By: Jeremiah Pennebaker ~Guest Writer~
Being in the midst of a Presidential election and this year being the 15th anniversary of the destruction of the Twin Towers, September was a flurry of nationalism and American pride. Every year since the Twin Towers fell there has been a moment of silence and reflections, and some people call off work and class.
There has been an overwhelming recognition that there needs to be space to grieve for those who perished, and this space is usually readily given. Even here on Xavier’s campus there was an entire vigil in the atrium of the Student Center dedicated to 9/11.
I resonate whole heartedly with those who may have lost someone or feel impacted by the tragedy that was 9/11, but my question is why am I not afforded that same space? Where’s my moment of silence and reflection when yet another hashtag comes across my timeline? Where’s my reflection time when a video of a Black body riddled with bullet holes pops up on my screen? Why am I not afforded the freedom to grieve over the life of yet another Black human?
I’m not granted a moment of silence and reflection. I’m not met with open hearts and minds. Instead I’m met with the blissful ignorance that is Whiteness. I’m met with classmates who are upset about Brangelina. I’m met with teachers and advisors who’d rather discuss the values of freedom and equality that the Constitution affords us. I’m met with an overwhelming number of White faces who frankly don’t give a damn about Tyree King, Terence Crutcher and Keith Lamont Scott. And so, by extension, they don’t give a damn about me. Maybe I’m asking for too much.
Maybe I’m asking too much to have a moment of silence every time a Black man or woman is gunned down by a police officer. Maybe it’s too much to ask for a moment of silence when I feel threatened, attacked, ridiculed, devalued and tokenized because of my Blackness. Maybe I’m asking for too much because I know I’d be in a constant state of mourning. I’d constantly be taking a knee out of respect for those who lost their lives to a country that never viewed them as actual people.
The frequency of these events would render me and the rest of campus silent and stagnant.
Maybe it’s too much for Xavier University as a whole to acknowledge that they have Black students that are grieving and in fear of their own lives, while their White peers and professors can show up the next day like nothing happened. Because, for them nothing actually happened. Maybe that’s a problem in itself that so many people can watch Black men and women be executed at the hands of those sworn to protect them and not feel an inkling of compassion for the victims or fear for the lives of their Black friends, peers, and students.
My journey through campus is often haunted by seven words. These words capture Xavier’s socio- cultural values and the ideology that is supposed to drive our climate. These seven hopeful and spirited words are chanted by firstyears during Manresa and proclaimed by graduating seniors led by Father Graham. These words are held at the center of Xavier’s mission, in the same way they are hung from the center of our campus. My journey through campus is often haunted by the false hope that my university is truly “All for One and One for All.”
I do not feel myself in these words. Black faculty have long not felt themselves in these words. And I take confidence in the assertion that Black employees and workers do not find themselves in these words. We are the voice that falls upon deaf ears. We are the visibly invisible, seen while unseen and hidden in broad sight. Our Blackness makes Whiteness colorblind. And it is times like this when “All for One and One for All” sounds and feels too much like “All Lives Matter.”
I don’t blame Xavier wholly because the dehumanization of Black people is a product of White supremacy. It’s the same thing that makes people think that Black on Black crime is an issue, or at least extent, even exists. It’s the same thing that allows for a White man to have the audacity to walk into a room full of Black men and women who, against all odds and oppression that comes with being Black in America, have made it to the same collegiate level that he is on and tell them that “Blacks” don’t apply themselves enough.
That is my Xavier eXperience. That is what I’ve come to realize in my four years as a Xavier student and my 21 years as a Black man.
I’m expected to grin and bear White supremacy and all that comes from it. I’m expected to perform all of my duties as a Xavier student and pretend like I’m not furious at my predominately White peers or my predominately White faculty, at this predominately White institution. I don’t get time to reflect, collect my thoughts and emotions and care for myself.
How can I focus on my education and my extracurricular activities when I know that my life doesn’t matter to those around me? How can I just go about my day when I know that this time next week I could be that hashtag rolling across someone’s screen?
Maybe that is the only moment of silence that I’m afforded as a Black person in America.