When the lights shut off
And it’s my turn to settle down
My main concern
Promise that you will sing about me
Promise that you will sing about me
Kendrick Lamar, “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst”
Given the current happenings in our country related to Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Akai Gurley, Eric Garner and countless other males of color dying in violent circumstances, I’ve spent a lot of my time worrying. I know I shouldn’t. I’m a product of a violent country and I’ve spent portions of my working career around poverty and violence. I’m a man of color in the United States who is good enough for sports and diversity recruitment, but not good enough for fair justice.
Now that I’ve immersed myself into student affairs again, my awareness is heightened by the conversations people are and aren’t having. I’m not surprised that some of my colleagues are shocked at these recent events. To me, that’s the clearest definition of privilege there is: if you don’t have to worry about it, then it’s a privilege you have. If our graduate programs taught us one thing, they trained us to examine our own privilege, bias, and how they will impact our work. There is a part of me that is sincerely happy we’re talking about #blacklivesmatter and its implications to our work.
Gone but Not Forgotten
I sincerely fear that we as a field will forget what has happened in Ferguson, Staten Island, Oakland, and far too many other places in this country where terrible things happen to people of color on a consistent basis yet never make the news. It is appropriate to be angry at police brutality, an unequal justice system, systematic racism and sexism, and a growing wealth gap which keeps getting worse. Eventually anger subsides and makes way for our attention to follow another trending topic. I sincerely fear that topics on #sachat will move away from social justice topic in a couple weeks and go back to “building intentional communities” or something that we all can speak about and do so with relative comfort. Once we move on, the voices of people we claim to have solidarity for fade into the dark. Once #blacklivesmatter is no longer trending, it will be similar to our conversations about the DREAM Act and trans* students that had people engaged and fired up and have subsided over time.
Don’t Stop Talking about It
It’s not the moving on piece that begins to worry me. It’s the silencing of voices and neglecting of experiences that are left behind that causes me great angst. Social justice is supposed to hold true to one value: to strive for all individuals to live in a just world that is equitable and free. How does this work when we are moving from one fad to another and latching on to the next issue we can get behind? You don’t fight a battle on just one front, you attack it from multiple sides. We ALL have to be invested in the work at ALL times, not just when the news makes it a priority for us to pay attention. A lot of these issues are intertwined (systemic racism is also embedded in economic and political decisions; see “redlining” and Congressional redistricting). It would seem to make sense that we all have a vested interest in changing the system. And a large part of this is working together to ensure students have critical leadership skills so they can engage each other in helpful dialogue. Plus, there are voices from multiple communities that are doing their best to improve conditions for everyone.
But, are we listening to what they have to say?
I hope we can sustain a dialogue and actually makes things better. I hope that we recognize that this is a very American problem and it requires a very American solution. I hope we don’t use excuses like “fatigue” and “we need to move forward” to change the conversation and silence those who suffer indignities. I hope there are no more youth like Andy Lopez, Oscar Grant, and countless others. I hope that another young person doesn’t die violently, whether it be by the hands of law enforcement or a civilian. I hope we don’t ignore it like we have in the past.
> BONUS <
Podcast With Krista Kohlmann on Community Service