After a day of many wonderful symposiums and panels commemorating Martin Luther King Jr. for his activism in leading the Civil Rights Movement, I was very upset when I came home and saw an MLive article titled “Being Black at University of Michigan organizers threaten ‘physical action’ if demands aren’t met.” The article’s title gives the first impression that those organizing the #BBUM campaign are “the bad guys” intending to harm others, emphasizing “physical action” in a way where people who are unfamiliar with activist terms would misinterpret it to mean “violence.” This is not the case. “Physical action” most commonly means marches, singing, chanting, human blockades, etc. The article’s emphasis on “threatening ‘physical action’” is playing into the stereotype that Blacks are aggressive and irrational. Of all days, MLive chose MLK Day to criminalize a minority group assertively standing up for its rights.

I have overheard people calling the protest organizers “extortionists” and comparing them to terrorists for their assertive efforts in fighting for social justice. People are asking why they won’t “ask nicely,” and the answer is simple — asking nicely has never worked for the Black community. The Black community has been oppressed for decades and is still very much oppressed to this day.

Take a look at Detroit: it is dominantly Black for a reason. Corrupt, racist planning and policy has physically trapped thousands of people in a cycle of poverty. Restrictive covenants, anyone? Redlining? What about the Fair Housing Act never being enforced, thanks to former President Richard Nixon? Job discrimination? Asking nicely is exactly what people of power and privilege want! They want the Black community to be quiet and ask nicely so that they can continue to ignore them. They want to keep them in a political cage. Everyone needs to face the facts — racism is still very alive today. Criminalizing this group of Black activists shows that everyone, especially the University of Michigan, has a lot of work to do in the social justice department. I congratulate the #BBUM campaign for standing up for human rights, and I hope to see many more people — Black, white, green or blue — join this ongoing battle of fighting for true equality.

Kaleah Mabin is vice president of diversity at the Inter-Cooperative Council. She graduated from the University in 2013.

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