Cydney Gardner-Brown: The neutral white population
Following the Black Lives Matter protests and demonstrations of the past few weeks, my African American studies professor gave students the platform to have a discussion in class about how the racial tension on campus has been affecting our lives. After many of the Black students bravely shared their stories aloud, shed tears and expressed how dehumanizing and degrading being called a racial slur can make a person, better yet, a community feel, a white female student decided to speak up. She said (roughly quoting): “It breaks my heart to hear that when stuff like this happens it can remain on the backs of the Black students for the remainder of their day or week or even for years. It breaks my heart because I know that even though I am sad about it, I can leave today and remain totally unaffected and continue with my day. That is due in part to the privilege that I have as a white person. It allows me to remain unaffected and ignorant to what is going on with other people in my own community.”
Her statement shook me to the core. For the first time since I have been on campus, I heard a white person admit to the privilege of indifference. The privilege of neutrality in times of racial crisis.
This mindset of neutrality is one that privileged whites tend to have in the United States (and on this campus) regarding race. White people who choose not to be a part of the conversation of racial tension and who would rather “not take a side” perpetuate an endless cycle of aggression and attack.
From a distance, it may seem as if most of the white students do not see what is happening on campus. It seems that they are totally oblivious to our struggle. However, I have found that the issues we as people of color face are in fact being seen by white students on campus but it seems that they are only seeing us through a TV screen — as if these racial attacks are a natural disaster occurring in some foreign land leaving them totally unaffected.
Black students feel as if they are isolated on an island experiencing a calamity and all the complacent white students act as if all they can do is watch. They are not seeing our anguish through their own eyes, in their own halls, buildings and front lawns. They are not feeling our pain in their own bodies because even hundreds of years after being brought to this land, Black people still are only seen as visitors. As the girl in my class said, many white people don’t feel personally affected or attacked when a Black man is called "n*****" because they do not view said Black man as a member of their community but another community completely separate. We as Black people are only tolerated as guests on a campus we have worked equally as hard to reside upon. Therefore, when something happens to us, the urgency of the matter is only our issue and no one else's. It is not that these white people are evil or would ever themselves attempt to dehumanize a person of color, it is that they choose to remain ignorant to the issues affecting people of color and therefore choose to remain neutral to any remedies.
The only way we can fix what is going on here is if we somehow make the complacent white students, who have no inclination toward either side, feel obligated to defend the identities of students of color. They have to know that what is happening is not fiction. It’s not alien. It’s not happening on a TV screen! It's occurring right here and right now. The neutral white students have to feel personally affected when their Black neighbors are being attacked and they have to view an attack on a person of color in this community as an attack on everyone.
We can only move forward if they know their participation is integral to our movement for positive social change on campus.