Luce-Virlynn Apollon discusses racism and the Paige Shoemaker controversy
“It feels good to finally be a n*gga.”
Those aren’t the lyrics to the latest hip-hop song. But rather, that was the caption to a Snapchat posted by a student at Kansas State University. On Tuesday, September 13, 2016, Paige Shoemaker and her friend, Sadie Meier, posted a selfie on Snapchat of the two of them in black skincare masks with the caption, “It feels good to finally be a n*gga.” Next thing you know, those words became the subject of controversy online and off. After the image went viral, Shoemaker and Meier emphasized that the photo wasn’t meant to be offensive or “blackface” as many people believed. Shoemaker stated that the n-word circulated around her friend group and is almost endearing…so what’s the problem here?
(Hint: It’s racism)
I can’t even begin to tell you how many times people have told me that racism is no longer an issue. Growing up as the token black friend for so many people, I beg to differ. I’ve grown up in an environment where I’m the minority people talk about. I’ve been asked to represent the opinion of the black race as a whole more times than I can count.
Racism is so ingrained in our society that we are completely unaware of when it happens. It’s as consistent as the air we breathe. And as you read this, you’re probably thinking that there is no way that I’m racist; I have a friend/boyfriend/girlfriend/long-lost-uncle-twice-removed who’s black. I’m going to be candid: that’s wrong. Sorry to break it to you, but just because you have a person who you know who is black, that doesn’t mean you can begin to understand what it truly means to be a person of color in this country.
Racism is institutionalized to the point that every subject, incident and topic has the potential to have to do with race. Consider William Jewell College: our campus has only ever had one tenured African American professor. Cecelia Robinson paved the way for many students in the English and education departments here on campus. But in our 167-year-long history, we still have paltry diversity and even more contemptible attitudes towards members of our multicultural community here on campus. I focus on race given the Shoemaker incident, but this problem is a pandemic throughout our country.
This isn’t even something we can begin to solve because it is systemic. On Monday, September 19, 2016, I was listening to National Public Radio and a report about the Emmy Awards from the previous evening during my commute to class.
“As debates persists over diversity in Hollywood, there were important wins for women, non-white people and LGBTQ people,” said Eric Deggans, NPR host.
Our society takes cis-gender, heterosexual, white men as the norm. He didn’t say, “There were important wins for breakout stars in the industry.”
Mahatma Gandhi once said: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” If we are going to make a difference, we have to be that change. Can I take Adolf Hitler as the representation of the white population in the entire world?
The Shoemaker incident has occurred in the midst of dialogue about racism from affirmative action to police brutality. Let us be real, racism always has and is still a part of our daily lives across America. Even in our own little bubble we call “The Hill,” racism is afoot. The only way that we’re going to be able to even to start to solve this problem is to be aware of it and become educated about diversity and inclusion. The moral of this story is that it is unacceptable for Shoemaker (and anyone else for that matter) to use the N-Word because it is a derogatory term. Black Student Association has promoted a help sheet to understand a snapshot of the history in regards to the N-Word.
William Jewell College is already taking steps to help make our campus a more diverse and inclusive environment. Last year, Molly Fleming, a community organizer based in Kansas City, spent time with our Jewell family to help discover where we were in terms of diversity and inclusion. Of course, it was discovered that Jewell as a community has a lot of work to do. Over the course of fall and spring semesters, three steering committees were formed: faculty, staff and students.
The student steering committee has already been responsible for facilitating a new diversity activity during first-year orientation and promoting the events of multicultural organizations on campus. The faculty and staff steering committees have partnered to promote diversity and inclusion courses to help broaden the education of the students here at Jewell. These steps have helped kick start the dialogue that is necessary, but the real work is up to us.
By now, it’s unacceptable to be uneducated about the sensitive topic of racism. Yes, we attend college to be educated in our particular field of study: nursing, political science and now even civil engineering. But it’s our job as members of our families, our communities and our world to come together and realize that we are responsible for this racism and for educating our kids to change the future. Schools and universities need to continue to put education about diversity and inclusion on the forefront. Together is the only way we’ll be able to instigate the change and ultimately be it.