The Uncomfortable Truth About Being Black On Campus

BOSTON, November 13, 2015: Students at Boston University gathered at a blackout outside the Marsh Chapel on campus to express solidarity with Mizzou. (Photo by: Nikita Sampath/BUNS)
Written by Torrance Latham

America needs to stop ignoring the oppression of black students on college campuses.

By Torrance Latham
BU News Service

As events unfolded at the University of Missouri-Columbia and black students rallied on campuses across the country under the hashtag #blackoncampus, I found it truly heartbreaking that African Americans do not feel safe on their own college campuses in 2015. It’s further baffling that some administrators at these schools appear ill-equipped to address the concerns of their black students.

I am a black man in America and a graduate student at the predominantly-white Boston University. I attended a historically black college as an undergrad, so the notion of facing hostility on campus, lack of black faculty and cultural alienation was simply foreign to me.

At predominantly white institutions, there are African American students who struggle to succeed in a polar-opposite culture while also hoping to retain their cultural identity. So when questions about race arise, why are we expected to do the schooling? I now find myself asking that very question when it comes to some American’s general lack of interest in the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

Talking to the average American about the #BlackLivesMatter movement feels like the male who seeks to garner the attention of a disinterested female — irrationally hoping that one day it will lead to something serious. Instead, efforts at engaging in productive dialogue has resulted in trivial back-and-forth debates that distract from the actual issues at hand. It then becomes a “Why-don’t-all-lives-matter?” discussion, which totally misses the point of why the movement exists.

It’s beyond frustrating to discuss race with those who willfully choose not to familiarize themselves with the topic. I say “choose not to” because I refuse to believe that in a world driven by technology, people don’t have access to information that can better educate them on the concerns of African Americans.

It’s beyond time to knock down flagrantly foolish notions that racism is dead, or that racism is no longer relevant but is rather classism instead. If you believe either of those concepts, or both, you are probably operating from a mindset of privilege. That problematic outlook will continuously handicap one’s ability to discuss race in a nuanced, contextual manner.

So, I’m about to offer you, free of charge, a close-up look through the lens of a 24-year-old African American male in 2015. This racial excursion may get uncomfortable as you peer through the prism, but the picture will be much clearer by its conclusion. So buckle up, leave your cameras at home and let’s roll.

Racism leads to cultural brainwashing

There are three passive-aggressive groups that have a direct effect on the racism epidemic that’s polluting America. I’ll start this tour off with the most recent: the “new black” crowd.

This group is inspired by a few black Hollywood celebrities who lack self-awareness. Legendary musician Pharrell Williams spearheaded this movement with the following statement during an interview with Oprah Winfrey: “The ‘new black’ dreams and realizes that it’s not pigmentation, it’s a mentality.” This deflects from honest discussion of systemic racism in America. The “new black” conversation begins around the 38:15 mark:

Next, we’ll pass by the apparently “pigment-less” former child television star Raven Symonè, who first made headlines in 2014 for defending Rodner Figueroa’s “Planet of the Apes” comments about First Lady Michelle Obama. View Co-Host Raven-Symoné Defends Host’s ‘Apes’ Comment About Michelle Obama in the video below (around the 0:53 mark):

She has since made a “triumphant” return to headlines in 2015 for racially-motivated comments pertaining to “ghetto names,” which is wondrously ironic given her own ethnic-sounding name.

I can’t help but view these comments as flawed attempts to achromatize, or strip of color, the American society in which we live. It dupes a largely uninformed public into believing that bigotry is no longer a primary issue, that fingers should be wagged at the “real” problems: black bitterness, laziness and dependence on government handouts.

The “new black” experience centers around socially climbing by way of trusting in the “American way.” The exhausted line we’ve all heard: “If I made it by working hard enough, you can, too.”

It’s wildly irrational to assume that people who aren’t as successful as you simply didn’t want it enough or didn’t work as hard. The success stories of those who made it out of horrid conditions are outliers, not the standard. Despite working hard, many don’t make it. Systemic racism reduces their odds.

Poor public school systems and costly housing were both created, by design, to keep a certain “class” of people out. If you need further details on how this game goes, here’s a much more detailed overview by author Ta-nehisi Coates.

The “It’s-not-me-that’s-racist” white crowd

When a black person brings up white supremacy or systemic racism in America, it’s met with a litany of: “Not all white people are racist, “I voted for Barack Obama both terms,” or “I have black friends.”

The “I’m-not-a-racist” Americans have convinced themselves as long as they aren’t intentionally discriminatory, they aren’t complicit. Yet, their actions suggest otherwise. One only needs to look at the recent response to the growing opioid epidemic among whites.

It begs the question: Why weren’t the “crack babies” era handled with this same compassion and concern? Why weren’t plans put in place for more lenient legal penalties or treatment programs then? These vastly different approaches breed resentment amongst those who aren’t the recipients of equal empathy and clearly break down along racial lines.

Facing the Truth

As this tour concludes and we all return to our daily routines, I’ll bid you farewell with these thoughts.

Police brutality was initially at the forefront of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. As recent headlines show, it currently shares the spotlight with an issue that has been condescendingly dismissed: systemic racism in higher education.

#BlackLivesMatter is a fight for fair treatment. It is a philosophic and political intervention in a society where black lives are intentionally targeted or ignored altogether. As a new generation pushes forward to confront some ugly realities about race, toes will be stepped on. But once they heal, I guarantee everyone will walk a lot better.

Boston University students rally in support of University of Missouri students on Friday, Nov. 13, 2015. (Photo courtesy Pamela Lightsey)

Boston University students rally in support of University of Missouri students on Friday, Nov. 13, 2015. (Photo courtesy Pamela Lightsey)

1 Comment

  • Thank you for sharing that informative article and tour… Hope you are adjusting to the cold weather and fairly new environment!

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