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Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Blackballed: The Black and White Politics of Race on America's Campuses

Blackballed: The Black and White Politics of Race on America's Campuses by Lawrence Ross is a must-read for anyone who wants to get a grasp of race relations on college campuses. It was eye-opening for me.

The politics of race on campus has come to the forefront in the last couple of years, but make no mistake -- these issues have been going on for some time. It's not a matter of needing a "safe space"; it is flat-out racist acts by members of the university community that egregiously affect the health and welfare of their fellow students. Whether it's hanging someone in effigy, writing racial slurs on walls, or it's the ever-faithful traditions of historically white fraternities and sororities, the politics of race on campus are alive and well and perpetuating themselves over again and again, leaving a swath of students feeling unwelcome at best and unsafe at worst.

This book was eye-opening to say the least. From a historical perspective, there was more information than I could have ever imagined, and I took it all in and sat with it for a while. You see, this book reminded me of my own experience at my alma mater in the early 2000's. By experience, I in no way mean that I was belittled and faced aggression due to my race -- because that's not at all what happened -- but I was a member of a Greek organization, and I remember very distinctly what happened the year that a young Black lady rushed the traditionally white houses. I remember the comments my sisters made, and I remember the divide that this caused in the community. I remember the older girls trying to keep it away from the sophomores (as I was) so as not to involve them in the "race drama." I remember not understanding why it was such a big deal, why we couldn't just vote on her as a potential sister, but I also remember not quite understanding why I had such mixed feelings about the process. Now, 15 years later, I have much more solidified views of this issue, and I would feel quite unequivocal now. This book, though, dredged up those memories and brought them to the forefront. I, too, was guilty of blackballing, whether or not I meant to be. I was part of an organization that did.

I add this book to my canon of work that critically examines the historical roots of systemic racism, as the college and university system in this country is about as systemic as it gets. The ousting of administration for not responding to racism on campus isn't just because students are bratty and angry over little things; the ability to feel as though your alma mater is your home and an extension of self is something that the majority culture takes for granted. I know I sure did. It's only when you are considered part of the "in-group," which means that you not only show up but are made to feel as though you belong, that you can find a home at a university. Sure, Southern schools get a bad rap, but they also deserve it. The Greek system at some of the oldest Southern universities are based upon the exclusion of minorities, even in 2016. Read a little bit about the student government at some schools -- it's entirely Greek-based, which is exclusionary to others who don't look like them.

We can do better, and we do better by recognizing first and foremost that there is a problem. There are problems everywhere, but this particular book focuses on the problem in our universities. Recognize that there is a problem, then start asking how you can be a part of the solution.

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