I have been thinking a lot about revolution. I have been thinking about what it takes to truly change a people, a place, and a culture. More specifically, as a product of primarily white institutions for my education and having worked at historically black colleges for over 13 years, I am wondering when this battle for black people in the collegiate environment will finally be won. I tell my students at Morehouse that it is difficult to grasp the feeling of walking around campus when no one who is different (read as darker) is understood. But these students get it. I forget that many of them are fleeing these “privileged” upbringings, where they were likely the only black person in their class and on their blocks. I understand that Morehouse for them is a way to save their souls, to take care of their spirits, so that they can be reminded of who they are and who they could be. Morehouse, like other HBCUs, is a short respite before they are thrust back out into a world that seems hell bent on their annihilation. But even in these black havens we sit and burn and wonder what we can do to make white people finally get it too. But why is it that only now so many campuses around the country are erupting in the face of this unbearable whiteness?
In many ways I think that it is the fault of the my generation, these 70 babies who are the children of the people who fought and marched and integrated schools, who moved our children out the suburbs and said that in some ways our economic achievement meant that we shouldn’t have to fight anymore or not as hard. My parents were literally the first in their families and in their communities to venture out of the nurturing spaces of the black college and black church. Looking at Missouri and what is happening on their campus reminded me of what my parents went through almost 50 years ago. As the third class of blacks admitted to Duke University and 2 of 12 in their entering class, they understood that to be black on campus meant that in some ways everything about their being there would be a fight. My father was the first black athlete at Duke, the first black basketball player there and the second in all of the ACC. He knew what it was like to literally be in spaces where blacks were not allowed (They held the annual team banquet at a whites only country club), but he also knew that he couldn’t complain too much because he had to be an example for all black people–so no outward anger and always making sure that whites couldn’t fault him on his academics or appearance. What is so interesting about the sit in above is that my parents and the rest of the black students at Duke are clear to sit there and study, not chant or sing songs, but study. The idea about claiming your space through passive resistance meant becoming the model student, not the model revolutionary.
I whole heartedly support #blackmizzou and the the football players protest, which efficiently ousted their college president. I support any claim for voices to be heard on majority white campuses when so often it seems like blacks are there for purposes of diversity but are not really expected to be seen or heard. I am just wondering what we can do in order not to have to go through these same protests 50 years in the future. My parents fought for more black faculty and black studies programs. At Missouri, the main campus with little more than 3% black faculty, the black students had similar demands. They demanded that the ratio of black faculty be upped to 10%. This demand is not unreasonable given the fact that the faculty should be at this level given how long it has been since the initial increase in black faculty was first asked for. I guess we will continue to march, sit in, and shut things down until things change, but we need to remember not to get complacent even when one school meets these demands. We have to remain vigilant. This fight is really for all of us.