I love my alma mater. I really do.
But it was a tiny, pretty much all-white school in the south. And there were plenty of times in my four years there when I had to call on Jesus or Jameson or a nap to stop me from lashing out at some idiot racist.
At college, I’d been accosted with “Yo homie yo” by drunk frat guys. I had cops called on my Black friends who were scaring White people at a party by simply being there. I heard White people say the N-word more times than I’d like to count. Overall, though, I loved my school. For the most part, I got along with my White schoolmates and professors. Still, it doesn’t take a lot of racism to leave an indelible, painful mark.
But for so many of us, these moments of racism are topics shared in Black Student Unions and The Black Lunch Table. Generally, we just have to live with these feelings for our four years in college and move on. We’ll have rallies, meetings and ways to present to our White peers that some of the ways they talk to us are unacceptable and come from a place of racism. Sadly, though, there was always a plausible deniability; A “well they’re not talking about me. I’m enlightened.” So no matter how much we’d try to explain our place as minorities residing in these White institutions, we would hear how “sensitive” we are or how we’re “living in the past” or “looking for racism.”
How many times have you come across a student who you just knew said the N-word amongst his or her friends but had no way to prove they are racist? Or how often did you just know that campus security guard hated your Black Excellence on his campus but didn’t feel like you had enough people to hear you out? I bet there were students at Oklahoma who felt that innate, denied racism when they debated SAE members in Sociology class. I bet there are students at UVA who felt that the ABC officers were following them around for no reason. And the only people they could talk to were fellow Black students.
That’s why there’s hope in the SAE video and Martese Johnson’s videos. Now the cloud of deniability that was used to make us feel like we were just making sh*t up is gone. Now we have videos and an infrastructure of protest that makes these videos go “viral.” SAE racism (and Kappa Alpha racism and on and on) has been around for decades, but now the subjugated have support and voices to take our issues national. It’s great that there is a community to fight for Martese. There’s a nation of supporters ready to demand that SAE be removed. The same goes for racist baseball players who think insulting a high school girl is okay. For too long, our movements and protests were locally contained, making us feel alone and overwhelmed against institutions that have been around since we were only considered 3/5th of a person. Racism doesn’t have that luxury anymore. All of our movements are united and, most importantly, loud. Racist chants will go viral. Violence against our Black kids will turn into national protests. And schools will be held accountable in ways they didn’t have to address before. It’s beautiful.
I’ve always contested that college (and the few years afterwards when you’re constantly denied jobs given to White counterparts of equal or lesser qualification) is probably the most racist four years of our lives because we’re surrounded by people who are free to be as racist as they want with little to no consequence. Well, I can only hope that this won’t be the case much longer as we keep holding these students and institutions accountable for the racism that has permeated their campuses for centuries. And for that, Martese’s scars wouldn’t have been created in vain.
David Dennis, Jr. is a writer and editor based out of Atlanta (but it’s still WHO DAT all day). He’s currently an editor at Moguldom Media whose writing has appeared in The Guardian, The Smoking Section, Uproxx, Playboy, CNN Money, The Source, Complex.com and wherever people argue about things on the Internet. He’s a New Orleans Press Club award recipient and has been cited in Best Music Writing. He’s also a proud alum of Davidson College.