“The paradox of education is precisely this – that as one begins to become conscious one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated.” – James Baldwin
They say college is your introduction to the “real world”. It’s often idealized as a safe haven where you can test the waves of adulthood without fear of drowning. You make lifelong friends. You expand your mind and your earning potential. And, if you happen to be Black on a predominately White campus, you experience a hefty dose of real-world racism
From the moment I set foot on the immaculately manicured lawn of my alma mater, Georgetown University, I took one look at the parade of pink polos and I knew I was in for a rude awakening. Over the course of eight and half semesters, I would be stared at, spat at and called an “affirmative-action pick” more times than I could count. I received daily reminders from my peers, professors, and administrators that I was a human stain on their lily White campus. To them, I wasn’t a person, I was a concept — an alien idea of mankind they’d seen on TV and read about in books but had no place in their privileged reality.
For four years, I turned my head away from the abuse, planting it instead in my books. Like many other Black students attending predominately white universities, I suffered in silence forgetting, as my grandmother used to say that “a closed mouth don’t get fed.”
Today’s college students are not as quiet as I was.
At colleges and universities across the country, Black students have begun to speak out against white supremacy and institutional racism on their respective campuses. Most prevalent in our national consciousness today is the student-led movement at the University of Missouri, not just for the sheer bravery of these young people, but also for the terrifying backlash they’ve received. Simply demanding to be treated equally to their white counterparts, Black students at Mizzou have found themselves fighting a dangerous battle in a war they didn’t start.
Yet, the Mizzou soldiers are not alone in their fight. Joining them on the front lines are waves of black students inspired by their audacity to tell their stories, even if mainstream media won’t. From Yale to Ithaca to a larger social media community, Black students are determined for the world to know what it’s like to be #BlackOnCampus.
They all join the larger ranks of student activists before them. Led by persistent generals like Stokely Carmichael and Julian Bond, these veterans left a lasting legacy that speaks to the power of an organized and educated Black army in the war on racism. And judging from the powerful outcry of black students this week, it appears history might just be repeating itself.
But just as the positive tides are turning, so too will the students face negative repercussions.
As their actions demand that the national dialogue include their stories, the students will need to prepare themselves to face an already burgeoning wave of backlash. On Fox News, a writer declared that college students engaging in protests are “pathological” narcissists. Meanwhile, the Washington Post, The Atlantic and several other outlets have ran pieces about how misguided or selfish the students are being.
But it’s not just media who will throw stones. On campus, students will face violent threats, as they did Tuesday at Mizzou, or find themselves confronted with painful symbols of hatred, like the noose reportedly just seen hanging at Louisiana Sate University.
Still, in the face of injustice, these students will find a painful, but profound introduction to themselves. This, as they introduce a country to a generation of revolutionaries.
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