I’m not black, but I am concerned.
Disclaimer: I realize there is plenty of room for debate in the comment sections. I acknowledge questionable methodology and I welcome in-person debate. However, I ask you to hear my story without a political motive.
Racism on campus is nothing new. Every generation has had to deal with issues from slavery to unequal opportunities. Take a quick look at this timeline of social change and notable firsts for a quick background. The original concerned students of 1950 created this list of demands which helped open the black culture center and open jobs for black professors. Last week was a microcosm of Mizzou’s racial history. We should not be surprised about the present when we truly consider the past.
I, personally, joined in. This is my story as an ally.
What does it mean to be an ally? According to Jamie Utt, a writer for EverydayFeminism.com, an ally listens, acts, regards others, is ever-present, learns, joins in solidarity, steps back, educates others like them, changes and considers emotions carefully. Blogger and author of Black Girl Dangerous, Mia McKenzie, says:
“’Currently operating in solidarity with’ is undeniably an action. It describes what a person is doing in the moment. It does not give credit for past acts of solidarity without regard for current behavior. It does not assume future acts of solidarity. It speaks only to the actions of the present.”
The concernedstudent1950 protest catalyzed difficult discussions. My ideas changed and grew. Michael Middleton, original 1950 student and the new Interim President says,
“This is a learning experience for us all. We must tighten our focus, improve our culture across all of our campuses and share in the responsibility to see our University advance in respect; respect for others.”
The first day the tents popped up I walked in and asked blunt questions to my friends who helped start the movement. I said that I disagreed with the methodology, that I and others don’t know if this is good or bad, and that this will end complexly. My friend told me three main things:
- That I, as a majority (as in white is the majority race) member, don’t understand the issue from the perspective of their daily lives.
- That I should not consider myself as an unaffected outsider but as a responsible ally.
- That, based on the color of my skin, I’m born holding a microphone and what I do with that privilege is important, whether it be handing the microphone over or speaking well.
Then Vice Chancellor Dr. Cathy Scroggs came into the site and gave her full, sincere support. I followed suit.
I started to learn more. I wanted to know more about Tim Wolfe and my own stance on race relations. First, I watched these excellent videos. I learned that there were an enormous amount of complex reasons why this protest existed. I found that I supported the reasons behind the protest more and more leading up to Wolfe’s resignation.
On Monday, I watched Wolfe resign on a live stream and shouted in celebration. No one I was sitting with cared. I ran to the tents, and I helped form a wall around my friends at the campsite to protect them from the media. Earlier that cold morning, I took coffee to the tents where I heard their complaints about the media calling them prison rioters and making inaccurate, biased news reports. They were hurt.
So, when the media crowded around the tents, I joined a wall to protect them while they regrouped, deciding what to say next and allowing Jonathan Butler eat his first meal in almost a week. The crinkle of the wrapped sandwich made us all cheer. Then we partied and celebrated the step of removing Tim Wolfe from office.
I decided to camp with the protesters that Monday night. It was below freezing and emotional. I had just led worship with Monday Night Worship during the Week of Prayer and brought the entire group to pray with ConcernedStudent1950 10 p.m. prayer on Traditions Plaza. After the prayer, the leaders of the Concerned Students said,
Find three people, hug them and tell them that you love them. Walk with each other. Be peaceful as Christ is peaceful. We have a circle over here if anyone wants to be prayed over. Keep praying.
Continual presence shows that it wasn’t about usurping leaders with hunger and football; it’s about deep-rooted systemic oppression. I grew after hearing heinous racial slurs shouted into the campsite while I was there. Tables with food were knocked over, and tensions rose. Experiencing the hatred there moved my ideas from my head to my heart.
The next day grew with uncertainty. They began taking down tents because of a tornado watch. Along with this, people with white bandanas, people around speakers circle and people from the back of an unmarked pick-up truck all began yelling racial slurs and/or aggressively approaching the tents blocked by security.
As I led worship for the Week of Prayer, I got a text from my fiancé asking me not to camp that night. Then I got a text from my friend saying that the whole campsite was taken down, there are cops everywhere, a helicopter flying around and death threats are going around on social media. Threats on Yik Yak advised students of color not to show up to class the next day.
I grieved. The following dark, stormy day where no black people could go downtown or on campus for fear of being shot, I grieved. I worked in my primarily white coffee shop overflowing with business while Starbucks down the street was shut down because their colored employees locked themselves in at home or left Columbia. I never imagined I would see a day as shameful as that in this city.
I continued conversations with my friends. I was heavily dismayed by how uninformed or misinformed so many people were and are. Four days after the death threats and after the two main perpetrators were put behind bars, I invited friends to join us on the last night of the Week of Prayer. Many felt the need to stay safe indoors or go home for the weekend. This campus was not safe and is not secure.
There are, however, positive changes. Protests are often good for that. A lot of my friends have grown and learned from this issue. I myself have grown tremendously. Hank Foley, the new Interim Chancellor said,
“What is currently happening at Mizzou is not turmoil; nor is it negative. In fact, the student activism this fall at Mizzou is positive. What it shows is that we are diverse, tolerant and open.”
I’m hopeful for what the new interim UM president said:
“A 1968 graduate of MU, Middleton was the third African-American graduate student to graduate from the MU Law School. He pursued a career in civil rights law in Washington, D.C., working as a trial attorney for the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. He later worked as director of the Office of Systemic Programs at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and then as principal deputy assistant secretary for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education. He was director of the St. Louis district office of EEOC before returning to MU in 1985." — UM Board of Curators
This paragraph contains some potentially triggering language. Before you complain about people being discontent with their $10,000 scholarships for minorities or make outrageous claims about protesters “lynching” Tim Wolfe (talk about inappropriate) or laugh about a hashtag like #shootthemonkeys or simply disregard the issue altogether because it doesn’t pertain to you — pause. Please just take a moment to consider if you’re part of the problem.
“Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect unity. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful.” Collosians 3:14–15