There’s much that needs to be said about the protest at OU this week. From my white-man, on the ground perspective, I think two important things need to be expressed:
1. applause and deliberate acknowledgement of the courage, conviction, and resilience that the black students at OU exhibited this week; and
2. strong condemnation and confrontation with what was nothing less than an explosion of racism among the broader Oklahoma public in response to these black students taking a stand against a racist system and a racist man that has repeatedly traumatized and hurt them.
I spent most of the last three days with these kids at OU, and you will not find a stronger concentration of people who, despite constant assault on the form and fashion of their existence, possess more love and compassion for one another, friends and allies, and even for the offenders. As a white ally, I assume and internalize a strong anger and frustration of my empathy for the plight of the black student at OU and black folk beyond OU in America. Time and time again, I have encountered a deeply spiritual and humane compassion for their offenders emerge from the black leaders most dedicated to opposing injustice and oppression upon them and their community.
Where my out-sized passion to oppose the same often disables me from wanting little less than the same injustices that have been visited upon them to now befall their oppressors, they stop short of that as they seek simple equity, fairness and equality. Their motivation is not retaliatory, reactionary or vitriolic. They are not engulfed with animus, hatred or anger for those who oppress them. On the contrary, they were consumed with grace, forgiveness and compassion. I think it’s incredibly difficult for white people to understand that. Black folk show us that righteous anger at offense can exist in a space alongside grace. And that is a lesson in “being” that white folk can all benefit greatly from.
The deluge of racist comments made on social media in response to this effort was simply outrageous. It wasn’t surprising. But it is something that we-as a white community-must engage with steadfastly. It is clear that today we exist in an America where racism is not exhibited most commonly in the form it once was in the past. These black students are not fighting to drink from the same fountain as whites or eat at the same table. They aren’t fighting against the form of racism that we saw in the 60s — the dogs, water hoses and KKK. But they are still fighting that racism. And we need to talk about what that is and what it looks like today to explain why the criticisms that were volleyed upon them were racist. Simply put, when white people criticize how black folk respond to acts or events they describe as racist, we’re being racist.
Racism is the notion that, in a society of more than one-race, the more powerful race claims superiority in its existence over an oppressed race’s existence. More precisely — the white race claims superiority in the way it exists over the way black people exist. In this situation, white people criticized the way these black students stood up for themselves. Some white people may have done so in what they think is a respectful manner, describing how they believe change should be sought. However, for any white person to say to these black students, or any other black folk standing against injustice, something amounting to “this is not how you get what you want. You need to do this _____” is to perform an act of racism. You say almost overtly that your way (the white way) is the superior way.
I understand most white folk think of racism as something altogether different from this description, but it’s long passed time that we educate ourselves on this behavior. Perhaps the grace black folk exhibit stems from their knowing that most of us don’t consciously choose to be racist. Our culture socializes us to not see it or understand it beyond the examples of violence of the 60s. But it’s beyond clear that here in Oklahoma and certainly throughout America, white folk who understand this must engage white folk who don’t. It should not and cannot continue to be the work exclusive to black or brown people who have suffered too much to tolerate. It is the burden of the informed white person to educate and reform our fellows regarding the truth of their ways, and we need to be about that business, earnestly.