Friend of the site, blogger Aaron Talley, recently went in on the University of Chicago and other “elite” or historically predominantly white institutions collectively in a piece that really tore at my pysche and rattled my comfort cage as a Harvard graduate student. During a recent protest to urge the University hospital to start a trauma center after the death of a young man who was shot a few blocks from the hospital and died in transit to the nearest trauma center 10 miles away, the University police used aggressive force to subdue the mostly minority crowd and force them off of “private property.” Incidentally, a few of the students in the protest pay good money to traverse that “private property” every semester. Drawing out long standing tensions between the University and its South Side neighbors, the event becomes a microcosm for the pervasive inhospitable environment that most of these schools that find themselves—by virtue of cheap land acquisition at the time of their inception—the threshold enclave between scholarship and hardship.
In a recent casual discussion with the blogger, I asked him if he thought it was his obligation to empower the masses with the knowledge he’s accrued regarding the barriers and oppression that keep the white male power structure in place and how they marginalize the rest of us. In far more eloquent words than I can recite from memory, Talley said he must work to raise the collective consciousness because if we allow this “post-race” ideology to permeate a generation unchecked by the hard battles won in the past two centuries, we risk the loss of a generation of revolutionizing young activist and would allow the “business as usual” of oppression to resurge. As Rev. Al Sharpton put it, this generation is in battle with Jim Crow’s son, “James Crow Jr., Esquire” saying:
He’s a little more educated. He’s a little slicker. He’s a little more polished. But the results are the same. He doesn’t put you in the back of the bus. He just puts referendums on the ballot to end affirmative action where you can’t go to school. He doesn’t call you a racial name. He just marginalizes your existence. He doesn’t tell you that he’s set against you. He sets up institutional racism.”
So then I return to the incident at U. of Chicago and ask a revised question to the reader: Should it be the Universities responsibility to impart an awareness of “James Crow Jr., Esquire” to everyone that sets foot through its doors? Should not everyone understand what it is like to be black, marginalized and oppressed? Can’t an Introduction to Oppression 101 course be as ubiquitous as Freshman Orientation to give everyone at these “elite” universities a foundation to understand the student of color that is now auspiciously sitting next to them—you know, just a brief overview of the obstacles they’ve overcome to be sitting there? Let’s think about this as Talley elucidates his experience at his “elite” school:
As a Black male of color, I have to maintain the schizophrenic consciousness that I attend a university that will hurl me to the ground if I forget my place as a Black man at a predominately white institution. At this institution, and others similar to it, students of color have to walk with the constant awareness that they are walking aberrations. We are attempting to get educated at an institution that was not made for us, nor has any idea how to deal with us aside from dehumanization, patronization, and the willed denial of our social circumstances and realities. Some of the world’s top universities, which pride themselves on their intellectual inquiry and robust ways of thinking, exercise an immovable obtuseness when it comes to examining the role of race in their campus communities. The aforementioned incidents are not atypical, not accidents, nor are they an opportunity for facile meetings and conversations; they are emblematic of interweaving forces of racial oppression, and the inability of higher institutions to critically examine themselves to any meaningful degree.
In a way, this necessity to educate the masses on the new subtlety of oppression is a movement. I strongly believe that for every movement there has to be an antagonist—someone that comes across as the bad guy. Talley went on to quote James Baldwin when he said, “the paradox of education is precisely this — that as one begins to become conscious one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated.” Talley goes on to say that “Students of color have to be walking paradoxes at ‘elite’ universities.” I would go a step further and explain the situational paradox at these “elite” schools in that students of color must fight these institutions that often belie or contradict the omniscience they seek to portray to society; institutions that should, thus, be able to understand our civil liberties pursuits, our affirmative action desires, and, at minimum, a plea to open a trauma center near the need when there is access to financial resources. At once, in order to be the protagonist in these mythological tales of common sense battles, colored students must constantly play the role of antagonist and because the people at the top governing these institutions still tend to be white males, it would seem as though the battle is the same as our ancestors’.
There comes a point where we all need to ask ourselves “As long as my university’s administrative board [or my local community board, or my congress] doesn’t look like me, how can I trust that they will do right by me?” And as Ms. Celie condemningly said in the film, The Color Purple, “Until you do right by me, everything you even think about gonna fail.”
Read the full story at blackyouthproject.com