Matt Ferner and Nick Wing -Huff Post Black Voices
Change is afoot at Mizzou.
On Monday, University of Missouri system president Tim Wolfe tendered his resignation. His announcement followed weeks of intense backlash over his perceived mishandling of high-profile incidents of racism on campus and failure to address the lack of diversity in the university’s faculty, among other issues. While many of the student activists who campaigned for Wolfe to step down have called his departure a positive first step, they say there’s plenty of work left to do to make Mizzou a more racially aware and inclusive institution.
But as students move forward with that push, critics have emerged to claim that activists’ demands — and their early victories — have been propelled by lies and oversensitivity to a problem that doesn’t actually exist. These skeptics seem to be suggesting that the institutional and overt racism black students say they experience from the Mizzou community is imaginary — and that demanding these issues be addressed is not only disingenuous, but dangerous to the fabric of a free America that has supposedly achieved the fundamental principle of equal opportunity for all.
We shouldn’t need to write a story unpacking the absurdity of this argument, which mirrors a much broader denial about the state of race relations in the U.S. Racism is a dark part of the nation’s past, and it’s paralleled not just in the history of Mizzou, but in the histories of countless other universities around the country. It should go without saying that the issues of the past have an effect on the present. But what’s happening at Mizzou isn’t simply a response to historic injustices. It’s not a matter of rehashing issues that our ancestors resolved, or of black students not being able to just “get over it” or “move on,” as a crowd of mostly white people told a group of African-American protesters at a Mizzou homecoming parade last month.
The movement at Mizzou is an effort to draw attention to the modern manifestations of racism, which students say still rears its head in the form of structural inequality and individual acts of hate. The incidents below document the latter, and together suggest that more blatant displays of racism contribute to concerns among black students that they are not valued by the university.
This is, of course, not a comprehensive list of every racist incident that has happened on campus. Yet sadly, the first response from many has been to question and reject the veracity of each episode, as if the idea of a black person facing oppression or aggression because of their race is so unbelievable in today’s America that it must be made-up. Apparently it’s easier for some people to accuse the black community of concocting an elaborate racial conspiracy than it is to confront the difficult reality of racism in America. But if these people would take a second to actually listen to those who are affected by racism, it’s the only proof they’d need to understand that the current protests at Mizzou are a necessary response to a very real issue.
Two white dudes littered the black culture center with cotton balls.
On the morning of Feb. 26, 2010, in the final days of Black History Month, students woke up to find cotton balls spread across the grounds in front of the Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center on campus — a scene evoking slavery.
Days later, Zachary Tucker, then 21, and Sean Fitzgerald, then 19, both white male students, were arrested and suspended for dropping the cotton balls in front of the center.
Both students were convicted on misdemeanor littering charges.
The incident, which Tucker and Fitzgerald later described as a “prank,” has been cited frequently by protesters on Mizzou’s campus as examples of a racially intolerant culture that has existed on campus for years.
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