Black History Month: Witnessing progress, in black and white

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Black History Month: Witnessing progress, in black and white

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As my last Black History Month as a student at Saint Louis University comes to a close, I am simultaneously hopeful and disheartened.

For the past four Februarys, I have excitedly attended events hosted by student groups like Black Student Alliance, I have listened to speakers like Marc Lamont Hill and M.K. Asante, and I have participated in thought-provoking dialogues with my peers and professors at SLU.

While attending and participating in these events as a white student has frequently been uncomfortable for me, it was in these moments that I was challenged to begin the process of resisting and undoing anti-Black racism by acknowledging and unpacking my own whiteness.

Other white students at SLU often ask me what they can do to be a part of the Black Lives Matter movement. My immediate answer is always: “SO MUCH!” I believe white people have a necessary role, and it is NOT a “white savior role.” Instead, we have to engage in “whiteness work” as individuals and as members of predominately white communities, especially here at SLU.

We have to recognize what we are really saying when we tell other students “don’t go north of Delmar” or “never end up in East St. Louis” or when we call the Shell Station on Grand Avenue the “Shady Shell.”

We have to identify the voices and people who are absent in our circles and we have to take actions to be more inclusive.

We have to let go of the fear of being called racist—as white people growing up in the United States, we are.

We have to be willing to make mistakes, to say the wrong thing, but more importantly, we have to be called out when we do it.

And perhaps most simply, we have to show up. We have to follow the leadership of black people whose truth and power energies and sustains the ongoing struggle for black liberation.

And as students called to live out the Jesuit mission of pursuing “truth for the greater glory of God and for the service of humanity,” we must actively resist and seek to dismantle anti-Black racism and white supremacy—and not just during February. – Sarah Nash

 

As we wrap up Black History Month, I need other SLU students to know that racism is not over. While this seems like a rather elementary statement, I continue to hear white SLU student after white SLU student celebrate the progress of the Clock Tower Accords without considering that life for many black students on campus has not improved. Racism lives at SLU.

As a black student, I walk around my campus and struggle to see black bodies in occupations beyond the service industry. I sit in classrooms devoid of blackness, except for my African American Studies classes. One occasion, I was told by one of my Women’s and Gender Studies professors that so called ‘black on black crime’ was more serious than institutional racism.

While certainly Black History Month is a time for celebration of #BlackExcellence, we must also face the undeniable fact that racism is alive and well, even on SLU’s campus.

Some may ask the question, “As a student on a predominantly white campus, what can I do?” My answer to that question is simple—DO SOMETHING! There comes a time when we must face the “fierce urgency of now.”

We must acknowledge that lifeless black bodies line the streets of this country like they once did hanging from trees. We must not only acknowledge the reality of institutional racism, but do something about it! Spending an afternoon in North St. Louis as part of Make A Difference Day is not enough. We must actively engage racial justice issues consistently, knowing that often times we may get it wrong.

As students on a Jesuit campus, we have a moral obligation to resist systems of white supremacy. For some, this means joining the thousands protesting in the streets, chanting “Black Lives Matter.” For others, it means talking to fellow students, friends and family about issues of race and police violence. We cannot choose to stay silent or passive on matters of racial injustice and call ourselves members of the Jesuit community—or Christians for that matter. If you want to celebrate Black History Month, get to know black people, and the issues that affect them, or stop calling yourself an advocate for social justice. – Noelle Janak