on Facebook and Twitter to see if anyone else felt the same, had ideas to discuss regarding Ferguson and so forth. I emailed members on campus who are engaged in social justice work and worked to create a prayerful gathering. I continued to engage in conversations with staff, students and online members for the sole purpose of understanding. Though some of the comments I saw and dialogue I witnessed upset me, I knew that the conversations regarding race relations in America, privilege and identity were being discussed. Opening the doors for communication allowed for those who had no idea about Ferguson and Mike Brown to be involved in a teachable moment.
These situations gave me hope. I am thankful for Heather C. Lou arranging a Google Hangout, the special #SACHAT and BLKSAP (Black Student Affairs Professionals) for encouraging professionals to engage in dialogue without fear, blame and resentment. These outlets were done in a respectful and meaningful matter. These instances provided relief after seeing some student affairs professionals hold negative views regarding blacks in higher education. It put into perspective that we have a lot of work to do as individuals, within the field, and the students with whom we interact.
If I can share my experiences with others and open up to engage in conversation, I am doing my part as a professional. What happened in Ferguson matters! It matters to my family, friends, and my future children. This continued dialogue can not only be from me or other professionals of color. All offices and educators need to play a role in engaging in such difficult conversations.
As student affairs professionals we are responsible for promoting and facilitating learning opportunities for our students. Engaging in dialogue about Ferguson takes courage. To do so will take risk and understanding, and you may not have all the answers. That is perfectly ok! Talking about social justice issues or hot topics is not going to be comfortable. Discomfort in discourse can lead to new questions, moments of understanding and reflection. We have to have such conversations in order to be better professionals and educate those around us.
If this is your first time discussing such a topic, thank you for doing so. If you’re new to engaging, I encourage you to not be afraid! Your opinions and thoughts matter and may enrich conversations. If you only use hot topics to engage in dialogue, I urge you to question why. I ask that you find multiple avenues to engage in difficult conversations, not just when it’s the trend. For those who day in and day out engage in conversations around privilege, race, and identity: thank you. Your efforts mean something. You are continuing conversations despite lack of support and gratitude.
Lastly, I send thoughts and prayers to young men who question their safety, to the unknown men who may lose their lives after Ferguson, to other victims of gun violence, to the City of Ferguson, as well as the families of Michael Brown and Darren Wilson.