Reflections on Racism

Engagement as Activists

By Elizabeth Lenning

Elizabeth Lenning


As an activist, my goal is to educate and teach people about my passions and movements I support.  However, I have learned that this is easier said than done. I’ve said things that were perceived as very judgmental and offensive, and I have learned the hard way that there is a time and a place to have important conversations. There also is a method to approach someone who says something you feel is inherently wrong, a way to approach a person when you want to ask a personal question, and a way to share something that you feel is important. That method is in a safe space.  Here at Kalamazoo College, we can see this “safe space” environment in action when we share our views in discussion-based classes.

When you want to approach someone who does something that offends you, the approach should not be to call him or her out in front of peers or friends or to post on social media, “So-and-so sucks. They are so fill-in-the-blank.” Instead, pull the person aside and say, “I don’t agree with it. Can we talk later?” Then, at a later time, talk with the person. Say why you feel strongly about what they said, but give them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they have never had the opportunity to learn about that subject and may have biased misconceptions. Or maybe they are just judgmental, some people are lost causes.

Safe spaces are also effective when asking personal questions. One time I asked a friend what it was like to be a person of color. We had been sharing our experiences and I wanted to learn more because, as a white woman, I have never had that experience. She felt comfortable within the space that I approached her and she answered. Not everyone will want to share their personal experiences, but creating a safe environment will make them feel more comfortable and respected.

The environment is also important when sharing something we feel is important. This could be a political view, a personal story, or a supportive statement as an ally. We must choose a time and place that will educate the most people and offend the least. For example, while social media is a great place to post links, it is a bad place to educate. There is no way to infuse real emotions in comments or 140 character posts. Social media is a huge part of our culture, but we must remember that there is no substitute to personal conversations.

In these safe spaces, we act as both students and educators. As students, we learn gain knowledge from another person’s perspective. As educators, we spread our knowledge and opinions in the most effective way possible. As activists, our goal is to educate and not to be divisive. Attacking people’s views is not going to change minds. We must break down our barriers and be willing to share and listen to experiences in order to be effective as activists and effective listeners.

Racism’s Catch 22

By Marquise Griffin

“George Zimmerman wants to box rapper DMX in celebrity bout, but no deal yet.” I honestly can’t tell you how many times I facepalmed when I read that headline from CNN.  Zimmerman just can’t seem to keep himself out of the news.

In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past two years, Zimmerman was accused of second-degree murder for killing Trayvon Martin, an African-American teenager who looked suspicious to Zimmerman as he was walking home late at night. Zimmerman cited the state of Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law and claimed self-defense. Spoiler alert: Zimmerman was acquitted.

Following the over-publicized trial, Zimmerman’s name popped up in the news a couple more times including incidents of domestic violence accusations by his estranged wife in September 2013 and Zimmerman’s girlfriend accusing him of the same thing in November.

In December, Zimmerman was in the spotlight once more for his not-so-flattering painting of Angela Corey, the Florida State attorney who prosecuted him.

And in about a month, Zimmerman is going to strap on gloves and step into a boxing ring with a black man who made it very clear that he’s “out for blood. According to CNN, “DMX says he will break every rule in boxing” in order to beat up Zimmerman. Oh, and the money is going to charity because these types of people have to do that.

Let’s start with the obvious thing: this is exploitation in its most blatant form. Damon Feldman, the promoter who set this match up, knew exactly what he was doing. And a quick Google search of Feldman will show that he’s been accused of fixing the outcome of boxing matches.

Second, this is reinforcing stereotypes. One of the oldest stereotypes about black men is that we’re excessively violent. DMX has made it very clear that he wants to “break every rule” while fighting Zimmerman as a form of revenge for killing Martin.

Third, this is a celebrity-boxing match. So we’re calling Zimmerman a celebrity now? Welcome to America, where you can become a celebrity by getting aquitted after shooting and killing an unarmed black teenager.

All sarcasm aside, it’s things like this that remind us that despite the fact that we have an African American president serving two terms, we’re not in a post-racial society. Despite the fact that it’s been 50 years since Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have A Dream” speech, we’re still not moving forward as well as we should.

When I first received news of this whole fiasco, I wanted to ignore it. I didn’t want to address it because I felt like by doing so I would be adding more attention to it. That’s the Catch-22 of racism. But that’s the only way we’re going to conquer racism is by calling it out. We have to commit ourselves to shunning passivity and getting actively involved. That’s how we can do more in four and more in a lifetime.

Reflections on Racism: Adapting and Assimilating

By Marquise Griffin

“Black history is redundant. Or rather, Black History Month is redundant. I don’t really care much for it.” Reading these words, I stared at the computer screen disappointed and in slight disbelief, but not surprised. This statement was from one of my cousins as part of an ongoing discussion she and I have engaged in through Facebook Messenger regarding racism and what it means to be black in America.

My cousin is an African American woman and senior at a university in Missouri. Though we’re first cousins, we have completely different experiences and outlooks on being black, racism, and discrimination.

We started off talking about African American vernacular English, also known as Ebonics, and code switching. While I argued that understanding Ebonics is crucial to understanding and connecting with the African American experience, she doesn’t see any difference between Ebonics and slang.

In case you don’t know, code switching is a term used to describe the practice of “switching” between Ebonics and ‘proper’ English depending on the setting and the people one talks to. It’s a very useful skill to have because if an African American uses Ebonics in an academic or professional setting, he or she will be viewed as uneducated and “ghetto”.

Ebonics was a central point of a conversation I and six other black male students had with Dr. Eddie Moore Jr. approximately two weeks ago. Dr. Moore, the founder of a diversity consulting business called America & Moore came to Kalamazoo College to facilitate the Power, Privilege, and Leadership training. The seven of us met with Dr. Moore during dinner to discuss his research on the experiences of being black men attending predominantly white, liberal arts institutions.

The main topic we discussed is where does the line between adapting and assimilating end and begin? Dr. Moore asserted that by code switching we are forcing ourselves to assimilate into white culture and restricting ourselves from being who we ‘really are.’

We didn’t all agree on this. Some of us argued that code switching is analogous to language acquisition and is simply an adaptation we must make in order to advance in academic and society.

That’s just one of the many issues racism forces us to confront. Racism forces us to question our identity from everything in the friends we have, the way we speak, and our style of dress. Racism permeates relationships.

My cousin and I have always been close, but lately our diverging views on racism have been making our conversations quite tense. I feel that she’s deliberately blind to racism, while she believes I’m seeing too much. So if first-cousins can’t see eye-to-eye on this, how can a college campus with people from many different backgrounds discuss this?

I believe the answer lies in our school’s motto, “Lux Esto”: be light. I believe we must all strive to be enlightened and enlighten one another. In this way, we can understand each others’ experiences and help one another see the world as it really is.