Bananas on Campus:

It’s Not Alright

To see, in 2016, a bundle of bananas hanging from a campus banner dedicated to the lives of African American people is a painful realization — a serious affront that I will not pretend is alright. My ancestors were called sub-human, treated like the vilest of animals, and viewed as creatures without the capacity to be intelligent or think independently. My ancestors gave their physical, emotional, spiritual, and metaphorical lives to avoid being treated and seen as slaves, animals, sources of entertainment, fools, and commodities. We were called jigaboos, coons, mammies, coloreds, and apes, but still we fought to be free, to vote, to gain employment, to enter public establishments, and have a quality education. We remember this past and we are still working to combat the vicious stereotypes that disenfranchise, exclude, and denigrate us in a country that our ancestors worked to build. We remember this horrible past, but we are constantly reminded that our past lingers in the present and is symbolic in the rhetoric of our politicians who make jokes about “colored people time”, on our campus where we see strange fruit hanging from banners, and in governmental policies that taint our water and diminish our democratic rights.

So if you ask me why it hurts so much to see bananas hanging in this fashion on campus, I say it hurts because it is a physical reminder that there are those who feel I do not belong, who view me as unintelligent, who think of me as a primate. To say that I am outraged by this act is not so because I experience these hateful occurrences more often than I care to recall. I experience the sting of pain each time I’m called “articulate.” I wince each time my hair is touched without my permission. It burns when my own colleagues do not recognize me or acknowledge my existence. It hurts when I’m placated when I raise racial concerns. And it pains me each time I’m called upon to carry the weight of diversity and inclusion work.

However, I do the work, I avoid getting upset, I remain calm, and I accept “compliments” because I am a part of this community and I want to see it change. I have the deepest hope that with continued institutional support, leadership, and a value for multiculturalism and equity, the university will be a place that celebrates and respects people from all backgrounds. While I know much work needs to be done, addressing this incident, educating the community about the hurtful symbolism of this act, and implementing core curriculum and programming on a large scale are small steps toward progress. Incidents like these do more than remind us that we are not living in a post-racial society, they remind us that the work of fighting for justice in all arenas is never done and that we must strive to call out injustice when we see it and make moves to prevent it in the future.