Though it is unusual for me to do so, I have largely kept my silence about the recent events at Mizzou in favor of sorting out my own unresolved feelings. It has been intriguing watching from the sidelines, and an altogether exhausting and anger-inducing experience reflecting on my time as a graduate student at Mizzou, a coach in and resident of Columbia, and an advocate in an atmosphere that is altogether hostile of any person who dares critique the status quo. It was—and still is—incomprehensible to me that so many people are unwilling to even entertain the idea that racial inequality is a problem in Columbia and at the University. Let’s talk for a second about comfortability.
I am angry that white male students at Mizzou were comfortable enough to make racial remarks, quite audibly, when I was walking with black male classmates on campus. I am angry that people were comfortable enough to make discriminatory remarks toward black cheer teams (read: at CHILDREN) at cheerleading competitions to the tune of, “Just wait til we beat them and send their ass back to the ghetto.” I am angry that it didn’t even surprise me to hear a couple other coaches in Missouri discuss, quite calmly and matter-of-factly, “why Mexicans don’t take care of their families” (……… hard ellipsis here, for reasons that should be obvious). I am angry that residents were comfortable enough to voice the fact that they don’t believe in interracial marriage because it’s “too hard for the kids” (btw: if people in the city weren’t racist, it probably wouldn’t be so hard for the kids). I am angry that I was informed by a resident that the area I was living in was dangerous because of who I was living near, but that he knew a couple marines who walked their German shepherds in that area so that “they” would leave them alone; the hard part of this one is that I know the man was truly concerned for my well-being and was very surprised that his statement was upsetting to me. My neighbors had always been very nice to me. I am angry that a student felt comfortable enough, convicted enough in hateful rhetoric, to draw a swastika in human feces on a dormitory wall. I am angry that certain residents wouldn’t hear a word against their cops…but there was a Columbia cop who was comfortable enough to tell me (during a conversation on my undergraduate specialty in clinical neuroscience) that he wasn’t sure white people and black people even had identical brain structures. But those things–in addition to some of the more graphic stories I prefer not to post online at this time–are just isolated incidents, right? That’s still just me being “closed-minded” because I hate white people (or at least, that’s what the consensus was last year); my bad.
My experience at Mizzou showed me that there are a whole lot of people out there who are more concerned with being called racist than they are with actual racism. Racism itself was part of the culture, fine as long as you don’t speak about it openly, it doesn’t make them uncomfortable, and you don’t point fingers at white people for being racist. My stance about Ferguson resulted in a cheer parent, who I previously had a good relationship with, making a public status on her Facebook page–in full view of my former athletes–declaring that she had finally unfriended me, ranting about my lack of character, and proposing that I was possibly even mentally unstable. This, of course, was the perfect opportunity for several other parents and a coworker to jump in and cosign those statements rather than sitting down and having a conversation with me like a human being. That incident, though it was ugly and certainly upsetting to me, is nothing compared to what students of color experience at Mizzou and in Columbia on a constant basis. It’s nothing compared to the backlash ConcernedStudent1950 (and, you know, any student who isn’t white) is currently experiencing, the terroristic threats, the vandalism of the BCC last night…and so on. To all of my friends and classmates on the front lines of the movement at Mizzou: I am so proud of you. I am proud to know you, to have sat beside you in classes, to have met and heard you speak at demonstrations, to call you friends. You all are in my thoughts; please stay safe as you work to make needed changes to the very core of this institution.
P.S. Any statements along the lines of “but not all white people” (we all know that; it’s a diversionary remark) warrant the ghost of my late cat haunting you for the next three weeks. Just don’t.