By: Taylor Zachary ~Staff Writer~
On January 17, the Center for Faith and Justice (CFJ) held a racial justice event in the Clock Tower to discuss the intersections between faith and social justice. The Xavier community and members from surrounding areas joined the conversation.
I sat amongst my community as we listened to a panel, comprised of a Black DDI student, a white theology faculty member and a CFJ staff member, share testimonies about their engagements with faith, race and economic justice.
After the monologues, the facilitator opened the space for questions. I raised my hand. I prefaced my question with a short rhetorical illustration. I criticized the reality of our student culture against internal perceptions maintained by departmental advertisements promoted to prospective investors, better known as families on preview day.
For example, the sheer existence of the heinous Xavier Bubble negates internal perceptions of a ‘community-engaged student body.’ Subsequently, I proposed the idea that if our university engages with predominantly Black and predominately impoverished communities such as Evanston and Avondale, then the university should proactively educate our predominantly white and predominantly upper-middle class student body via course material organized around Black and/or Ethnic Studies.
This is where things got problematic. Understand that I’m a Black student at a predominantly white institution. The consciousness permeating through my Black body yields a Black perspective often ignored and overshadowed by the enduring solidarity of white students, white faculty and white administrators.
However, I assumed that in a space intended purely for racial justice, I could pose an idea concerning racial injustice without the pain of unforeseen micro-aggressions. I should have known better.
After a brief back and forth, the white faculty member responded by questioning me on my school of choice, specifically asking, “Why didn’t you go to an [Historically Black College or University] HBCU?” Need I explain why asking a Black student why he didn’t go to an all-Black school is problematic?
In retrospect, I’m rather humored by such flawed reasoning. First off, answering a question with a question is simply rude discourse, and the divergence from contextualized and contextually relevant criticism to an overt personal attack is the purest form of victim blaming.
His rhetoric aimed to convince me that I am somehow responsible for a white-washed education at a predominately white school with predominantly white faculty and predominately white course material taken by a predominately white student body in predominately white classrooms.
In addition to victim blaming, such a question carries an implied accent of segregation. I heard: ‘If you want your educational interests upheld, then go to a school where more people look like you and hopefully think like you. In this white space, your Black interests cause disruption that I or we don’t have time to take seriously.’
Such reasoning ignores racist biases engrained in our educational system. Additionally, his rhetoric formally asserts that Xavier did not construct its educational system with Black interests in mind, in the same way the United States did not construct its public educational system with Black interests in mind.
Be it Xavier University or the United States of America, Blacks invest into systems that ignore the holistic satisfaction of Black interests. However, I am still a student at this university, just as I am a natural born citizen of the United States. And as a paying customer in both arenas, I expect an adequate return on my dollar.
And you could have said virtually anything else. You could have asked for data to support my argument. You could have pointed out all six Black courses we offer and encouraged me to take those.
You could have pointed me to the library. Hell, you could have even blamed it on the budget. Furthermore, your response ignored all the positive benefits of a Black studies program.
For example, imagine a Williams College of Business that thoroughly and willfully discusses the significance of Black economics or a course which illustrates the prominence and self-sufficiency of Black Wall Street and the hundreds of white people who murdered Black business owners, burned down corporations, homes and looted banks, only to sit in a classroom aimlessly pondering why unfathomable numbers of Black people live in poverty.
Your minute manifestation of unintentional racism illustrates the precise reason Xavier University must intentionally advertise courses focused on Black and/or Ethnic Studies. During academic registration, I challenge advisers to encourage students to take Black [Courses].
I challenge students to embrace the liberating discomfort of educating yourself in an alternative perspective. Challenge yourself to avoid incidental expressions of unintentional racism.