We’ve decided to change our organization’s name to “Students for Social Justice.” When creating this organization, we wanted a noun specific to OU students to describe our intention to create an inclusive, localized community. I grew up in Oklahoma and throughout my formal education was reminded of the glory of Oklahoma’s beginnings and statehood. I ran in a mock land run in the third grade, celebrating the accomplishments of the “Sooners” as many other elementary school students did. Even in high school the consequences of the land run were glossed over; the success and bravery of Oklahoma’s new residents trumped the Native Americans’ deaths and suffering. I’ve only recently realized how emphatically “Sooners” celebrates the genocide of a people. We are sorry to have participated in this trivialization of Native Americans’ historic and current struggles. We’re sorry for our callousness in the naming of this club and sorry that statewide education continues to celebrate the murders of Native Americans. Clearly, Oklahoma culture celebrates our beginnings and the concept of the Sooners. We, however, no longer want to associate ourselves with that.
By Lester Asamoah
In the wake of the University of Oklahoma incident, numbers of students, faculty, and staff are asking the inevitable question: what are their individual roles in helping their campus become an inclusive community? Let’s go into detail about things that can be done every day by students, faculty, and staff to mitigate the marginalization of people of color.
What happened with SAE was an example of overt racism. Clearly, no rational person in America can deny the racism of that video. However, that video is a result of covert racism, or racism that you don’t see every day. What does this look like? It is institutional. At the University of Oklahoma (OU) there are no people of color [POC] in high administrative offices and in 2013-2014 there were only 1,006 black students in a population of 20,000 undergrads. It is also microaggressive. What is microaggression? It’s judging black people on what they wear. It’s asking black students to be the spokesperson of their entire race in history class. It’s staring at groups of black people in your cafeteria or the Student Union. It’s making rude comments or accosting white women who are with black men, or black men who are with white women. Or black women with white men. Or anyone of any color, gender, or race with anyone else they love. A lot goes into this, and it is scientifically proven. I suggest reading a scientific study or reputable publication for more into this. Institutions are still pretty marginalizing. And nobody is overtly racist anymore, but people may not know they are acting covertly racist.
Are your eyes and ears working?
People of color have expressed, through many avenues, how their experience is on their college campuses. OU Unheard movement, among many, many other groups have been expressing their experiences. LISTEN. Everything in this post is not new. At Washington State University, a black woman was kicked out of a fraternity party and called a “n—-r bitch.” At UCLA and Michigan (among other major and minor institutions), they faced issues with microaggressions mounting and people getting fed up. This isn’t new. This is far from new. The next time you see a person of color tweet, post to facebook, or say something in class about race, LISTEN, READ, THINK.
Far too often on social media and in classrooms, white people try to (I want to borrow from the recent feminist term “mansplain” or when a man puts his two cents where it isn’t necessary – something that should also stop) “whitesplain” something because they haven’t felt the same experience. And it whittles people of color down over time they’re being told that their experiences aren’t as valid. People of color on campus have every reason under the sun to not fully trust all white people, between the awful things said after Ferguson and the things SAE said. Keep that in mind. People of color have every right to be wary of white people. So LISTEN. And stop invalidating their experiences.
Think about your n-words
As an American (or at least living in America), you have the right to say what you want. Quite frankly, you can be racist if you want. But, I assume you’re not racist if you’re reading this. The big argument with the n-word is that “Well if rappers say the n-word, I can say it too!!!!!!!!!!!” Stop. First, “nigga” is a reappropriated term. It was transformed into a term of endearment among black people. Let’s repeat those last three words, AMONG BLACK PEOPLE. With that being said, I have absolutely zero confidence that people will stop saying the n-word. But at the very least, contemplate the implications of that word. Because one of the biggest issues on college campuses is how white people use the n-word among each other as if it’s in style. And they listen to loud rap, and love black comedians, but when the social justice hits the fan, people really like being white. At the very least, do the research behind the history of that word and how it got to be what it is today before you keep using it.
Oh, and if you call your black friend “nigga,” know that it is always awkward no matter what they say. We will never admit face-to-face the awkwardness that pierces our souls. But, at the bare minimum, think about why you’re saying the n-word if you say it amongst your friends and you’re not black. There are many other words of endearment like “bro, cus, homie, friend, pal, comrade, dude, bruh (not to be confused with bro), dog, dawg (not to be confused with dog), and, but not limited to, fam.” Also, always remember if you call your black friends “nigga,” they will feel awkward and probably not tell you.
Taking practical steps
If you’ve made it this far (or you skipped to this part), you want to know “what can I do?” Okay. Well, if you haven’t already, you should read and understand everything above because I explain various issues. But, actually do these things:
— Understand that you may not be overtly racist, but your words and actions can still be harmful over long periods of time. And understand that universities, fraternities, and the justice system were not made for black people. I repeat, the creation of universities, fraternities, and the justice system, historically, was not meant for the black person. Things are changing, but there are still issues. So be patient with people that are frustrated.
— Listen, don’t interrupt or argue, or say “I’m not racist because,” or say “my black friend….” Actually, go ahead and delete those phrases from your repertoire NOW. Listen first. Ask questions. Understand. Be slow to judge. Don’t “whitesplain.”
— Think about the use, or your friends’ use of the n-word. And know that if you think it’s cool to call your black friend the n-word, she or he will think it’s awkward, every single time.
— Remember black people are people too (shocking, right?). Not just your campus’s athletes, your favorite slam poets, or the girl that sits in your class. Say hi to black people on campus. Invite us to things. Ask us about our lives and what our hobbies are. Sit with us. If we are athletes, don’t just talk to us about our sport. Ask us about our lives.
— Don’t say “not all frats, or not all students”–that’s obvious. In fact, people saying that raises the question if it really is all fraternities or all students (because if you have to keep saying something isn’t something, well…). And it’s unhelpful. Focus on what you’re going to do to PROVE, REPEAT PROVE–YOU KNOW, THROUGH ACTION–that your frat or school is different. Because, as I said before, people of color have a right to be at least a little wary. Remember that.
— Don’t blanket any social movements. Marching with your black friends is fun, but understand systemic and cultural change is long and slow. And it starts with me and you. No, this is not about just Greek Life, how awesome your campus is, or anything positive when it comes to social movements. What happened at the University of Oklahoma and what continues to happen across campuses nationwide are extremely negative and we should not cover those negativities up with positives. That is actually doing the opposite of what people who care about change want.
Remember, civil rights marches used to be violent. People had to take BEATINGS. Civil rights were violent. We, as this generation of students, have the privilege of not expecting to be attacked, so don’t make rallies and marches your self-masturbatory events you put on Instagram. Also, don’t make your black friends or kids in African countries that either. Stop it.
— Don’t appropriate any movements. Don’t act like your friends or organization are the best shining example of diversity in the world. Because clearly people of color on your campus can prove why that’s not true. Just sit back and understand the movements. Don’t brag. Improve, and show that you are.
— Don’t take attacks against “white America” personally. If someone says they have an issue with white people, chances are they have a very specific one that has no bearing on all of white society. And if you listen long enough, they’ll tell you what it is. Keep in mind that America was built on the backs of slaves. And, well, Selma happened only 50 years ago. Our parents were alive when black people were being beaten by police. Keep that in mind. And keep in mind that every black person in America is somehow affected by institutions and systems that are a legacy of deeply violent and exclusionary history.
Finally, keep in mind that these guidelines can loosely be applied to a number of things like sexism, transphobia, Islamphobia, ablism, etc. We learn in elementary school to treat others how we want to be treated. Somehow that important lesson is lost, but let’s get it back America.
By Blessing Ikpa
I’m grateful for SAE. Truly, I am. That may come as a shock to some, but I’m grateful that true colors of certain people were shown on that fateful party bus. I’m proud that the University and the SAE National Chapter acted as swiftly as they did. From this (not isolated) incident, topics can be introduced. The tough conversations can start to be had, and the floor opened for discussions.
Studying abroad in a foreign country has given me the necessary space to take a step back, and truly examine how OU operates. This unfortunate SAE incident is not the first, or the last, that an aspect of racism will rear its ugly head. Everyone has come together as a community and let these young men know that what they did was wrong. Their actions were shameful for the University, their fraternity, and their families. When they were saying “Nigger”, it felt like they were talking to me. To my family, my Black friends, my community. Hearing that word rips me apart inside because I can feel the deeply rooted pain of my ancestors. The pain of both my parents who immigrated to America from Nigeria in order to give me and my siblings a better life. Feeling these emotions has given me clarity and premonition about what could happen next, on what the next topic of discussion can be in the face of this tragedy that has hurt many people across campus.
Which brings me to this: Inclusivity.
I’ve been doing my daily scroll through social media these last few days, and most of what I see is, “OU is SO inclusive! We are one of the most diverse campuses EVER. People have equal opportunity on our campus, for sure!”
But do they really?
Growing up in Norman, I always viewed OU as the most diverse part of Norman. Probably even all of Oklahoma. I thought that OU would have people who looked like me, other than the handful of Black people in my high school. People who were as progressive as me and could have deep discussions on tough subjects. I thought that I would finally feel included in a bigger picture.
That is, until I started getting involved.
Being a “campus leader” is all the rage throughout the OU community. If you’re not a campus leader or highly involved, then what are you doing?! I thought that I would finally get the community I have always wanted and fulfill the longings I’ve always dreamed of. As I went through my freshman year, throwing myself into activities, and into my sophomore year, things started to become strange to me. Where was the Black community? Where were all the Hispanics? Asian community? Native Americans? What about the LGBTQ community? How many of us ARE there on campus? I almost thought of myself as “better than them” because I was getting myself out there and networking with people from different crevices of campus. Until I stopped and realized what was truly going on.
When I became the Multicultural Affairs officer for the Student Government Association last semester, I was able to fully engage with the Multicultural community. I was listening. I took the blinders off of my eyes and did my research. People in the Black community, the Hispanic community, LGBTQ community, the Asian community, the Native American community….they didn’t feel as though they belonged. They didn’t think that they could be apart of these University-wide campus activities or win the big campus awards because, in a way, they weren’t made for them. Why were the same people, year after year, winning all of these OU awards–and why was there no consideration given to the Multicultural community? Why do we see the same people, over and over, in positions of leadership but hardly anyone from these communities I have mentioned (and more)? I know I can’t be the only one who sees this.
If we want to say that we are an inclusive community, the “Sooner Family,” we truly need to start acting that way. We need to start asking ourselves the hard questions. “Does such-and-such organization REALLY include everyone?” “Does my club give everyone the equal opportunity to try and succeed?” Feelings are hurt all over campus. People are let down. People are scared. People’s hearts are bleeding. Those men in the video showed us, and told us, that people of minority are not welcome. They are not valued on this campus. Their joyful singing brought up old, painful wounds that cannot be covered with a band-aid this time. People are demanding answers now. We need to make sure that every single person on this campus feels as though they have the opportunity to be included as much, or as little, as they want to be. We can no longer act as if we are the most diverse and inclusive University to have ever lived unless we take a step back and see the hidden problems.
If we are who we say we are, we need to start acting like it.
By Amanda Ahadizadeh
This week we invited Dr. Schumaker to lead our discussion. Dr. Schumaker is a professor in the Letters and Constitutional Studies department at OU. She selected this week’s article, “The Case for Reparations” by Ta-Nehisi Coates. The article was published in The Atlantic in June of 2014. It argues that reparations, simply as an idea, need to be explored, investigated, and studied. Reparations are means to make amends for wrong-doings, and in this context would be actions by society to amend the gross abuse of Black Americans throughout our history.
“Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole.”
In this article, Coates writes about the systematic oppression of Black Americans, particularly post slavery. He explains redlining, the practice of discrimination based on the racial makeup of a person’s neighborhood, most often used in the context of extending credit or providing insurance coverage. Redlining is a type of de facto discrimination which economically disadvantages Black Americans. Private corporations, homeowners’ loan associations, banks, and even local neighborhood committees perpetuate this system of chipping away property value based on the racial makeup of an area.
“Locked out of the greatest mass-based opportunity for wealth accumulation in American history, African Americans who desired and were able to afford home ownership found themselves consigned to central-city communities where their investments were affected by the ‘self-fulfilling prophecies’ of the FHA appraisers: cut off from sources of new investment, their homes and communities deteriorated and lost value in comparison to those homes and communities that FHA appraisers deemed desirable.”
The electronic article includes an interesting interactive map feature which allows the reader to observe redlining in action in conjunction with unemployment and vacancy from 1950-2010. The interactive census is shockingly representative of the phenomenon which most people like to believe ended in 1964. It is clear which neighborhoods are poor, and those neighborhoods naturally coincide with unemployment and vacancy, but also race.
In his documentation of the exploitation of Black Americans, Coates mentions two significant reparations. Bank of America and Wells Fargo paid $355 and $175 million respectively in reparations for targeting Black Americans during the subprime mortgage housing crisis in 2007. If those sums were decided for such a recent, short-lived (however powerful) crisis, how much would the United States have to pay to rectify the damage of the past 435 years of discrimination and abuse?
The article briefly mentions Michelle and Barack Obama and their children. “…Barack and Michelle Obama have won. But they’ve won by being twice as good—and enduring twice as much…But for all our exceptional ones, for every Barack and Michelle Obama, for every Ethel Weatherspoon or Clyde Ross, for every black survivor, there are so many thousands gone.”
My favorite part of the article was Chapter X: “There will be no ‘reparations’ from Germany.” I found this final chapter extremely interesting because it compares the United States and its treatment of Black Americans to Germany and its treatment of the Jews. In our tailored history courses, we learn again and again about the horrors of Auschwitz and the evil Nazis who persecuted the Jews. We are taught the Holocaust each time we discuss WWII. We feel triumphant when the United States takes the moral high ground in Paris, and we think the terms treaties are too merciful. Never in these history classes do we learn about redlining. We don’t discuss the horrors of being colored in the United States. Our teachers fail to tell us that Nazis sent their scouts to the United States in order to learn about Jim Crow, so that they could implement something similar with the Jews. Coates writes that only 5% of Germans in 1952 reported feeling guilty about the Holocaust. I wonder what that number would be in the United States. How many of us even know about the oppression of Black Americans post slavery or post Jim Crow? How many of us feel like society and/or the government owes its Black population reparations?
We strongly suggest you read the article. It covers subjects that curriculum in schools fails to discuss or even mention.
Tell us what you think!