I don't cry easily. Although I do feel emotionally moved by many things, it takes a lot to move myself to produce actual tears. But in late November, while participating alongside hundreds of other students in a walk-out and die-in in response to the racial injustice we were witnessing in the cases that have recently caught national attention, something happened to me during that protest. Maybe it was looking around and seeing so many people, especially people of color, gathered in solidarity, mourning and feeling the loss of some of our black brethren who were taken from this earth way too soon. Maybe it was that while chanting "black lives matter," the startling reality struck me that this recent movement that bears this name is something I actually have to assert, as it has become blatantly evident recently that black lives are not treated with the same level of humanity as white lives in this country. Or maybe it was that I finally allowed myself to unchain emotionally and just truly feel the devastation, hurt and anger I had been trying to sort through since this summer when this conversation about race really came bubbling to the top. But once one tear fell, I couldn't stop the rest, and I sat there crying and watched others around me do the same. You saw the same thing in every one's face: that mixture of disappointment, fear, and anger towards our country that has let us down, and the realization that although we sing the national anthem with as much pride as every other American, black people are most certainly not given the same fair treatment and rights.
As I stood up from our 45 minute die-in (to symbolize the 4.5 hours Mike Brown's body lay out in the streets after he had been killed) I walked to lunch and found that although my tears had dried, I was still shaken. My mind reeled as I tried to sort through the different thoughts and emotions firing in my head. But once I got to lunch, I noticed something unsettling. While I felt as if my world had stopped, my peers around me were happily going about their day, laughing and chatting, probably only a couple hundred of feet away from where our campus had just engaged in this protest. Many of the people sitting there had chosen not to go, or had walked by, preoccupied with whatever they had set out to do on their schedules. Some had gone to show support, but were able to assimilate easily back into their day, smiling and talking with those around me. I slowly started to feel alien there, and this wasn't the first time. I noticed that after every indictment, and every shooting, the conversation with some of my non-black peers had been stilted or limited to a passive concern. In this place where I had felt like I was amongst peers, I was starting to feel very alone and alarmed by what I was seeing.
On our campus, we live within a bubble that elite institutions foster: this pacifying sense of safety and security that the outside world and its problems seem impenetrable to. However, I do not live inside of that same bubble. As a black student at a school that is known for its privilege and prestige, I have found myself surrounded by a majority of people who have had the luxury, in a sense, to be able to extricate themselves from the issues at hand. But I don't have the luxury of not facing these events as a startling reality check that solely my skin color can determine my future. I don't have the luxury of watching the news and seeing these horrifying images of brutality and returning back to class and not feeling stupefied and vilified by the world I live in. I don't have the luxury of pretending that this problem is not in my backyard, because it is: this framework of racism that persisted and continues to persist today has not fallen, and the silence of my peers shows an unwillingness and discomfort with tackling these issues of prejudice that plague our country still.
We are in a time of crisis, and have been for some time. Poor race relations in this country have not subsided, but recent events have reminded Americans that we need to continue to engage in conversation about this. I have been reminded time and time again that my black life is not worth as much as the lives of other Americans around me. I have been reminded time and time again that I am not treated as part of this one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice that is supposed to be guaranteed for all. All of these non-indictments, police brutality cases, and race-based encounters that have been capturing national news and national attention are things I can't avoid. And no one should.
Now, my expectation for my school community and the American community at large is not to engage with these issues the same way. Many of my non-black friends have involved themselves, whether it be by standing alongside others in recognition of injustice, asking questions to learn more, or taking time to reflect and take a critical eye to some of the things they have seen around themselves. But I do think that you do yourself a disservice when you disengage from this because you aren't directly affected by it. The ability to not care or have to care is a form of privilege in and of itself.
My fear is that with time, as happens with so many stories that capture the national attention for a bit, this will all die down and people will be able to bury it away. I don't want this buried in my backyard. I want to see a country acknowledging and working towards a solution that tackles the reality of the framework of racism that we have built that inherently disadvantages black people.
Don't let yourselves forget. Live in this moment. Acknowledge your fellow black Americans in this country and the fact that they are not being treated equally. Engage with this, and prove that we can work towards a better America.