How do you define race? How would you define racism?
The way I understand race is that it is a social construct based on real and imagined features of the body, from hair texture to skin color and facial features. It’s used to trace one’s geographical origin and assign social meaning. We find this social meaning very hierarchal. The notion of race began to be used with regard to human beings during colonial encounters. White explorers came across indigenous peoples and developed a rationale to lay claim to possession of the natives’ land and resources. The concept of race was introduced to define certain populations as inferior, so that it was acceptable for white colonists to steal native land, use their labor, and get their resources. The concept of race is historically connected with the protection of racial imperialism and domination.
I feel like racism has multiple components. There is institutional racism and there is personal racism. Institutional racism can be overt, but often it’s implicit biases that lead an individual to develop discriminating thoughts, beliefs, feelings, and actions without their knowing. An individual exhibiting personal racism has racially-biased beliefs and discriminates against others, whether they have malicious intentions or not. It’s all about establishing the privilege of some people over others.
What is the Black/White binary? How does it affect individuals and their interactions with one another at OU?
This is a concept covered extensively by Linda Martín Alcoff in relation to Latino representation. Discussions of race often focus on black/white issues. While racial injustice against black Americans by white Americans is important, other examples and ways of experiencing racism are important, too.
Native Americans, Latinos, and Hispanics are often silenced and are subjugated to the exclusion of their experiences from being discussed.”
Many people are experiencing racial injustice. If those affected by racism and white people against racism got together in a coalition, that would be the majority. Folks who have that different experience and perspective aren’t always represented in the larger social justice movement.
On campus, we’ve had a very successful building of a coalition. Unheard, Revolutionary Baddies, an increase in disability inclusion and awareness, and others are all helping accomplish this. There’s an increasing recognition that liberation comes from a collective coming together, and that is so valuable. We need to come forward for one another. On our campus, there is a real recognition of successfully building a coalition across races and disabilities to achieve our various goals.
Many were shocked by the video of SAE fraternity members participating in a racially derogatory chant, released in March 2015. Some found it difficult to digest that this kind of behavior took place on their own campus. What is your reaction?
This is interesting, because these types of actions are unprecedented for some, but not for others. Now we’re seeing that these events happen because certain people do them regularly. I can’t speak for all fraternities, but it’s been common in predominantly white fraternities for decades. Maybe in some chapters, this kind of activity was eliminated, but it’s a regular occurrence in white fraternities around the country. It’s not a big surprise. It’s not a secret ritual to everyone.
It’s all a matter of front stage versus backstage. It’s become unfashionable for whites to say overtly racist things when they know that others who disapprove are observing them.”
They say and do racist things backstage, when there are only white observers and supporters. It’s not an uncommon phenomena. There isn’t an effective way of really bringing students to awareness of the harm caused by racially exclusionary attitudes, or incentives for these organizations to make a deep social change. It will keep happening. It’s important to have a cohesive, well-reasoned, validated, and comprehensive plan to switch our mindsets toward inclusion. As each event like this happens, the mere fact that it happens means that we don’t have that open mindset right now, and that we’re still working toward it today.
Can racial minorities use tools and technologies, like social media, to achieve social change, control their public perception, and try to attain specific goals? What negative outcomes might there be?**
I think that the use of videos can be very powerful in drawing attention to different dynamics in society, including water protection and violence against African-American men by police officers. Most of the videos are of police brutality, and they can be very powerful among people who are already sympathetic to the cause. Watching videos and seeing images of the militarized way the police might deal with protesters highlights the oppression for them and motivates them to advocate for the rights of the oppressed.
However, when they circulate, they can also be viewed through a radicalized lens that produces and reinforces racism.”
When certain people watch videos of African-American men killed by the police, they already know the outcome. They’re not scrutinizing the level of violence. They’re looking for an explanation for why this man was engaged in that way. They’re looking at his body movements, seeing if he was holding a weapon, if he was forceful or a threat. They view it in a white-domination context because they were trained to see this man as a threat. These people watch these videos to look for how that man deserved what he got. While the videos are productive for motivating supporters to action, you can’t control the perspective of how others view them.
Do you have any advice or tips for students reading this issue who want to make a difference and challenge racism at OU?
A lot of the burden of responsibility has fallen to students of color. That’s not how it should be—it’s not their fault. They’re already being targeted, and to have them be in charge of the response to racism is an added burden.
The responsibility needs to shift toward white folks on campus. They need to become active and engaged.”
Racial activity is not uncommon on the backstage, so many white students hear racially discriminatory comments on a regular basis. We are socialized not to confront one another. But when you treat it with silence or a disapproving look, someone can take your silence as approval. They will continue their harmful behavior because you weren’t brave enough to say, “Stop.” White folks need to get over their silence and socialization to keep each other comfortable. We need to confront racism and racial stereotyping when we hear it. Make it clear that it’s not cool, it’s wrong. It’s the obvious reaction. It’s not as easy to do as it is to talk about it. Think about and practice what you would do if you heard your roommate, colleague, or uncle say something racist. How can you show them you disapprove?
Another way to promote equality is to join in and support social justice groups on campus. It’s delicate, though, because students of color should take the lead in saying what they want and need to happen.
White students should be attentive to what they say about the changes that need to be made. We need to actively support students of color to promote social justice. Ask if you can be valuable, but also be aware that you shouldn’t take charge or make your opinions the central message. Our job is to amplify the voice of the repressed.
**Examples of tools & technology include: videos of police violence in the Terence Crutcher shooting in Tulsa or “checking in” on Facebook like Native tribes in North Dakota have been doing to throw off police officers tracking protestors.