‘Too Many Times To Count’: My Experiences Of Racism At The University Of Missouri
University of Missouri protesters.
photo © Jeff Roberson/AP
I have lived in Columbia and been at the University for almost 18 years. During this time, I have been called the n word too many times to count. Some of you may recall my most recent experience while jogging on Route K in May of 2015 when I was approached by a white man in a white truck with a confederate flag very visible and proudly displayed. He leaned out his window (now keep in mind I run against traffic so his behavior was a blatant sign that something was about to happen). Not only did he spit at me, he called me the n word and gave me the finger. Of course, I responded with “Oh yea, get out of your car you coward and say that to my face.” He then raced off. Typical. Others of you may recall that after the Zimmerman trial, I wrote about my experiences being called the n word twice while I was on my jog. And yes, I have had a few faculty call me the n word and treat me with incredible disrespect. Yes, faculty. I have had a student who said he couldn't call me Dr. Frisby because that would mean that he thinks I am smart and he was told that blacks are not smart and do not earn degrees without affirmative action. Yes, true story. I have so many stories to share that it just doesn't make sense to put them all here.
What I am responding to is the frequent question I have been asked all week: How have I endured these many hateful experiences for over 17 years and why am I still here? I endured because God allows me to see the good and cup half full. I endured because I know my life is in God's hands and I do not walk alone. I endured because I find these to be teachable moments that I use in my classroom with my students. I endured (or better yet endure) because I have an amazing support system. I endure because there are far too many of my white friends that have a heart of gold, love people of any color with a passion and who have a strong trust in and love for the Lord. I endure because I have friends who are white and daily show me that there are people who can hurt when I do and who sincerely want to make this culture a better place. I endure because I look to the Lord to help me grow and be the best person I can be. I endure because I CHOSE AND CHOOSE to endure and overcome and I choose to overlook ignorance. Choosing to overlook these idiots doesn't make me a “sell-out” or be an uncle tom. I choose to endure because my mom and civil rights leaders taught me to never run but stand straight, tall and do not run. Racism is alive and it's everywhere. I endure because what I have gone through is nothing like what my mom went through in the 50s and 60s nor is it even close to what my Lord and Savior had to endure while on the earth (he, too, was spat at, made fun of and even nailed to a cross simply because He loved us/me that much). Yes, we are better off now than we were in the 50s but to some extent we are taking many steps backward by ignoring or not talking about the racial issues. We need to have open discussions where people share their ignorance and learn from people who are different (I do this in my classroom every day and we learn and I learn so much.) So where am I going with this post?
I understand the anger. I understand that we've had enough. I also understand and agree with my friend Traci Wilson-kleekamp when she wrote “Jonathan L. Butler and #ConcernedStudent1950 please give space for mistakes, listening, learning and dialogue. This on the job training thing is powerful because it is SO VERY PUBLIC.” I not only see this as on the job training for our administrators at MU, but I also see it as training for some of my very educated white friends.
The saddest of all things for me is to see how a few of my white friends are responding to these events and basic conflicts in race relations in our nation (i.e., police shootings, the President, etc). It hurts my heart when I see posts from these friends that make fun of us because we find things hurtful like dressing up in black face costumes or confederate flags flying high in my neighborhood. What bothers me is that the few of my white friends who feel this way have not taken time or energy to reach out to me and ask me why these things hurt or to understand what is going on or even send an email saying they are confused. For the two friends that have in the recent days, thank YOU. That speaks volumes of your openness to understand. You are not even saying that you agree, you just want to hear from me and my thoughts and experiences. Kudos to being open. Unlike my “other” so-called acquaintances. Instead they take to social media and make jokes of the students, say things like “oh my God, what else are these people going to find offensive?” or even dumber things like “i guess next year I will dress up as nothing.” By the way: The Halloween costume event is not about not dressing up like someone, but it is about dressing up as characters not as a race of people. It is the heart and intent of a person.
I write this post to ask if those folks who find that the situation on campus is ridiculous to please be a little more open minded. Ask questions. Do your research. Heaven forbid you will put yourself in their shoes. Maybe you should dress up in black face and spend a month walking around in that costume and maybe then you will understand how we feel when you walk in a room or a store and get treated like a second class citizen. Maybe then you will understand that our feelings about being constantly referred to as niggers is more than “just getting over it.” Maybe then you will understand why telling the students to get their “a@&S” in class because they are making much a do about nothing hurts and doesn't solve the problem.
I am much more than the n word. I am an educated black woman who happens to have worked hard for my PhD. I am a mom. I am a grandmother. I am a daughter. I am a sister. I am an auntie. I am a niece. I am a neighbor. I am a professor and mentor. I am a cousin. I am loved by my family and friends. I am smart. I am funny (or so I think). I am a Christian who loves the Lord Jesus with my whole heart. I would die for Him as He died for us. I am YOUR FRIEND! Yes, I am all of these things. There is so much more to me than the n word implies. Please consider that when you criticize the events on campus. yes, I am silly. yes, I am a drama queen who thinks I should have been born a celebrity. But what I am not is a nigger! Let me just say that. Consider that you have a friend who deserves and simply wants to be treated equally. You have an know a friend who jogs on route k and wants to do that without fear that some kids in a car will think it is funny to yell at me and pretend that they will run me off the road. Know that you have a friend who wants to walk out every day with confidence that she will not be spat on or yelled euphemisms simply because of the color of her skin. To make things better in our world, that would be a start. Does this make any sense?