By Ade Ofunniyin, PhD
Last week at College of Charleston ended with a noonday student walkout and protest. Hundreds walked out of class on Friday to protest a video showing white students from the school joking about slavery. The walkout, protest and forthright apology from administration, all follow a pattern that has been normalized at the college and reflects how privilege, racism, and white supremacy still reigns supreme in our beloved City of Charleston. The rally was largely attended by students of color and some LBGTQ+ members, the ranks of faculty, staff, and non-white students were thin. This is usually the case on campus. Apathy is evident and expected!
We expect our children to be prepared to be diverse and multicultural when they arrive at college, when all of their lives they have been fed on diets of racism, sexism, segregated spaces, inequalities, NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE, threats, harassment, intimidation, policing, and murder. How do we expect them to be able to navigate through the many societal, cultural, and political imbalances, that they now have as young adults, free to engage the many frivolities that comes with so called “emancipation?” Most live in an automated, computerized, upside down and threatening world! A world where there seems to be “no way out,” “nowhere no retreat.”
I attended the protest because I was asked by several of my students to join them at the Cistern as they planned to speak out against what they considered to be “intolerable conditions,” at the college. I was mostly saddened by the affair as I stood watching students (most about the age of a few of my grandchildren), protesting and speaking out about things that were so similar to the things that I protested and spoke out against when I was an undergraduate student at a PWI in New York City. I was sad because my generation were stopped and prevented from fixing the problem then. We identified it, called it out as racism and white supremacy. We saw clearly how it was affecting the world and sought ways to unify for positive change in the world.
There was a movement! We called it a “peace movement.” We had symbols; two fingers, representing an inverted V. We had music, “War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing!” We had activism! We were war resisters; although we never stood a chance! We had no idea of the extent the government would go to stop the movement. We didn’t think that they would gun us down on college campuses. But they did! I oftentimes apologize to my students, because we did not fix the problems that they have inherited. They live in it and don’t know or understand its roots. We have failed them and our government have orchestrated the demise. Our college campuses reflect fully the temperament of our countries political and cultural aspirations.
Slavery is never funny! While slavery may not be funny to the descendants of the enslaved. It still remains a mockery and a major point of irrelevance to most white Americans. Through the media, stereotypes and propaganda, the subject of slavery has been a source of humor to white audiences worldwide. Conversely, it has caused great humiliation and trauma for several generations of African and African descendant people.
Evidence of the pain and trauma can be heard in a student’s plea for “administrators and faculty to soften their hearts.” Another student asked “white people” to “check your people.” What is wrong with this picture in 2019? Why are we still struggling for racial equality and real diversity and multiculturalism on college campuses? What will a new president, provost, and Center for the Study of Slavery, bring to the College of Charleston campus, that will make it a place where students feel welcomed; where we provide a quality liberal arts education and a wholesome environment for all.