TABLE OF CONTENTS Editorâ€™s Letter 4
The Interviews 8
Origins Classroom Encounters & Institutional Obstacles Wider Effects Isolation, Diversity, & Finding Community Activist Work & Goals Student Demands & Response Building Awareness Challenging the Status Quo Moving Forward
About This Zine 50
Special Thanks 51
The winner is the one who keeps asking questions. —Ta-Nehisi Coates on his start as a journalist “Beginnings,” New York Magazine, January 2016
EDITOR’S LETTER Last winter, just as I completed the first issue of this zine, focusing on how the movement for Black lives brought racist police brutality to national attention, another round of crises was on the horizon. The Supreme Court heard arguments in Fisher v. University of Texas, a case challenging Affirmative Action. While journalists and intellectuals debated this the merits of this system intended to counteract the centuries of discriminatory legislation and practices that had been blocking Black communities from advancement for generations, Black students around the country were showing that problems of institutional racism didn’t stop once you finally got to the Ivory Tower. From Yale students deciding enough was enough after a controversy around racist Halloween costumes went too far, to Uni-
versity of Missouri students escalating one grad student’s hunger strike to forcing the school’s president to resign, protests around the country bubbled up to the point that the nationwide Black Liberation Collective was able to collect a list of demands from 75 different schools. In short, a storm is brewing, and it has expanded from the justice and legislative systems to target another of the foundational pillars of our society: education. Not surprisingly, many—on both the right and left sides of the aisle—are not too excited by the prospect such a fundamental overhaul of the status quo. To me, this is the natural direction of a movement that is trying to so dramatically change the lot of millions of Americans. It brings to mind a quote from the luminary Black lesbian feminist Audre Lorde: “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.” Then, she was reminding white
feminists that banding women together was not enough to fight oppression if race, sexuality, class, and other identities didn’t come into the equation as well. She was protesting the way that academics failed to take these profound experiences of difference into account when deciding how we educate ourselves. Similarly, student activists are challenging what the conventional American college experience is built upon: whiteness and wealth. They are reminding us that education forms the foundation on which oppression is so often built, and they are demanding a radical transformation of academia’s construction of American culture. Beyond racial quotas for students and faculty, and how many thinkers of color show up in the syllabus, they’re forcing Americans to answer tough questions about just how important the minority experience is to how we understand our world. I wanted to hear from students on the ground on what experiences drove them into the movement and what they thought of its detractors. I also wanted to hear from
professors of African-American Studies at universities facing protest, many of whom were present for the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Arts Movement that demanded a place for these studies in universities in the first place. I wanted to hear a take more nuanced than the reactionary op-eds calling college students today “too sensitive,” and maybe more hopeful than the belabored responses of Black writers obligated to combat them. Taken together, the perspectives gathered here reach toward helping America reckon with the consequences of its own racist history, and create breathing room for marginalized populations in our nation’s story—starting with how we teach it. I learned a lot. I hope you will too. In solidarity, Maya Meredith Editor, Wade in the Water
INTERVIEWEES Eniola Abioye Eniola is a Nigerian-American from Oakland, CA. She is a recent alumna of University of California Berkeley, where she studied Integrative Biology and African American History. During her time there Eniola served as a manager in the African American Theme House and was an active member of the UC Berkeley Black Student Union. She is now the Director of Field Operations for the Afrikan Black Coalition, a collective which organizes for Black students and their communities across the UC system. Sariyah Benoit A Bronx native, Sariyah attends Emory University, where she is a second-year student majoring in African-American Studies with a minor in Math. She sits on the board of the Black Student Alliance, and is a Black Student Union Fellow for Aggregates for Racial Justice, which holds workshops and conversations on race issues on campus. Darializa Avila Chevalier Born and raised in Florida, Darializa is a senior at Columbia University, where she majors in Middle Eastern Studies. She is part of Students for Justice in Palestine and the Mobilized African Diaspora, a recently created activist organization at Columbia amalgamated from many Black student groups on campus whose members are interested in activism and advocacy for racial issues.
Garrett Albert Duncan Professor Duncan is Associate Professor of Education in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis. He also holds an appointment in African & African-American Studies and courtesy appointments in American Culture Studies and Urban Studies. Professor Duncanâ€™s research focuses broadly on race, culture, education, and society. Along these lines, he has published extensively on black youth, identity, language, and ethics. Michael Hanchard Professor Hanchard joins the University of Pennsylvania Department of Africana Studies from Johns Hopkins University Krieger School of Arts and Sciences. A scholar of comparative politics specializing in nationalism, social movements, racial hierarchy and citizenship, his books include Orpheus and Power: Afro-Brazilian Social Movements in Rio de Janeiro and SĂŁo Paulo, Brazil, 19451988 and Party/Politics: Horizons in Black Political Thought. Professor Hanchard holds a B.A. in International Relations from Tufts University, an M.A. from the New School for Social Research, and a Political Science Ph.D. from Princeton University. Carl Hart Dr. Hart is a neuropsychopharamacologist at Columbia University, where he conducts research and teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in neuroscience, psychology, and pharmacology. He studies the interactions between recreational drugs and the neurobiological and environmental factors that mediate human behavior and physiology, and works with community groups and government officials to bring about more effective drug policies and treatments. Dr. Hart holds a B.S. in Psychology from the
University of Maryland, and an M.S. and a Ph.D in Psychology and Neuroscience from the University of Wyoming. Floyd W. Hayes III Dr. Hayes III is a senior lecturer and coordinator of programs and undergraduate studies in the Center for Africana Studies at Johns Hopkins University. His teaching and research interests include Africana politics and political philosophy, urban politics and public policy, educational policymaking and politics, jazz and politics, and politics and Black popular culture. He holds a Ph.D in Government and Politics from the University of Maryland, an M.A. in African Area Studies from the University of California at Los Angeles and a B.A. in French and Political Science from North Carolina Central University. Tevin Jones Tevin is a research analyst at CNN, and formerly worked as a research analyst at BET. He holds a B.A. in Political Science from Morehouse College, where he was active in student government and the Phi Beta Sigma fraternity, and an M.S. in Global Media from the London School of Economics. Sophen Joseph Sophen is from New York City and attends Emory University, where she is a third-year student double majoring in African-American Studies and Education. She is the president of the Black Student Alliance, and a Mellon Mays undergraduate research fellow, conducting research in rhetoric and fiction. Olivia Orta A New YorkCitynative, Olivia is a doctoral candidate at t he Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, pursuing an S.D.in
epidemiology. Her research focuses on stress response and depressionduring pregnancy. She has also beeninvolved in the Chan School’s racial justice activist community, and has helped to promote conversations on campus focusing on the relationship between racism and public health. She holds a B.S. from John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and an M .P.H. from Hunter College, both in New York City. Marvin Touré Marvin Touré is an Ivorian American artist born in Maryland and raised primarily in Atlanta. Marvin’s parents are both West African immigrants from the Ivory Coast, and he references his African heritage and urban Southern upbringing in his artwork. He holds a B.A. in New Media Arts with a minor in Architecture from Southern Polytechnic State University (now Kennesaw State University Marietta Campus), and he is currently an M.F.A. Candidate at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. Nagueyalti Warren Professor Warren is a Professor of Pedagogy in African American Studies at Emory University. Her teaching focus includes African-American literature and W.E.B. Du Bois’ contributions to the field of African American Studies, and her current research project centers on the work of Alice Walker. In addition to her academic work, she is an award-winning poet with several published poetry collections. She holds a B.A. in English and Drama from Fisk University, an M.A. in English from Simmons College, an M.A. in Afro-American Studies from Boston University, an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Goddard College, and a Ph.D in Higher Education Administration from the University of Mississippi.
ORIGINS Marvin Touré Because of my background, being West African, my parents being from the Ivory Coast but me being born in Maryland and then growing up in Georgia, all of that filters into the work at some point. Being Black in America filters into the work because it’s a very real factor in my life, and it affects my day-to-day. And it’s not something that I can turn off and on, and say, “oh, well, I’m just gonna turn that off and I’m not gonna think about race.” It affects me. It affects my life. Eniola Abioye My family is not into me doing activism at all. My dad thinks I should just vote. My dad called me and said, “I saw you on the news today.” I was like, “Whoops!” It’s been a process trying to enlighten them about what’s going on. I think with a lot of African immigrants it’s easy to play into this notion of, “I don’t understand, I worked so hard to come here and get my education, and there are all these Black people in the United States who have this opportunity and aren’t doing anything with it,” and they don’t understand the history of the U.S. government... I think a lot of times in the movement, people get surprised that I am African or first-generation Nigerian in America, and are like, “I don’t understand why you’re doing this, this has nothing to do with you,” but that doesn’t make sense to me because it has everything to do with me.
Sophen Joseph I was a really angry Black kid. And so, I started trying to just find myself. I also went to high school in New York City. in the Upper East Side….Basically, I just needed to find a way that I could exist at my private school...I joined the Diversity Committee. And I became president two years in a row. That’s how it all took off: me just trying to talk to people about race and talk about culture. Trying to talk about myself and also slowly reach out to the other brown bodies that were there, but not there for me. And just trying to get us together. Nagueyalti Warren Watching the marches and seeing everything they were doing, it was just like, “aw, man, I need to be in on that!” Actually, part of the success of the Civil Rights Movement was at that point in time, television was in everyone’s living room, and so it was right up front and in your face...When you read about it and you see the pictures of people being washed out with water hoses and dogs let loose on ‘em—they could write about it, but to see it, it just really makes you say, you gotta be on one side or the other!... My family was part of the Great Migration that left the South, and so when they found out I was going to Fisk instead of UCLA they were like “are you out of your mind?! Why do you think we moved out here?”My mother was a nurse, and she wanted me to stay in California. And she just did not understand why somebody would go back to the South. But in the end, she came back. Because in 1990, Los Angeles was turning into Mississippi...And I tried saying “you see? You see mom, you can’t run, you gotta stay and fight!” And she’d say, “you don’t know what you’re talking about.” You know, racism is everywhere.
Repentance 1 D. Myntia Daniels This body of work is a reflection of my personal hair story. I am repenting for my insecurities regarding my natural Black features. This unknown shame has caused me to constantly manipulate and alter my natural hair in order to appeal to a standard of beauty that does not apply to me. After dipping my head into the water my hair is reborn and I return to my natural state.
CLASSROOM ENCOUNTERS & INSTITUTIONAL OBSTACLES
Eniola Abioye At a predominantly white institution, racial tension and racial incidents are really common. Some people have blocked it out and are used to them; some people like us will address it every time, because silence is seen as complacency by a lot of people.
that society doesn’t really accept. We accept the people with the crazy ideas; we’re all fun-loving; we are the world; we love everybody; we got vegan Doc Martens, we go get our gluten-free bagels in Bushwick and we chill and sip Starbucks and all that, and read literature.” You know, educated people! Who are kind of kooky at times. So you would think that this is an environment that’s receptive to otherness. Where you’re not made to feel different. But, white supremacy permeates through almost every facet of our society, and art was no exception… First day I walk into the building at the School of Visual Arts, it’s a group of us, I’m the only Black person in the group. It’s a lot of Asian students, a lot of white students. I walk in, I get stopped. And since I’m from Georgia, I already know. ‘Cause the Black security guards already know what it is, ‘cause it’s like, “oh, those are the faces we kind of know they go to school here, but you…[makes clicking sound.] You look like,what’re you doing here?” Now, they know, because I’m one of the only Black faces here so they’re like “oh, hey! Oh, you can go now!” But before, it was like “excuse me, I need to see your ID.” Like literally, one time I was in front of the desk, walked outside the door to say hi to somebody, came back; “can I see your ID.”... It’s one thing picking your battles and letting stuff brush off your shoulder. But when that stuff starts to pile up, at some point you have to deal with all of that! At some points I’m like “whatever, whatever, whatever,” and then at others I’m like “this is just—what the fuck is going on? Really? This is ridiculous.”
Marvin Touré Coming to art school—it’s the art world; it’s supposed to be so inclusive. It’s supposed to be a grand place of, “we accept the people
Nagueyalti Warren For the most part, teaching your class is what you decide you’re going to teach in your class. And, particularly, if you’re in the
Sophen Joseph We went to all-white high schools. You know, it’s not like I’ve ever had the privilege to not know a white person. I have known them literally my entire life; K through 12. And when I got here, it wasn’t just like “hm, I’m a freshman, I’m freezing up because I’m socially awkward, and anxious.” It was a real, “don’t talk to me,” a material barrier between myself and other individuals. Freshman year, I sat at a table that had some white girls on the other end, and they literally got up from the table when I sat down...And for me, that was the most transformative experience of my career...I was completely done, and I was like, “there has to be something else. There has to be an alternative to whiteness.” And luckily, we found classes, and we found professors, and we found a very small group of other students to be friends with.
private sector as opposed to a public or state university you have that kind of freedom. But then when you do teach those courses that are clearly Black-focused courses, you get feedback that your colleagues don’t get. You get course evaluations that say “all she talks about is Black people!” And the class is called African-American Studies. That kind of feedback. Or, “I didn’t think this was gonna be a Women’s Studies course!” When I teach literature, I’m teaching three texts by Black women, and I’ll get feedback like “I didn’t know this was a Women’s Studies class! All we did was read works by women writers.” So, that kind of foolishness is something that you can expect, because that’s how narrowly educated the students are when they come here. Some of them have never even had a Black professor. And so sometimes you get students who call you “Miss” or “Missus,” and I’m like “I wouldn’t be here if I weren’t a doctor, so you can say that or you can say ‘Professor.’” They’re kind of put off by that. On two levels—they may do that to white women, I’m not sure. But they don’t do that to men at all! Marvin Touré Our Black Student Union here is both grad and undergrad, and...it’s interesting to hear the undergraduate Black students here talk about their experiences with some of the professors. How they’ll have crits [criticism sessions] and they’ll maybe bring up the notion that there’s no representation in terms of faculty, in terms of the artists they study, or how the lack of diversity in terms of the classes, like students, makes it hard to get crits because people sometimes don’t know how to address people that make work that talks specifically on social issues. And they get crazy pushback, very aggressive:
“why don’t you think your white counterparts can talk about issues that pertain to your community?” Or, “you don’t think they understand?” [To the students, the professors are] kind of taking it lightly that there’s a lack of representation in terms of the faculty... And in conjunction with that, the students are like, “we have no artists of color that are represented in the art and what we’re studying, and the canon of history. Maybe that has something to do with it! And the professors don’t even know where to enter to even discuss to give me any kind of constructive framework to take my work to the next level.”
I felt like I always had to be ‘on’ and I always had to prove that I’m good enough to be here with you. Tevin Jones [At the London School of Economics] I felt like people were trying to challenge my intelligence, as to like, why am I here. And I would always get into a back and forth between a few of my classmates, because everything I would say, they would always come with a rebuttal. Always something. And so, I felt like I always had to be ‘on’ and I always had to prove that I’m good enough to be here with you. Garrett Duncan “The Black B,” this is something I encountered back in the early ‘80s, as an
undergraduate. It means you could do nothing in the class at all, or you could work your butt off, and an average in 90s, well into the 90-percents, at the end of the semester, and you’d end up getting a B. So, one of two things happened. The ones who work really hard and have skill sets, they’re at a disadvantage when they’re going for these competitive graduate and professional programs, or these jobs, because their GPA is lowered by the Black B. Then you have the kids who really didn’t understand because nobody told them. Because either [the professor is] thinking, “Oh, I don’t want to hurt his feelings,” or “I don’t want to hurt her feelings,” or you know, a Justice Scalia move: “You weren’t supposed to be here anyway, I’m not going to add to your burden.” One young man, a brilliant economist in my classroom, knocked it out. He reminds you of Ta-Nehisi Coates, before there was Mr. Coates. I mean sharp. He told me about his Black B, and how when he tried to learn from the professor how when he was aver-
aging like a 96% in class, he received a B+ in the course. She would not return his call, even though she was always playful and kind with him. Now he goes to the Woodrow Wilson School of Public Administration at Princeton. He did a gap year, he applies there; I recall writing him a letter. And, I get a letter from the Dean of the School four months later, saying “This man is amazing. He’s everything he said he was in his personal statement and his interview, and what was confirmed by you and the other letter writers. If there’s anybody else you want to send to the school, you send them directly to me, and they will be admitted.” So, this guy, who was getting a B here at Washington University, gained the praise of the Dean within four months of his arrival [at Woodrow Wilson]. Eniola Abioye I was a Bio major, and there were people just being like—counselors or coaches, if they were athletes, being like, “Well, are you
sure you want to do this?” Or, “Maybe you should just do this easier major,” and being encouraged to take classes that people find not as challenging because they don’t expect them to be able to complete their work. Or people who fail classes and are willing to retake them but people are just like, “Well, maybe it’s just too hard for you,” or “Maybe you shouldn’t do this,” and playing into the impostor complex1 that people already have. Darializa Avila Chevalier Even at Columbia, I’ve reported a professor for making comments about the KKK in class, and things of that nature. It’s really not a new thing. Experiencing these forms of racism on campus….For example I was once told that “if Black people can’t get into college without taking white people’s spots, maybe we’re not ready for integration in 2014!” That’s the kind of “microagressions” that I would hear pretty much on the daily here on campus, but there’s also institutional forms. The fact that Black students take longer to graduate, on average, those kinds of things are an example of how the institution of the university perpetuates racism... It takes a toll, not just on your physical wellbeing but on your mental and emotional wellbeing.
Olivia Orta There’s the interpersonal and the institutional, right? On the interpersonal end, there were sentiments of, “I feel like I’m having racist experiences with people.” And there was talk of, “Where do I go with those experiences? Who can I talk to about those experiences? How are we keeping track of those experiences?” From another end of how I think everything is public health, we often think things are importantly related with data collection, because “no data” doesn’t mean “no problem.” So, there was talk about, “how are we collecting this data?” On the institutional end, there was a lot of talk of, “how can we reform how we’re talking about race, racism, and public health in the classroom?”
“Impostor syndrome” is used to describe the mindset of high-achievers who believe they do not deserve their success and fear being found to be frauds.
Repentance 2 D. Myntia Daniels
As young Black Americans continue reckoning with notions of otherness, reconsidering citizenship and reexamining our own complicated histories, our ability to recognize both white supremacy and its manifestations sharpens by the day. It’s less flashy work than identifying the more blatant forms of racism as they surface, but it’s certainly no less important. Calling out the oppressive relationships and naming the parallels as they reveal themselves allows us to map a larger picture of white supremacy. And of course, the clearer the image, the better chance we have at effectively attacking and eventually dismantling this system of power entirely.
Jacqui Germain “To White Singers Covering ‘Work’ // From a Child of West Indian Parents” Medium, March 10, 2015
WIDER EFFECTS Garrett Duncan I still hear stories about students doing really well not long ago, they’ll go to a professor’s office hour, and he’s real cold and real short with them. He’ll be completely opposite of what you see in the class, where this guy is really open and friendly and nice. And then a white student will pass by him and you hear the guy say, “Hey, I’m gonna play golf with your dad when he comes out next!” and [the student’s] like “what? I didn’t know professors played golf with the students’ parents.” Or they’ll find out they had the same GPA as their white peer, and at graduation it comes to their attention that their white peer got into the medical school or to the professional program that they also applied for. A professor wrote [the Black student] a letter supposedly, but it comes out in conversation that their peer got to work in the labs of their professors and on some occasion received grants for the summer to travel across the country to work in the labs of medical schools or the graduate schools they’ve now been admitted to. These opportunities were never presented to Black students and they complained about that. And so when you hear people rebelling, it’s not about our feelings being hurt. We’re talking about when you eliminate opportunities and restrict opportunities for Black students, you’re actually decimating communities. Because for many of these students, they’re going back, and—a medical
doctor? They’re going back to places like Baltimore, D.C., Chicago, where they are contributing and doing things to better the lives of under-served communities. And so, when you eliminate them from this particular trajectory, you are having an impact not just on them, not just on their wallet or their self-esteem, but on the lives of untold thousands, perhaps even hundreds of thousands, or of millions. Carl Hart My work deals with drugs. I started studying drugs because I wanted to work on drug abuse and drug addiction, and try and come up with treatments that help people who are experiencing drug problems. I thought that drug problems were one of the main reasons that were keeping people, particularly Black people, poor and marginalized. I thought that this is how I can contribute: by coming up with treatments and shedding light on drug addiction. Turns out that was so wrong, and that
When you eliminate students from this particular trajectory, you are having an impact not just on them, not just on their wallet or their self-esteem, but on the lives of untold thousands.
was just a distraction...The real problems are the same problems; they’re not related to drugs, they’re just the universal typical problems. It’s related to racial discrimination and power, and people having control whereas other groups don’t have control and power and they’ve been systematically shut out. And things like drug addiction, violence, all of those kinds of things serve as convenient distractions... When you study a broad range of drug effects you start to see that many prominent white people in our country really indulge in drug use, and they are fine. They are productive members in our society and people respect them. So, we can’t say that drugs uniquely cause people problems, because it just is inconsistent with the evidence. Now that you can say that, you can start digging into trying to find out, “why are these people really having problems if it’s not drugs?” And so that’s what I’m trying to discover.
You can’t tease apart race from health outcomes in the United States, given our history.
Olivia Orta I would really like to see the conversation pushed more to, not what is happening within Black and Brown bodies, but what has happened to Black and Brown bodies, politically, economically, socially. What is happening upstream from being Black and Brown that is causing these health outcomes? Not just what about race, but what about racism is driving some of these associations?...Racism is an intervenable exposure. We can intervene on racism, you know what I mean? If we just say, “African-American women have higher rates of pre-term birth,” well, that doesn’t give us an intervention standpoint. If we understand that Black women are experiencing more racism, more prejudice, more perceived stress, that’s intervenable, and that’s an important area in public health…
ISOLATION, DIVERSITY, & FINDING COMMUNITY Olivia Orta My experience here in Boston [at Harvard’s Chan School of Public Health] is the first time I lived outside of New York City, and it was a bit jarring for me, because growing up in New York City—I think I wrote a blog in my late teens or early twenties saying I didn’t understand why minorities were called minorities, because we were everywhere. My undergraduate, John Jay College, is pretty diverse. So I definitely didn’t feel like a Brown or Black face in a white crowd until maybe I got here... Being from New York...you know “the nod,”2 right? I was so oblivious to it! Because we were everywhere! I feel like, being up here, it’s a really sad thing that when you finally see someone of color, it’s like, “Oh my god, hey!” I’d never experienced that. Tevin Jones I’ve always been surrounded by people who were just mostly around Black people. Most of my friends in college were still mostly around Black people...So we could all relate. Even my first job [at Black Entertainment Television], it was with mostly Black people. So, right now, this point in my life, I’m actually adjusting to being around people other than folks that are my color… [Being at the London School of Economics] was a diverse experience. The school 2 In a majority white environment, a Black person might silently greet another with a nod to signal that they see and appreciate the other’s presence.
was made up of a lot of people from around the world, but everybody was segregated to their own section of people. So, we had a huge population of people from China there and they were together; there was only a few Black Americans in my class, and we hung with the Black British people, because one thing about Black British people is they really do love our culture. I appreciated that, because being there, I felt kind of alone and kind of by myself, because a lot of people couldn’t relate and a lot of people had these stereotypes of what it was to be a Black person in America, because either they’ve never seen one, or they’ve never come in contact. I just stuck with my people while I was there. Michael Hanchard What I recall most from my days in graduate school at Princeton, I was one of two Black graduate students in the Political Science department at the time, and there were very few other Black graduate students in other departments, certainly in the social sciences and the humanities. And for the most part during my daily experience, interactions with Black people on campus at Princeton was usually custodial staff. And when I would begin to interact with and get to know and talk with many members of the custodial staff, I found that they had their own strategies for interacting with Black students. They could distinguish between the students who would identify with them; they could identify the students who didn’t want to have anything to do with them. There was one custodian, I’ll never forget, worked in Firestone Library and pointed me to a closed stairwell where he would find Black undergraduates, at least one per semester, crying as they sat in the stairwell and declaring to him that they could no longer cope at Princeton because of their feelings
of isolation, loneliness, and deep alienation, which led them to confide in the one or two people among the custodial staff —Black people—that they felt would have some sense of what their experience was like. Such experiences are quite real, and I think that’s why it’s important that people develop support mechanisms amongst their fellow students to build a larger sense of community, characterized not only by their experiences in the classroom, but by larger histories of injustice and social struggle. Nagueyalti Warren One way to really discourage a person and keep them from excelling is for them to be isolated. So, it’s really important that there be more than one person at any insti-
tution for support. For moral support. And Emory is supposed to have one of the highest Black faculty—definitely in the South, and maybe throughout [the country], and this is not that many at all. It’s the most, really? And getting young professors there, and being able to mentor them, is just—you can only do so much, and there’s only so many people there! So what has the effort been to say, “look, other people need to mentor as well. You cannot expect the handful of Black faculty there to mentor all of the people who are Black.” They may not even be in the same discipline! So other people need to step up! Those people with good will do step up, and there are only a few.
Repentance 3 D. Myntia Daniels
Darializa Avila Chevalier There’s something important about seeing someone who looks like you teaching a class. That’s really empowering. I was talking to a friend about how almost none of the classes I’ve taken on gender or race have been taught by a person of color or a woman. And I think that’s absolutely ludicrous, that in the classes that are supposed to be talking about these marginalized communities, there is minimal representation of these marginalized communities. For example, my Gender and International Relations class is taught by a white man… I think it’s also really important, not just in terms of empowering students, but in terms of resources for students. If the research that’s being done at universities is very centered from a white perspective, or a male gaze perspective, then that research that’s gonna be produced is gonna be very limited in scope, and it’s also gonna dissuade students of color and specifically women of color, who want to do research on these fields on gender and sexuality and race, for example, that the people they have to look to for academic guidance is going to be limited.
There’s something important about seeing someone who looks like you teaching a class. That’s really empowering. 20
Michael Hanchard The middle-aged professor in me that also had these experiences also wants to say that some of the most important lessons I learned in life were not always fun and they weren’t always in the most comfortable settings and environments...For this reason I am unsure how it would be possible to learn, really learn, without some degree of discomfort, without struggling to come to terms with negative thoughts about oneself, or others. You have to sort of understand what you’re signing up for, and understand what our learning goals and mission are as we move through these kinds of institutions, and understand, even in the best of circumstances we’re going to have certain kinds of challenges. To think that at an elite institution, in a society that has an extensive and deeper history with racism as the U.S. has, that somehow the college campuses or universities are going to be devoid of that, I think is wishful thinking. At the same time, can things be done certainly by an institution and by people and particularly students and faculty, administrators themselves to improve conditions on those campuses? I would say yes to that as well. Sariyah Benoit In the beginning of this year I was like “okay Sariyah, you need to learn how to be comfortable in these spaces, because it’s never going away. Even if you work for all Black people, you’re still gonna have to learn how to navigate this.” So I was like, let me try to be an orientation leader. Let me throw myself into this. And what they do is, they exploit your experiences…There’s this thing called Creating Emory that they put firstyears through, and they kind of just throw all of these nice-sounding words together to
teach first-years about sexual assault, diversity, and inclusion—no one can say the word “Black” so they have to call it “diversity and inclusion.”...So they teach them all that in three days, and then they’re like “Hey, Black people, you got your shit, bye.” Carl Hart I would think more about, “how do I improve the experiences of people who have been historically shut out?” I think I would first of all get rid of this bullshit diversity thing. I wouldn’t even focus on that. Because diversity has become a replacement for justice. I would put the focus back on justice and redress.
How do I improve the experiences of people who have been historically shut out? We have done some horrific things in the United States to some specific groups in the United States. And we have systematically shut out specific groups and that’s reflected in our faculty in college. That’s reflected in our thinking...How can we bring about more justice in our society, especially in those that have historically not seen the level of justice appreciated or seen by other communities? Michael Hanchard One thing I would suggest to the protesting students to consider, is that in many cases, the reality—particularly at these predominantly white elite institutions—is
that there aren’t always going to be faculty members and administrators that look like you. And the idea that you are automatically in a better position to learn from people who look like you can end up being a trap if one is not careful...I mean, if you and I are having this conversation, my assumption would be that neither one of us would be big fans of Ben Carson, just because he’s Black and a celebrated surgeon—there has to be a lot more sophisticated politics than that. I think similarly you have to think about how to think about diversity intelligently at these kinds of institutions. And I think that what is at stake now is in some sense beginning to remove metaphors to describe and try to resolve institutional racism, because that’s what really is the issue. The issue is not diversity, per se. What has happened now, particularly in liberal white right-wing discourse at universities—and not just in the U.S., again, but in other places like Britain, Australia, and others—is that you have people now, administrators and the like, who talk about different types of diversity, and all types of diversity being equally worthy of consideration, so in some sense your Blackness or my Blackness is no more or no less important than the fact that you and I have glasses. Diversity and inclusion then become matters of demographic and superficial representation, and not a means for people to have substantive discussions about institutional power and authority, course curricula, hiring and the development of programs and centers to augment what is being taught in disciplines. At a certain point, these kinds of questions about power, about representation, access, curriculum development; these are epistemic questions, they aren’t color of skin questions, per se.
Police Cross Lines Dรกreece Walker
In the protests at Mizzou and Yale and elsewhere, students have made it clear that the status quo is unbearable. Whether we agree with these student protesters or not, we should be listening: They are articulating a vision for a better future, one that cannot be reached with complacency.
It seems that when it comes to racism, people of color are expected to endure without complaint. We are expected to be grateful for opportunities, like a college education, while ignoring racial aggressions both great and small. We are supposed to be noble in the face of staggering humiliations. There is often condescension in examinations of these supposedly fragile young people who don’t understand the real world. College students do, however, understand the real world, because they aren’t just students: They do not abandon their class background or sexuality or race or ethnicity when they matriculate, and their issues do not vanish when they register for courses. We should not dismiss their valid concerns. To do so, to invalidate their experiences, would be to invalidate their diversity and ignore their hurt. American colleges and universities have always been incubators for the privileged, and the only people who continue to operate there with some guarantee of physical and emotional safety are white, heterosexual men. Is it any wonder, then, that students are demanding a basic guarantee of safety?
Roxane Gay “Student Activism is Serious Business” The New Republic, November 11, 2015
ACTIVIST WORK & GOALS Eniola Abioye I moved into Afro House [the Black co-op on campus] and it was great because I had the chance to work with a lot of people on organizing around different things, but also around the Black community. Then I studied abroad the summer after my junior year, a couple summers ago, and while I was there, Michael Brown was murdered...I came home and shortly after, the non-indictment dropped, and I remember feeling anxious and powerless and really hopeless. Then I got together with other Black people, and we put together a healing space the day after— we all agreed that we had to do something. And there were a lot of people who were feeling this angst. So after really long nights we put together an action—we did an action on campus and it was amazing. There were hundreds of people, there was all this media, and what we did is we shut down the main eatery in the middle of campus for four and a half hours. It was a beautiful space. Mostly I think it was about communicating that this shit is not okay and we’re not going to stand for it, but also bringing people in the Black community together who hadn’t necessarily felt like they were involved in the Black community or felt like they were welcome in the Black community. So that was the most beautiful part for me. After that there was this little cadre of Black students who were all about direct action, and I feel like
that’s the best way for me to heal. So we kept going. We got bigger and we got better.
It was about communicating that this shit is not okay and we’re not going to stand for it, but also bringing people in the Black community together. Olivia Orta When the demands happened, I was in my second year of being a doc[toral] student, and of course that’s right off the heels of summer of 2014, when a lot of the Ferguson protests were happening. I remember going back to school in August, September, thinking, “Okay, people here are definitely going to want to talk about Ferguson.” And it was really just crickets. Especially with respect to public health...I just thought that when school started in the fall of 2014, it would very much be at the tip of everyone’s tongues, and I thought that it would be a galvanizing issue for public health, and we didn’t get that, or at least we didn’t perceive that. And the silence was really frustrating. So a few of us friends got together and said, “let’s hold an event that talks about how Ferguson matters to public health.” And in doing that, we realized there was room for a group to start out of that that talked about public health with respect not simply race, but public health with respect to racism. And from that came a very well-attended event, which we were really happy about, because it made us think we weren’t the
Repentance 4 D. Myntia Daniels only ones thinking, “why aren’t we talking about this issue?” ...And from that event, the overall sentiment from the people who attended was, “I would love to talk about how racism affects public health outside of this building and outside of these walls, but we should also talk about it in terms of our own schooling.” From that, we had another event where we invited someone from the Boston ACLU come speak to us about racist policing in local Boston, and after that event we joined a larger conversation about how the school can publicly address some of these issues that our group was very much trying to attend to. And we had a community forum, largely attended by the school. I think over 100 people showed up—it was maxed out to capacity. And even there, the sentiment was, “Yeah, we understand Ferguson is happening, we understand that this is very much a national issue, we understand racism affects
public health,” and I think, understanding how racism affected our schooling and our teaching and our experiences here as students of color, became even more apparent as an issue that needed to be addressed. Darializa Avila Chevalier It started shortly after the Mizzou protests. We were coming up with a list of the demands from the university. The group itself was formulating a longer list of race-specific demands. And then we were approached by a bunch of other student groups that wanted to see a list of demands go to the university, and that’s how we became in communication with them, and that’s how we decided to formally call ourselves Mobilized African Diaspora. It’s aimed at addressing issues that affect the Black community, not just at Columbia but the surrounding community. A few
things we’re demanding from the university, for example, is for it to address the issues of expansion and the affects that it’s had on Black populations in Harlem and the Bronx. We’re demanding more diversity in faculty, for example. And we also work a lot with other student groups to address the intersections of how their work affects us. For example, No Red Tape3 is working with demanding a 24-hour rape crisis center and we address this from a race-conscious perspective, noting that Black trans and ciswomen are disproportionately affected by sexual violence, specifically Black transwomen... Noting how environmental racism affects Black communities. And that’s working with Columbia Divest for Climate Justice, and things of that nature. Eniola Abioye One of the major projects is a demands process on every campus: Black students getting together and doing research about what they need on campus to make it a better environment for Black students. That means Black mental health workers, that means endowment funds—basically, making the campus better for the Black students that come after us. Another thing that we do is political education: we’ll go and speak to folks around the issues that pertain to our people. We also do direct actions; I’m the Director of Field Operations, so direct action is me; that’s what I do. We also have our Department of Operations so that we can be independent. And we also have a community program going on in West Oakland right now as well as working in a continuation school in West Oakland that’s primarily Black, doing political education and sup3 A group protesting campus sexual assault at Columbia University.
port. Basically, we are trying to expand and doing everything that we see there’s need for in the Black community for elevation. Sariyah Benoit We’re asking the administration to create these spaces for us, and then to leave us alone so that we can help ourselves out and do what we need to do. Whether that space is representation in faculty and administration; whether that space is in academia—like if we’re really gonna talk about American Literature in an English class, are you not gonna incorporate Phyllis Wheatley? Are you not gonna incorporate Du Bois? Come on, come on. Whether it’s the space in academia, and what we’re reading in the curriculum, or if it’s just the people that work for us—there’s literally one Black man that’s staff and administration in one of our graduate schools, the Laney graduate school. There is one Black man, and he does everything. He’s a dean, they assign him to do all these things he’s not actually paid for because he’s the only colored. Black faculty are overworked.
If we’re really gonna talk about American Literature in an English class, are you not gonna incorporate Phyllis Wheatley? Are you not gonna incorporate Du Bois?
What we’re asking the administration for is to be fair. If you’re gonna overwork these people of color, compensate them, give them something—or, we’re asking for you to help us out in ways that we can’t help ourselves out. Like with this GED program, which I really want to happen, we would be helping the staff that works in the dining hall, the maintenance workers, all staff who would like to get their GED if they don’t have them already, can get it! So we’re trying to help our community out in ways that we can’t because we don’t have the funding or anything. But what I’m striving for is to make these students comfortable. We asked the university for space, for physical space, whether it’s the Black Student Aassociation house, whether it’s the Emory Black Student Union, whether it’s all these spaces I mentioned before. And then, what I want, is for me and the people that I’m working with to make it work. I don’t want the university to have anything to do with it, because once we say we want representation, then they turn it into Creating Emory like I mentioned before, they mess everything up, and then when we ask for something similar to that they’re like “well, we just gave it to you.” So, I’m asking for them to leave.
on other campuses so that they can do the same thing to exercise their voice as Black people...The main thing for the demands process for me was to make the campus better for folks that come after, but also speak to Black people on other campuses to do the same thing.
Eniola Abioye Some people are trying to appease people in power so that they will give them freedom, but they don’t hold freedom, or they don’t hold what we want. So a large part of direct action is speaking to our people— that’s the main audience when we do a direct action because otherwise you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. When we did activism on campus, we were talking to the Chancellor but moreso we were talking to other Black people on our campus and
STUDENT DEMANDS & RESPONSE Floyd Hayes It’s a lot different now than from the time that we fought for Black Studies in the late-1960s. I was involved in the struggle for Black Studies at UCLA in the late ‘60s; I was chairman of the BSU from April 1968 to November of ‘68. So, the times are really different. I mean, people don’t really make demands anymore; they make requests. And consequently, administrators ignore them... At Johns Hopkins University, Black students have been raising the question of the paucity of Black faculty and a number of related issues. Last semester, the Black Student Union had a major public meeting with the administration. Black alumni returned, many of whom were old members of the Black Student Union, who had struggled for Black Studies over the years, but the power structure at Hopkins had ignored them. At last semester’s meeting, the BSU raised a number of issues and questions—the need for more Black faculty, Black students, and a Department of Africana Studies—but these matters were put in the form of requests, not demands. Students said something like, “we want” A, B, C, and D. But when you make a demand, if the demand is not met, there are consequences. Well, students generally don’t talk like that today.
People don’t really make demands anymore; they make requests. When you make a demand, if the demand is not met, there are consequences. Eniola Abioye A little earlier I talked about institutional racism and how people are just getting that as a concept, and believe that once you stop doing what was deemed institutionally racist, then everything is equal again. But you have to reinvest resources into what you were oppressive against...One of the big things that the Black Lives Matter movement did, was put the struggles that Black people go through every day at the forefront. In this time, administration—whether you’re white or otherwise—you can’t deny what’s going on and what inherently affects the Black students on your campus because you are located in the United States. As an administration you cannot just take a passive role—“Well, I’m not personally racist so everything’s fine.” When you see racial incidents happening on your campus or when you see Black people openly complaining about things that are not okay on campus, do something about it. Having face-to-face conversations, but doing something after the conversation, having planned steps. It was really a struggle to work with our administration who was in denial about a lot of things, and I think that’s oftentimes the case. But I think the role of administra-
tion needs to be a lot more hands-on as it would be if the same situation was happening to a different racial group. Sophen Joseph I think that [the administration] wanted to show a Response [to the Emory student demands], but something that I don’t think we were pensive enough about, was the space between community, protest, and response. You know?...Because as much as the protesting is for somebody to respond, it’s also about building the community...You’re trying to protect the community, but you’re trying to protect them so that they can come together. And I think that in the process of forming, the administration responded so quickly that it kind of put a spear in our community’s rallying process. Which means that we didn’t get the whole time to become whole, basically.
As much as the protesting is for somebody to respond, it’s also about building the community. We knew we were fragmented; that’s why we were protesting, but the holistic part would’ve come in the face of the adversity— but we didn’t actually face any, because the university responded so quickly. I think it was really lackluster and overwhelming, kind of, because—we’re still trying to figure out what our community needs. Really, just this page of demands that we have, or is there more? Is there more context? What else is it?
We’ve tried, but we all still haven’t seen each other yet. Sariyah Benoit It was all really speedy, and I think it was too fast for people to keep up with, because there was no foundation. Besides the words of the demands, we didn’t know what was gonna happen…So we were just putting everything out there, and then the dean had his response, and then everybody else had their response, they were ready to form committees, and they were ready for a day to discuss this, and “we need to have conversations, and we need people of color to lead these conversations, and we’re gonna do this, this, that, that, and that, and we’re gonna email this person, and then that person’s gonna email ten more people, and then we’re gonna email ten more people!” Everything was really fast, and it all kind of died down, because it was too fast for us. Nagueyalti Warren It can be changed easier at a private institution, I think, than it can at a public institution. Because at a public institution, there are those issues of free speech and whatever, and the guidelines cannot be as clearly, or, say, as narrowly defined as they can at a private institution. In other words, at Emory, we can say, “things that are offensive will not be tolerated.” And as a private institution, you know that before you come. And so, if you think that you’re not going to be able to adhere to the kind of community that we say we have established, then you’re free to go elsewhere. But in the situation with the state where you’re paying your taxes to go to the institution, it becomes a little bit different. So I don’t know about the nuances of that sense of community at a place that’s governed by state officials and taxpayers.
But I know that at Emory, they can set the guidelines and not tolerate anything that is out of alignment with the community that they want to have created. And I think that they are in the process of doing that. Is that gonna solve every single solitary issue? No. But it will create an atmosphere that’s different. And I think that’s what the students are wanting. I think that they would be rather naïve to think, “okay, so we fixed this whole thing so no one is ever going to insult us, and nothing racist is ever gonna happen.” No, that’s not it. If something racist happens, the response needs to be swift and severe. And when you get that swift and severe response, those things will stop happening. Does that mean that people will no longer be racist? No. But they will keep their mouths shut! And that’s what the students are looking for. And an administration that will say “we’re not going to tolerate this, and if you don’t believe it, try us, and you’ll be out of here.” And they can do that. They can absolutely do that. I think that you don’t expect people to change their minds, you just want them to change their behavior. If they don’t like you, they wanna look down on you, go ahead! But don’t create an atmosphere where I feel like less than a person.
Tevin Jones I’ll never forget, I came to class [at the London School of Economics], and my teacher started talking about the class before mine, and the students said, “there is no inequality in America.” So, my teacher asked me to tell my class if I thought this was true or not! And so, of course, of course I said there’s inequality. And I felt like the white Americans that were there, they’re painting this picture because they don’t see it, they’re not around a lot of people of color, and they don’t really sympathize with everything that’s going on. So, they’re telling everybody, “there’s no inequality in America! Everybody’s equal.” You know, that colorblind type of stuff. That I can’t relate with. Marvin Touré I go through life always having a constant awareness of what’s going on, in terms of race or whatever, but every time somebody says something—microagression; somebody overtly racist—automatically, it’s like a shock a little bit. Not a shock in terms of didn’t see it coming, but a shock in terms of like, almost like a pulse in the system. Makes me re-analyze the environment that I’m in that I thought was all-inclusive... I remember times where there’ve been flagrant racist statements made...It’s not something I can just bypass in my memory. So, because of that, I jot it down. And when it came to making [work about it], I was like okay, I wanna do this crossword puzzle, but the answers are gonna be the names of these individuals, and the clues, like across and down, are gonna be everything they said. So I did that, and the question of “am I gonna have the key shown in conjunction with the piece?” was the most important thing in the piece. And then I thought to myself, “is this a piece to publicly shame,
BUILDING AWARENESS or is this a piece to put everybody on notice and make them think about what’s going on?” And it was the latter. So I hid the key... ‘Cause it’s not about everybody knowing who said it; it’s about knowing that these things were said. And these are people in the program—professors, studio visits, students. And when I did it, everyone was kind of, “whoa,” they were like “really? This happens.” I’m like “yeah….I didn’t make all of it up.” ...What I didn’t plan for was some of the reactions. People were like “hey, am I—is my name, in the actual...crossword puzzle? Can I know who’s on there?” I’m like, “no.” ...They felt uncomfortable. Some of the things on there were really messed up…. What’s funny, is that what started out as a piece to look at these microagressions turned into a two-year project, me detailing microagressions in my graduate program. And when you look at both years, year one has a lot more than year two does. And it’s not so much that people just all of a sudden they’re like, “okay, we’re not gonna say crazy shit no more.” No, it’s because a lot of people just didn’t talk to me anymore. So it’s that kind of thing. And because of that, I stopped also talking to other people. I withdrew socially in that regard, and so did people, they withdrew from me. So, when you look at the the two, it’s almost like year two has more egregious—really overtly, super racist, charged comments. But it’s a lot less.
Year One & Year Two Marvin TourĂŠ
Carl Hart We’ve talked about the post-racial perspective. Particularly, the post-racial perspective that became popular when Obama was elected. Actually, slightly before he was elected, when he gave the keynote at the Democratic convention. I believe it was 2004 when he gave his nice speech that people loved...he said something that put us all like we’re in it together, and people started to believe that bullshit. I mean that ‘s a politician speaking, that’s not reality, and if people don’t understand that, they are sorely miseducated.
Once you teach somebody what has been inflicted on them, they can get angry and do something with that emotion. Eniola Abioye Political education is really important to me, so that’s the majority of what I do, because I think when you teach people what’s happened and what we’ve gone through, automatically you feel this sense of strength: “Damn, this is what the people who I descend from have been through, and made it through,” but also, “This is what has been inflicted upon my people.” Once you learn about that, there’s no way you can go back to not knowing it, and there’s no way that I can know what I know now and not do what I do. So I think political education is really important, because once you teach
somebody what has been inflicted upon them, they can get angry and do something with that emotion. Nagueyalti Warren I think the thing with the murders of Black children and all the violence, it’s heartbreaking, but I think it has also opened some eyes. Because I think that a lot of young people are saying, “oh! We thought all this happened with Emmett Till!4 And it couldn’t be happening now.” ... After 2008, with the election of President Obama, lots of people still believe that we have now moved beyond race. This is a post-racial society and, you know, everything’s good. Just have to do your best, and you will be accepted. So, it’s just an eye opening [experience]—students on Emory’s campus have been organizing, and they’ve been more politically aware than I have ever seen them. Because about 90% of Emory’s students come there with the intention of going to medical school. And the other 10% are going to law school. Now, clearly that doesn’t happen! But that’s the mindset. So, if they’re not going to medicine, then they’re going to business school. And they just haven’t been activists. But they are becoming [activists]. And the social environment, that’s fostering that. Floyd Hayes I would say to you that this is a historical moment in which there is, I think, broad student consciousness—increasing consciousness among Black students and Latino students and others—of the need for Black faculty and the need for changes, because 4 A Black teenager lynched in Mississippi in 1955 for allegedly flirting with a white woman. His mother insisted on an open casket and public funeral so the world could see his mutilated body.
white students often have been confronting Black students with any number of micro-aggressions—calling them racist names, making fun of them, and the like. But the problem is that I don’t think that much is being done about this problem largely because the targets of racist and violent micro-aggressions have not responded in kind. Let me put it this way: in Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth, he makes an argument that the violence of the oppressor brings into existence the counterviolence of the oppressed. Well, there are all kinds of violence that’s going on targeting Black and brown students, but I don’t think they’re responding in a way that would prevent that from happening.
People are frustrated, they’re resentful. I grew up in Los Angeles—Baltimore, like L.A., like other cities throughout this country, has a long history of police violence toward Black and brown people. A long history. This is not something that’s new…And to overlook this long history is horrendous.
This country has a long history of police violence toward Black and Brown people. And to overlook this long history is horrendous. I think we’re in this historical moment in which Black people are not really confronting. I mean, here you have young Black men and women, boys and girls, being killed by the police. They’re unarmed. And Baltimore had this revolt, but did you hear what the mayor called the people who revolted? She called them thugs. Rather than attempting to understand the longstanding complaint of police brutality in Baltimore, the mayor called the people who revolted “thugs.”...
The Riots Dรกreece Walker
Michael Hanchard There’s something about the disruptive tactics that are profoundly surrealist, in the true sense of the term. “Surrealism” is one of the most misused terms in U.S. English, that seeks to sum up artistic and aesthetic movements to describe something that is an unintelligible story; whereas the original term in the French was really a conjunction to convey a sense of the designed efforts of artists to create a superior reality and to underscore the absurdity of daily life. Artists like, in Spain, Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali, did a range of different things to critique what they saw as the absurdity and oppression of daily life, so they committed acts to highlight the absurdity of daily life, to demonstrate how people could see and live differently. So when you think about it, how absurd is it for a Trayvon Martin to be killed, walking on the way home from a convenience store, where he’s trailed by someone who is not a police officer, not a representative of state, who is advised by the representative of state not to pursue this young man; yet the conditions make it possible to kill this young man and proclaim self-defense. How absurd is that? This is tragic violence unleashed by a deadly racist logic. It is also absurd. In the aftermath of Trayvon Martin’s killing, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and unfortunately so many others, protesters throughout the country took over spaces in shopping malls, disrupted traffic on highways and other strategies aimed at disrupting the transportation and consumption cycles of daily life. Sure they’re discomforting, sure they’re unsettling, and sure I, like most people, don’t like to be in traffic jams—but I think if it helps us to understand that what it means to be a Black or Brown subject...we can begin to think about this in a larger sense.
Tevin Jones I think people have found a platform to actually voice themselves other than just standing out there protesting. That’s why there’s so much involvement with politics, on the Democratic side, that’s why it’s such a big issue now—because these movements have found a voice, and they found someone to speak to. And I love the not letting it go. It’s going to be maintained, and they’re gonna make sure that it’s in the popular conversation as we choose the direction of where the country is going… And the increase of social sharing! As these social media sites have become more used, more prominent—over the last few years! All this stuff is always, constantly in rotation now, and these news channels and these news stations, they can see what the topic of conversation is, and they can see what people are really talking about, so they get that information to keep the cycle going. Carl Hart I think this is the beauty for me of Black Lives Matter: it is this generation’s protest movement. When you have these kinds of movements, you provide a baseline level of education for the whole entire population. And I think that’s what Black Lives Matter is doing. It is re-educating large segments of the U.S. It’s a beautiful thing. Black Lives Matter is helping us to identify unacceptable behaviors. I’ll just share with you a quick story from me working out in my gym at Columbia at the medical school. In our gym, we have to put in our special unique code in order to gain access. So, you just type it in and it means you’re a member if you have a code. And we also put our IDs up—we hang them up when we walk in the gym. And sometimes, I don’t bring my ID.
I didn’t bring my ID one particular day, and there were about six or seven other white guys in there working out and we were all just members working out. And one guy came over to ask me if I had my ID. Now, I’m a faculty member. Most of these guys are medical students, and I’ve been a member of the gym for about fifteen years, and longer than anybody in the gym. But the guy came over and said, “Oh, can I see your ID?” I was like “But I put my code in. Why do you need to see my ID?” But I was the only Black person in the gym. And then I said to him “You know, I am troubled by what I see. You came over to me, the only Black guy in the gym, to ask me for my ID, and we all need to put our passcodes in in order to gain access. What difference is it to you?” I said, “You have, I know, racially profiled me.” And he was horrified. And I said, “In the context of Black Lives Matter and the problems and concerns we have in the country, this is unacceptable. And you are a member of the Columbia community. And you were not sensitive enough to even think about how this looks. And first of all, I’m not doing anything wrong—I’m just sitting here working out.” He was horrified but he got it. And I think he got it so quickly and he apologized quickly and was so concerned in large part because of the actions of people like Black Lives Matter. It has raised our country’s consciousness to a level where it gives people a language to speak about these things and everybody gets it. And I think they made it a lot easier for me to say to him, “I am horrified by what you have done.”
America has a gauzy, romanticized version of its history that is largely fiction. According to that mythology, America rose to greatness by sheer ruggedness, ingenuity and hard work...It ignores that the prosperity of some Americans always hinged on the oppression of other Americans. Much of Americaâ€™s past is the story of white people benefiting from a system that white people designed and maintained, which increased their chances of success as it suppressed those same chances in other groups. Those systems persist to this day in some disturbing ways, but the current, vociferous naming and challenging of those systems, the placing of the lamp of truth near the seesaw of privilege and oppression, has provoked a profound sense of discomfort and even angerâ€Ś
Indeed, the current urgency about inequality as an issue is really about how some white Americans are coming to live an experience that many minorities in this country have long lived —structural inequity has leapt the racial barrier—and that the legacy to which they fully assumed they were heirs is increasingly beyond their grasp. Inequality has been a feature of the African-American condition in this country since the first Black feet touched this ground.
Charles M. Blow
“White America’s ‘Broken Heart’” The New York Times, February 4, 2016
Carl Hart If people are coming to college to learn that there are racial issues in the country— serious problems related to race and the country—it’s too late. It’s far too late. And it says something about the lies and the miseducation that we engage in, because this is so clear in this country at a very, very early age, and people’s parents are not telling them or teaching them these things. They’re doing them a disservice. Darializa Avila Chevalier One of the things we’re demanding is that African-American Studies and the Center for Study of Ethnicity and Race be taken out of the Global Core...Because it makes no sense that in the “global core” is the study of African-American history...it’s part of American history, not a separate “ethnic” [area of study]...And it’s also ridiculous to me that people will spend four years here, will be right next to Harlem, like literally steps away from Harlem, and know nothing about Black people in America. Or any other ethnicities, for that matter. Floyd Hayes I think political science is a discourse between and among white men. And generally that has been its major thrust. In graduate school I only read dead white men, I didn’t even read dead white women! It was the same sort of people at University of Maryland in the 1970s. You read Hobbes, you read Locke, Rousseau and these types. When I asked professors what they thought of Black thinkers, such as W. E. B. Du Bois, C. L. R. James, Paul Robeson, Richard Wright, and Frantz Fanon—or a variety of 5
A set of couses on non-Western cultures taught at Columbia University. Undergraduate liberal arts students must take two such courses to graduate.
other Black thinkers—those white professors said inevitably that they had never heard of thesm. I said to them that it was problematic that I had to read only dead white men, but that they knew nothing of Black thinkers. And so that’s what I mean when I say I’ve had a battle with political science...I mean, you know, very few people break with that old pattern. I think it’s changing, because there are a number of Black political scientists who are teaching courses that focus on political concerns of Black people, particularly and especially Black political thought. Tevin Jones At [Morehouse], a lot of the curriculum was really Black-focused. And it made you know where your people came from, and your people’s accomplishments in these fields. To me, it told a more rounded story, and instilled it with a type of pride in being yourself. And on top of that, when you go to school, go to regular elementary, high school, and you get so much European mainstream history, it’s good to go somewhere that you get the rest of the perspective. And that’s what I really appreciated about going to an HBCU... I think, for starters, there definitely has to be diversity in not only the administration but in recruiting and getting more diverse populations at school, so then you can get a perspective from everybody. But, curriculum-wise, you have to really be truthful! I think that’s the best way to do it; you can’t just glaze over everyone’s histories just to create this kind of image, this kind of idea, of the United States or whatever topic it is— create this picture where Black people didn’t have an influence! Or, you know, other races didn’t have an influence. You have to be truthful, and you have to let other voices be heard and acknowledge their contributions.
Carl Hart How do the goals of these activists interact with the goals of an education? I think that they interact in that both of them are interrogating information presented to them—particularly evaluating everything, challenging everything that stands before us. And that’s what an education is. Education is not to teach you what to think, but teach you how to think, and how we think is that we evaluate the information before us. We were told that “the world works this way because x, y, z.” We can evaluate the methods that helped us arrive at that conclusion. If these methods don’t stand up to critical analysis, then we can say the world doesn’t work that way, and we have to figure out how it works...It’s a beautiful thing, and that’s what these Black Lives Matter activists are trying to figure out.
Education is not to teach you what to think, but teach you how to think. Why is it at Columbia then that we the faculty are so white? Why is it that way? “Because it’s always been that way.” But that’s not good enough. We have to make sure that we are being more represented throughout the United States. If all things were equal, it should be representative, right? Not just, “that’s the way it’s always been.” Well if that’s the case, we’ve got to do something about it. And I think that’s part of it. We question everything. That’s what activists are doing. They’re questioning everything. And sometimes, you know, activists will be wrong. Just like sometimes with professors and what we thought was
CHALLENGING THE STATUS QUO right, we were wrong. And we will make mistakes. That’s what humans do. Michael Hanchard I think that these discussions are similar to other moments not just of student protest, but when national populations begin to ask questions: “Who are we as a people?” Not only, “Where have we come from?,” but “What do we aspire to as a people, and who are the symbols or the heroic figures, the heroic movements that we believe articulate the best, most democratic interest of the nation?” Certainly, enough commentators on the right will say, either “All Lives Matter,” or “These things happened a century ago, get over it.” But we don’t say that about commemorations about the end of World War II or the tearing down of the Berlin Wall or the toppling of statues of Stalin and Lenin in the former Soviet Union. Debates in the U.S. about the naming of buildings and institutions after slaveholders have helped generate discussion about U.S. history and the centrality of slavery to the political economy of the United States, much in the way that students in contemporary South Africa have protested against the iconic images of Cecil Rhodes and other heroes of apartheid and white supremacy in South Africa. Like the tearing down of the Berlin Wall or the toppling of statues of Stalin and Lenin, they are tearing down symbols of a previous order and creating
the conditions, literally, to construct new representations of a society and its history in the space where representations of the old order once stood. Darializa Avila Chevalier The thing is these issues were always there. People did protest South African apartheid. People did protest Gym Crow at Columbia. People did protest gender inequality here. But because they’re now framed in a new light, people now wanna attack it—they’re saying “that’s not the same thing.” When it actually is. I think another thing that Columbia does very well is, it crosses off the work that activists do by saying, “look at what a great and diverse campus we are in terms of thought! We promote political activity here! But let’s expel all the people who actually do this work.” I think one of my favorite things is, at Barnard, there’s an image of the 1968 protests, where a bunch of men are helping a woman up a window, and the first thing that came to my mind was, “look at how proud we are of all these students we expelled!” The fact is that Columbia keeps perpetuating this story of how open it’s been to all this radical activism, and yet completely chooses to ignore the fact that it actively acted against these students, and made their access to education difficult. It suspended students, it expelled students, and it continues to celebrate the students it suspended and expelled. And the same students that it, today, continues to surveil, and put on academic warnings, and things of that nature. 6 In 1968, Columbia University planned to build a gymnasium in Morningside Park, the park which effectively separated the campus from the majority -Black neighborhood of Harlem. This gym would be primarily for student use, but members of the Harlem community would be able to use a separate gym in the basement with an alternate entrance in the back of the building. The student nickname for the gym referred to the Jim Crow segregation laws of the South.
Marvin Touré I was listening to Don Lemon and others on CNN talking about when this younger generation, these millennials of color, talk about things like microaggressions and covert racism, “what does that really mean? And is it really important, in the broader scheme of the fight for equality?” And they usually wrap that argument in this notion that “we went through worse back in the day. And back in the day you should’ve heard what they said to us on college campuses. We pushed through, we marched in the street for stuff that really mattered. We were marching for Vietnam, and we marched for equal rights, and all of this other stuff. And affirmative action, everything like that. But now, you guys are talking about somebody saying something subtle to you, and you guys are all in your feelings, it’s this generation of sensitivity, this overly-sensitive generation—what is that about?” So, this buzzword, of being an oversensitive generation, is starting to creep into a lot of things, even to the point now where millennials are starting to use that terminology. Mostly white millennials, starting to use that terminology towards when people bring up issues of race. Like “oh, we’re just in a sensitive generation.” You’re starting to hear that more and more, and I look at that as—this is ridiculous. ‘Cause you’re diminishing some very real emotions, and you’re diminishing the power of words. Like, how a microagression is like a seed, can fester into something way worse. You’re trying to just bypass that altogether.
Free Jarrett Key
When you are marginalized and always unsafe, your skin thins, leaving your blood and bone exposed. You live at the breaking point. In such circumstances, of course you might be inclined to fiercely protect yourself, at any cost. Of course you might become intolerant. Of course you might perceive dissent as danger. There is also this. Those who mock the idea of safe space are most likely the same people who are able to take safety for granted.... While no one is guaranteed absolute safety, and everyone knows suffering, there are dangers members of certain populations will never know. There is a degree of safety members of certain populations will never know.
White people will never know the dangers of being Black in America, systemic, unequal opportunity, racial profiling, the constant threat of police violence.... Those who take safety for granted disparage safety because it is, like so many other rights, one that has always been inalienable to them. They wrongly assume we all enjoy such luxury and are blindly seeking something even more extravagant. They assume that we should simply accept hate without wanting something better. They cannot see that what we seek is sanctuary. We want to breathe.
Roxane Gay â€œThe Seduction of Safety, On Campus and Beyondâ€? The New York Times, November 13, 2015
MOVING FORWARD Garrett Duncan You need to step up and be courageous enough to honor [your intelligence] in yourselves and putting that out there to people allows us, when we hit these obstacles and these barriers, to be relentless and keep going forward. We have to be bold because I know just about every student, there’ve been many students in my course, regardless of their merit, who will not be accorded the same respect, not be provided the same experiences and opportunities that they are due simply because of who they are… I always go back to this notion: who we are is an accident of our birth. And when I say accident of our birth, we had nothing to say about it. I didn’t whisper in somebody’s ear, and say, “make me blue-Black and baldheaded.” I came out that way. That’s an accident. In other words, it wasn’t predetermined, it wasn’t by design. And we should not be penalized for things we have no control over. And this is not just along the lines of race, it’s the way women are portrayed, but overwhelmingly how Black and brown women are portrayed. People with different challenges, whether they’re psychological, mental, or physical challenges, are all still being subject to the same types of limitations. Nagueyalti Warren I think that you don’t expect people to change their minds, you just want them to change their behavior. If they don’t like you,
they wanna look down on you, go ahead! But don’t create an atmosphere where I feel like less than a person. Darializa Avila Chevalier Most of the demands that are being brought to the university are about making student life a little easier, and making it easier for students to be able to focus on their academics and do well. It’s this irony of having to exert extra energy in order to be more comfortable. It is so tiring. Olivia Orta I’ve realized how students of color at elite, predominately white institutions have to be super students. You might have that insecurity that you’re filling a quota, you might have that insecurity of not having a comparable Ivy League background, you’re one of very few, and you also might notice there’s room for race and racism to be addressed in different ways. So, not only are you trying to just be a student, you might be trying to overcompensate, and, to some extent, you might feel pressured to do some extracurricular stuff to help change the place. Not only are you here, you’re working here, and you’re working really, really hard. My hope for the college experience for people of color is to just be a regular student. I’m hoping my daughter and my granddaughter and my grandkids can just be Black and Brown students pursuing whatever education or extracurriculars that they’re interested in, not because they feel obligated, if that makes any sense. I think we’re fighting for normalcy, to be completely honest...We’re just fighting for the same student experience.
Repentance 5 D. Myntia Daniels
ABOUT THIS ZINE About Wade in the Water The goal of Wade in the Water is to compose an image of the impact the movement for Black lives has had since the unrest in Ferguson in the summer and fall of 2014, from snapshots provided by a range of Black interviewees. When this all began, it seemed to some that it would blow over by the next news cycle. Now, some are comparing it to the Civil Rights Movement of the 50s and 60s. How have individual perspectives shifted? Has the movement driven previously uninterested or ambivalent people towards activism? Has it, at the very least, started to change the way individuals discuss race in the U.S.? This is not a question of How We Talk About Race, in the overarching sense it is often asked in thinkpieces in national newspapers and magazines. Rather, it is a question of individual experiences: what did you think at the time? What do you think now? How did you cope? How have you changed? What change have you seen around you? And, most importantly, is that enough? What, after all, is the end goal of the movement—and how can we achieve it? As the movement grows and evolves, we’ve seen a range of tactics mobilized to bring America’s racial inequalities to mainstream consciousness, from protests and policy work to journalism and personal essays. Wade in the Water looks to give individuals the opportunity to candidly share their own experiences and ideas, with
the goal of painting a multifaceted picture of Black consciousness in America today as we mount another journey towards a more just way of life. About this Issue For this issue, students and professors from colleges whose Black students had presented demands to the school’s administration to were contacted for interviews on the new student movement. Most students were activists, and all professors were members of their school’s African-American Studies department. A few outsiders, including an art student and an alumnus from a Historically Black University, were incorporated to provide a wider ranging picture of the way these issues play out on different campuses. These interviews were then condensed and presented in conversation with each other, as you’ve seen in the preceding pages. From the interviewees, to the journalists and thinkers who are quoted, to the artists whose work is spread throughout, only Black-identified voices are presented here. For More Information To find more about the project, and where to find past and future issues, visit wadezine.com.
SPECIAL THANKS I could not have put together this zine without the aid of six wonderful people who assisted with interview transcriptions: Erin Burns, Nick Juravich, Caleb LoSchiavo, Rebekah Shaughnessy, Brittany Wienke, and last, Nick Allin, who met me at a party, heard about this project, volunteered to help, and then, miraculously, actually followed up with me and did so. The photographs were taken by Yatrik Solanki, who agreed to trek up to my old college campus with me when I needed more visuals. They depict buildings on the Morningside Campus of Columbia University in Manhattan, New York. Yatrik also assisted with editing images for the zine. I was lucky enough to meet Marvin Touré, Tia Daniels, and Dáreece Walker at a meeting of the Black Students Union at the School of Visual Arts, where they have just completed the M.F.A. program. I’m incredibly grateful that they took the time to contribute to this zine as they wrapped up their time at school. My thanks also go out to Jarrett Key for contributing artwork again after he was interviewed for the first issue. Community means everything. Thank you to all the contributors, interviewees, and friends that have helped and encouraged me to continue this work.
What is the place of Black students in American higher education? With the movement for Black lives revving up around the country, student p...
Published on May 1, 2016
What is the place of Black students in American higher education? With the movement for Black lives revving up around the country, student p...