Over this past weekend, some images demonstrating the persisting racism on campus began circulating on Facebook, achieving a certain degree of virality (at least in my own feed). Two of the photos showed two separate Black Lives Matter signs that had been defaced to say “Black Lives [Don’t] Matter” and “Black Lives [Do Not] Matter”, respectively.
So…hot take: racism is still a major problem on BC’s campus. And yet, for some reason, speaking out on that seems to position me as one of the more “radical” students. I’d prefer to think of myself as a realist, and accordingly, an activist.
It would be easy for me to attack the students who are complacent as these types of incidents occur. While I was initially shocked to see the images in my newsfeed, it wore off quickly. As a senior, incidents such as the homophobic sign in the mod lot, the administration’s backlash against the die-in protest, the reactionary responses to Ta-Nehisi Coates speaking on campus, and the rampant racism that flooded Yik Yak during the app’s heyday are still in recent memory.
While I think it is naive to dismiss the reality of racism on campus, I’m not at a loss to explain why so many do just that.
We go to school in Boston, Massachusetts, a city seen as predominantly liberal. Our Facebook feeds had countless posts from our peers denouncing Trump following the election. Everyone instagrammed a picture of themselves at the Women’s March in January, each accompanied by a quote about the importance of feminism. FACES, ALC, and various cultural organizations appear to have a strong presence on campus, seemingly indicating an appreciation of diversity. Many of the publications (The Rock included) seem to side with the left in the majority of opinion pieces, with the occasional exception of LTEs in The Heights, which always seem to be widely criticized. Our current UGBC president and vice president ran on a platform that emphasized the importance of inclusion and made history as the first dual-woman ticket to win the election. When incidents like that at Mizzou occur, we breathe a sigh of relief along with our outrage. Thank god we don’t go to a school like that, right?
And yet, overtly racist events like this occur. Yes, this isn’t the South. And accordingly, racism manifests in a different way. It’s quiet, hiding in the shadows, the view never publicly claimed by specific individuals. We don’t have fraternities getting in trouble for culturally appropriative party themes. I’ve personally never seen a confederate flag anywhere on campus. This outwardly progressive culture may deter individuals from openly expressing bigoted views. And yeah, that seems like a good thing?
But there’s a darkness in the anonymity of incidents like this. Is the guy sitting next to me in my 9 am the one who secretly feels that way? Racism that is anonymous, where the perpetrators remain invisible, is just as dangerous, if not more so. It allows us to dismiss it, to write it off as isolated incidents, because it certainly wasn’t anyone we know. That’s not to suggest that things would be better if we targeted certain individuals. What I would argue is that it makes us deny what should be a prominent issue on campus.
I cringe at the conservative views I held during the beginning of my BC career (see: my admittedly problematic early Rock op-eds). Things like racism just didn’t feel like much of a problem here, and I wasn’t very educated on the matter, coming from a state with a 91.3% white population. Freshman year, the incident with Ferguson caught my attention. I readily embraced the Black Lives Matter movement. As a sophomore, I was still surprised to hear my PULSE professor go into detail with stories she’d heard over the years from students of color regarding the microaggressions they’d experienced and the lack of safety they felt on campus.
If you’re willing to look a little closer, the inclusive, diverse appearance of this campus is a facade. It’s an issue that may not be clearly visible, but it’s there. To the university’s credit, they did release a statement about the recent event condemning hatred and indicating that the situation was being taken very seriously with an ongoing investigation.
I realize that I wouldn’t be accomplishing much if I were to just tell racist people to stop being racist here. So instead, I urge those of you who may be scared to say anything, complacent, or shocked to hear of incidents like this on *our* campus to introspect.
Screw “All Lives Matter.” To quote Third Eye Blind in their song “Cop vs. Phone Girl”, “Why’s it so hard to say black lives matter?” Literally, how is that a controversial stance? Nowhere in that statement does it say white lives don’t matter. Why is it a sensitive topic to acknowledge someone’s humanity and right to life? Police brutality is a real issue, and if you deny that, you’re not paying attention. Be self-aware. I can recognize that as a white woman, I have an approximately 0% chance of getting shot when pulled over. It’s implicit that my life matters; I don’t need a movement.
But beyond the foolishness of the “All Lives Matter” movement (don’t even get me started on “Blue Lives Matter”), this situation is especially jolting, given that the signs were edited to say that black lives “DON’T” matter. This takes things to a whole new level of disturbing. How is it acceptable to overlook or refuse to address the fact that students at a Catholic university (although religious affiliation shouldn’t matter here) believe that the lives of a particular race are less valuable? It’s not.
So while this might seem like an anomaly, the truth is that these “anomalies” seem to keep happening. Even if one student at the university has these beliefs, that’s a problem. And it’s a problem that we need to talk about. It’s not radical to denounce hate. The idea of “free speech” at universities is irrelevant when it’s language that is dehumanizing and making other students feel unsafe.
It’s not a controversial opinion to acknowledge the humanity of other students; we need not “tread lightly” in demanding that we have these conversations – conversations about the fact other students’ humanity is being attacked by members of this campus. If you want to claim that racism isn’t an issue on campus, try listening to the voices of those minorities who are actually affected by it, and see what they have to say about it. There are plenty of resources to educate yourself on this matter, ranging from ALC to FACES to the Social Justice Coalition of Boston College.
We find ourselves in the most danger when we dismiss these events as isolated just because we can’t attach a face to them. Bigoted views are cultured with this type of silence. The darkness of anonymity is that we don’t know its size or how widespread it is. It can only be fought as far as we work to acknowledge incidents when it does comes out of the shadows.
Image one courtesy of Emma Linville . Image two is screenshot from university-wide email statement