“Your hair looks good. New weave?”
“You’re not ghetto like the others.”
“You’re pretty for a Black girl.”
“All lives matter.”
Sometimes, it most certainly feels like the common mistakes of white people, things like microaggressions, general insensitivities, defensive unwillingness to admit inherent racism, etc. should definitely be stopped. I would very much like to stop the comments that so many of my closest friends have had to hear, and would definitely like to end the major systems that these comments feed into and give weight to.
The Binghamton branch of the State University of New York, otherwise known as SUNY Binghamton, caused controversy when it added a class called “#StopWhitePeople2016” to its course catalog for RA training.
#StopWhitePeople is not an entirely unfamiliar or new concept, particularly for those who frequently use Twitter. I’ve always laughed at its use on social media in reference to a myriad of situations and it’s a hashtag that is always entertaining.
The SUNY school decided to take the popular meme and use it for Resident Assistants in teaching them to “help others take the next step in understanding diversity, privilege and the society we function within.”
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For many, particularly those unfamiliar with the meme, the idea of such a class caused anger and defiance. Naturally, they took to Facebook to make their anger known.
“Just waiting for the Kill white people quickly and easily classes to be advertised,” one commenter wrote.
“Why don’t all white student quit this college… let’s see how they will survive without whites???” another asked.
I think that the purpose and description of this class have been lost on many Facebook commenters (wow, Facebook commenters complaining about social justice… new!) but also on a large number of people who aren’t willing to admit the fractured aspects of our education system and culture when it comes to race, particularly in a time when race relations are a tense point.
First, I’d really like to make one thing clear: This response is not new, but it is irrational. White people are constantly lashing out when they feel at all threatened, even when the ways they have been “threatened” pale in comparison to the ways they have treated non-white, non-heterosexual communities for years. We literally lived in times of self-imposed segregation. We now react with anger to communities actually consenting to relating to one another in safe spaces. They are allowed to create their own spaces, as historically they have been unable to do so in a way of their own making. It seems to be the natural reaction for the privileged class that when their privilege or dominance is at all questioned they should immediately react with vitriol. When you’re used to having everything, it’s difficult to have something taken away. This includes power and space.
The actual name of the class isn’t that serious. It’s a meme. There is no need to threaten the lives of Black people and “liberal scum” in Facebook comments. Keep in mind this blind rage is over a hashtag. The reaction of anger should instead be a desire to learn. Why would there be a class that is intended to teach college leaders to stop certain behaviors if they didn’t genuinely need to be stopped?
RAs are, in the very purpose of their jobs, supposed to provide safe, nonjudgmental spaces for all of the students that they live with, represent and are responsible for. Resident assistants should commit to unlearning the behaviors that contribute to tense racial relations with and between their residents, providing them with an informed perspective on the struggles that their residents might face and also giving them insight into the problematic behaviors that might leave non-white residents questioning their biases, abilities and whether their RA actually provides them with a safe space, or just another predominantly white space that works in the opposite of their favor.
I am not Black, nor is my experience the same as that of a Black person, but I do know firsthand what it’s like to live as a marginalized person with an RA who at any time could betray your trust by not having learned how to talk to a person like a person, or by not being aware of the issues that might plague a marginalized person in college. I know what it’s like to be constantly aware that their words could provide insight into their behaviors and their beliefs, which might include actively opposing my inherent identity. Their biases could unconsciously affect their commitment to my safety and impede my living, as well as that of the other residents of marginalized identities.
RAs should be available, welcoming and prepared to help all students, and this includes non-white students. They can’t do that without training.
Also, our national education system is in constant favor of white people. We are taught from historically white perspectives through the lens of whiteness, with the exceptions being in specialized classes in higher education. Our national education system generally favors the experiences of white, straight men. That is factual. It’s something that exists throughout a myriad of course topics.
A course of this kind is much needed because it gives students in leadership roles the opportunity to understand the bias from which we were taught. I think that the proof that we were taught through a white lens is easily demonstrated by the reaction of these comments because as soon as a class is offered on specifically non-white perspectives the reaction is angry.
How can people who have allowed a system to exclude millions of people from its teachings be made when they are not automatically included in positions of power? White people have been able to call the shots about education for decades, particularly in academic leadership roles, and it seems that when they are questioned or excluded they immediately want to provide comeuppance instead of understanding that maybe it is not always about them, nor should it be.
Also, reverse racism does not exist. There is only racism. Racism feeds into a system that benefits a privileged race of people. How could those without that inherent privilege perpetuate that system?
In saying all of this (and I really don’t like saying this because it should be unnecessary) it’s not the case that I hate straight, white people. I don’t. What I do have a strong dislike for is this immediate reaction of violent, blind, privileged anger. Pointing out that something is flawed and in need of changing, as well as that some people may be at fault both consciously and unconsciously, does not mean that their hatred. My observation of these flaws is only a call for white people to do better in order for minorities and marginalized people to be safer and more comfortable in college. Do better in order to make living spaces comfortable and to make education something that teaches us to be better for everyone. If anything, at least know your memes.
I think that’s what classes like these seek to do. To teach us better so that we know better.