Mizzou Showed Us the Strategic Way to Make Our Race Matters Heard

Maybe you still have no idea as to why the head president of the University of Missouri, Tim Wolfe, and chancellor of the Columbia campus, R. Bowen Loftin both resigned.

Noise.

The Black students of Mizzou are making lots of it, led by Concern Student 1950, 1959 being the year Mizzou admitted it’s first Black graduate student.

Like many secrets and matters brushed under the rug, it’s past due that Mizzou addressed the enormous bulge in the middle of the room: campus racism.

Back in September, senior and President of the Missouri Students Association, Payton Head, took to Facebook to express his disappointment in lack of action the university administered to dissolve racial tensions on campus.

Head detailed in his post of being called “nigger” by a group of men on the back of a pickup truck as he walked through campus. He went on to name the number of instances someone who is non-White might experience exclusion at the university: 

“Many of you are so privileged that you’ll never know what it feels likes to be a hijab-wearing Muslim woman and be called a terrorist or a towel head. You don’t have to think about being transgendered and worrying about finding a restroom where you can go and not be targeted for violence because you don’t fit into the gender binary.” 

That sparked a sound off board for students and faculty to recount the times they were made aware of their blackness without their consent.

Mizzou journalism professor, Dr. Cyndi Frisby, no longer held in her silence as she posted on Facebook being called a “nigger” by a white man while on her jogging trail. Frisby also discussed out of her nearly 18 years as a faculty member not only has she experienced colleagues calling her the n-word, but had a student refuse to address her PhD title because he was taught Black people earn degrees off “affirmative action.” It is those mindsets that stifle us as a race to move forward because, along the way, you have those who wholeheartedly believe we, as people, have no right to want better for ourselves. Dr. Frisby expressed her experience in a Facebook post:

“I write this post to ask if those folks who find that the situation on campus is ridiculous to please be a little more open minded. Ask questions. Do your research. Heaven forbid you will put yourself in their shoes. Maybe you should dress up in Black face and spend a month walking around in that costume and maybe then you will understand how we feel when you walk in a room or a store and get treated like a second class citizen. Maybe then you will understand that our feelings about being constantly referred to as niggers is more than “just getting over it.” Maybe then you will understand why telling the students to get their “a@&S” in class because they are making much a do about nothing hurts and doesn’t solve the problem.” 

The onset off Mizzou’s racial tension caused for me to think about my experience at my public white institution (PWI) alma mater, the University of Georgia. I love my red and black but in the 2012 academic year, which I enrolled, 7% of the student population was Black. That number has remained unvarying in the recent years; I’m not surprised or disappointed. In 2014, Mizzou’s Black student population was 7%. I understand the outcry of these Black students, academically and demographically speaking.

Our diplomas are not badges of affirmative action.

Attending a PWI as a minority can either be an inclusive or exclusive experience and the reality is it is not for us to choose. From my perspective, you have to accept your school is not a historically Black college or university (HBCU), it’s also not 50:50, and you will more than likely be one of the few non-White students in class. Some may feel attending those colleges and universities as a minority puts you in some type of premier status. But how exclusive can you be when your culture is not embraced? I appreciate the genetic makeup of the student body at my alma mater; however, I cannot help but acknowledge that the same issues surfaced in Missouri can very much so happen in Georgia. The Deep South. It has all the variables.

Racism will never go away as long as there are people who do not want it to.

The issues at Mizzou did not just start a couple of months ago. Black people didn’t just start wanting equality during the Civil Rights Movement.

In 2010, two white male students were arrested on littering charges for covering the front lawn of the Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center lawn with cotton balls. The students called their actions a “prank”.

In one of the most disturbing cases, a swastika smeared in feces was found in a dormitory bathroom in October. A police report was made, so yes that actually happened.

In June, a white male freshman at MU confessed to burning a swastika along with “you have been warned.” He blamed his actions on the alcohol…. and weed.

When you want to be acknowledged, you often times have to take extreme measures just to get that attention. I’m sure Concerned Student 1950 did not want to protest at their homecoming parade. I’m sure Jonathan Butler, a MU graduate student, didn’t want to go through a hunger strike for a week. I’m quite sure the football team didn’t want to miss games and practices due to a matter of inhumane treatment to Black MU students.

But, ironically, the university didn’t seem to listen until the latter joined forces to make it care about the treatment of it’s Black students. It’s all fun and “n-word” calling games until a university’s high profile winning football team (made up largely of Black students) decides to shut the shit down.

College football alone is a billion dollar industry. The University of Georgia’s football is an entirely separate entity outside of the university, meaning Georgia football can and has made donations to UGA. The team has actually supported the university. And the majority of the players: Black.

Go figure.

Now granted Mizzou has not had the best season, but it is a member of the southern eastern conference of the NCAA that made $455.8 million revenue in the 2014-2015 fiscal year (each school gets $31.2 million…can someone cut me a check too, shoot).

You know how many Black faces are under those helmets? You know how much money said Black faces bring to these universities and sports in general?

Like the saying goes, you usually don’t get a reaction out of head honchos in charge until you hit them where it hurts—their pockets. That’s when they are not just looking at you, but feeling the force to listen to you, too. That’s when shit gets real.

These (ahem, Black) football players do receive social leverage. Trust me, I’ve seen it. They’re respected for their athletic capability over their individuality.

When your school is facing a $1 million dollar violation for breaking a football contract you start singing a different tune. Two days after the Mizzou football team stood in protest by not playing any games until then President Wolfe resigned, he then held a press conference to announce his resignation. This is simply a case of what happens when outcries go ignored and minorities band together not only in unity, but also in strategy.

Let me be clear: Aside from some similarities, a student/athlete and student/non-athlete have two completely different college experiences. A regular student protest looks a hell of a lot different than one done by a football roster.

But for real, how often do football teams protest their university president, especially when dealing with racism and prejudice treatment?

At the end of the day, classes have been disrupted and the campus environment has shifted since the protest. But no one should pay tuition or go to their job to be called a “nigger”. You don’t get to say America isn’t that racist because the president is Black. You don’t get to tell people, “shit happens” as your best empathetic response.

Mizzou is a micro to the macro. And this revolution is not just for Black students to understand and proudly own their power. This historical Mizzou moment is for all minorities from all walks of life to come together to ignite that change that can hopefully begin to solve our country’s shameful race relations. Maybe it’ll have to be strategic and led by a force as powerful as the MU football team. Maybe not. But, the point is that when done collectively, strategically and relentlessly, minorities can force change. It happened with Tim Wolfe and it can happen again. And thankfully, because of social media, it will be televised.