Michigan in Color: Sounds Pretty Racist to Me
This was the response I received just minutes after tweeting that I would be attending a national solidarity event, aimed at ending racial injustices on college campuses, hosted by the Black Liberation Collective.
I wish I could say this remark was an outlier. That it was of few I can recall over the past six years I’ve attended the University. Instead, what my experience has been — a sentiment that is clearly shared by Black students nationwide — is that this type of misinformed hostility is commonplace.
As a Black woman, I have two salient, visible identities that cause me to differ from the vast majority of people in power in this country. Though I can't isolate one identity from the other — I will never experience life as a woman who isn't Black or as a Black person who isn't a woman — it continually seems to me that larger society has compassion and empathy for only one of these struggles.
At Michigan, we have several residence halls and living communities exclusive to women. There are committed student groups, Greek organizations and health clinics whose purposes are attending to the needs of women — many of whom receive financial support from the University. Societally, we create TV shows and movies to reveal the growth and support that can arise from close-knit, women-only friendships. We raise our daughters in Girl Scouts and teach them to keep a “girl code,” recognizing that building and maintaining close friendships with other girls is essential. We let them have girls-only parties, acknowledging that introducing others into the mix changes the chemistry of the interactions. The concept of having small aspects of our world dedicated for women only simply isn’t taboo.
But when Black people crave and carve out those same avenues for ourselves, it’s attacked. Considered exclusive. Unfair. Counter to racial harmony. “That’s not what Dr. King wanted…” they say.
While everyone isn’t on the same page about gender-based oppressions, many, if not most, people view disparities in success across gender groups attributable to the world we grew up in, not to individuals themselves. We generally agree that although born with equivalent potential, historical precedent and our present culture erodes away opportunities available for people who aren't men. But that same view — the view that all groups originate with the same capacity, but some are subject to forces outside of their control that prevent them from having equal participation in society — isn't extended to Black people. We don't get Lean-in circles, we get we get death threats. We don't get a #62MillionGirls campaign, we get told, "I wish these … protesters were this passionate about looking for jobs, education and avoiding teen pregnancy" (@RWSurferGirl). Our government and universities aren’t saying, “It’s on Us,” they’re saying “it’s on you.”
People think if they can’t see or conceptualize racial advantages, there must not be any to be seen. And honestly, I can see how that would happen. Just as health is a crown that only the sick can see, the benefits of being white are rarely visible to those who receive them. That’s the thing about privilege — it’s about all of the adjustments you never need to make, the hesitations you never have, the questions you never need to ask yourself. I understand that. But what I don’t understand — and frankly, what I have little sympathy toward — is why, after being informed, people are so slow on the uptake.
From our Black Student Union’s #BBUM — Being Black at the University of Michigan — campaign to the Ferguson protests to the events at the University of Missouri: the hunger strike, football players refusing to play and numerous demonstrations, my community has given ample evidence as to the many injustices we face. Yet it falls on blind eyes and deaf ears.
We as a society recognize that certain groups need sacred spaces. We know that there are benefits that those groups get from being in communities with one another, and we allow that. We accept that people who have commonalities in an area so intrinsic to who they are need and flourish in spaces separate from the watchful eyes of people who just won’t get it. That’s why we have professional women’s organizations, Alcoholics Anonymous and sexual assault survivor support groups. Not because the people in them are broken or weak or less-than, but because we know they are going through some things that someone who doesn’t face those challenges just can’t understand. Life is harder for them in a million ways that an outsider can’t imagine, and they need to feel safe to talk about and strategize around that.
Unless, of course, they’re Black.
If they’re Black, then a solidarity event is discriminatory and moving this country backward. If they’re Black, it’s conspiracy brewing, and seeing things that aren’t really there. If they’re Black, organizing is rioting and promoting violence. If they’re Black —
Well, if they’re Black, that’s where you’ll find me. Because with them — with us — is about the only place I feel welcome right now.