Most of our campus possesses an incorrect understanding of the word “racism.” Racism is more than a joke that a group of friends whisper to each other. It is more than uttering a single racial slur. It is more than hanging a Confederate flag in a dorm room or pretending to “talk black.” These things are acts of racism and despicable in and of themselves, but racism is much more than those individual hateful incidents.
Racism is a system that places white people at an advantage above racial minorities. For the purposes of this editorial, I’ll be specifically focusing on black men and women. These ideals are engrained in our society in a number of ways, from systematic segregation to the portrayal of black people in the media. Why is it, then, that so many people choose to see racism as small, individual acts when the evidence against that idea is so obvious? Believing that racism is a singular act removes the blame and makes it easy to overlook, thus making it an issue with “them” rather than with “us.” When racism is one thing that one person or a group happens to do one time, it can be seen as a mistake and a lack of judgment. All the blame can be placed on that individual or group. When racism is seen as it really is, as a continuing system against non-white people that is perpetuated everyday by all white people, guilt tends to follow, making white people uncomfortable. White people choose to not see these events as they truly are and experience these emotions so the system continues, and they can remain disconnected from the issue, while still reaping the benefits.
When Jewell took a moment of silence last semester for the issues at the University of Missouri, we were partaking in this very phenomenon. We were acting like Mizzou has issues and we do not. We felt sorry for them. We created a spectacle indicating that our community was immune from this racial distress. However, we neglected to take the chance to reflect on our own community. We boxed up the “situation at the University of Missouri” as a single event that will eventually sort itself out, rather than admitting the systemic manifestations of racism in our own space. In the fall of 2014, similar actions were taken when the black students at Jewell reported violent threats on YikYak. As events at Mizzou have brought other YikYak threats to light, one year ago, Jewell demonstrated our ability to culturally side-step the issue. We should remember that similarly threatening YikYak posts also originated from our space, and the perpetrator was never found or punished. Culturally, we missed the opportunity to ask fundamental questions about our community that made a person feel secure in making anonymous, vague threats of lynching. This person could be sitting right next to you in class. We remember this event as an individual act by an individual person that does not apply to us. However, if you talk to any of the black students on campus about these issues, you will soon learn that it is not an individual act. It is a continuing occurrence that happens not only among the students, but among the administration and professors as well.
Why is it that all black male students are assumed to be athletes? Why are black students asked about the “black” opinion in their classes? Why is it that Greek life is over 90 percent white? Why is it that a man feels safe enough in the community of Liberty to drive around waving a Confederate flag? The list goes on and on. White communities develop strategies to individualize these issues. However, it is quite clear that these acts alone are not individual people portraying racism and that something more is at play. Racism is not just an issue at Mizzou; it is an issue everywhere. Racism is among us. It is more than the many singular events that happen everyday. Racism is the fact that society, including William Jewell College, promotes this way of life and breeds an area where these beliefs are held without reprimand, formally or socially.