Why Don’t Black Lives Matter at Duke?

Graduating from Duke continues to be one of the most challenging goals for me to complete. I know that being here is an amazing opportunity that many students don’t have the ability to partake in, and understanding that I could very easily have been working at McDonald’s full time keeps me humble and motivated to finish. My love for academics has always been nuanced, but a love nonetheless. Unfortunately, while academically I have a wonderful opportunity that I aim to take full advantage of everyday, emotionally and mentally, I continue to feel drained, and I wonder each day how people can continue to explain to me that I have escaped the grasp of racism because my people are not being lynched anymore (and btw, they actually still are).
On Friday morning, my newsfeed was once again flooded with another demonstration on how little Duke cares for the diversity it brings in. We are hosting one of the founders of the Black Lives Matter Movement, and on a flyer that was put up to advertise it, the word ‘black’ was crossed out and it was replaced by ‘white; no niggers.’ And the university remained silent.
This is the second racially charged event that we have had in the past week. The previous weekend, an Asian student heard students screaming racist slurs like “fucking chinks.” However, while these are both horrific and unacceptable, only one has been treated as such. When posted onto the “All Duke” Facebook page, when the young woman posted about it, though there of course was some backlash from it, but her post received over 1000 likes and a bunch of comments saying that they support. Which is well deserved, and it should have been handled like this, at the base level. However, this incident, directed at black students, was used as another way to hate against black students.
“You’re just overreacting!” “I don’t see race.” “It’s just an isolated incident.”
All these and more were heard throughout campus. And though it didn’t surprise nor shock me, it left me with a renewed sense of frustration toward the type of experience I have been forced to receive at this institution. Racism is far from new, especially to me and my peers of color, we experience it everyday, in different levels, and for the most random reasons. Microaggressions, macroaggressions, blatant racism, white supremacy. It’s all here, and we’ve been aware of it for a very long time. Yet on prestigious campuses, while they aim to bring in minorities for diversity, they don’t aim to aide them in any emotional way after. College is what you make it, and going into it with a positive outlook is key, but when you are constantly assaulted by the continued violence that serves the system of white supremacy, you are constantly struggling to determine just how worth a prestigious degree is.
College is meant for education, which is the primary reason I chose to come to Duke. But as capitalists, we also understand that the brand name of Duke and other prestigious schools carry a lot of weight in our society. We expect ourselves to achieve the best to make the connections we need in order to get ahead in the financial hierarchy of America. You can certainly do that without the brand name of an Ivy or near-Ivy, but it does help, when looking at the basis.
But college is also supposed to be somewhere that you can find comfort in. That’s why it is called your alma mater. Soul mate. sure, it will be difficult, and you’re going to be spending a lot of late nights and early mornings wishing you could get some more sleep. But you’re also going to make some friends, go to events, have fun. You get to do the things you were afraid of in high school, and hope that your parents won’t kill you when you go home. It’s that time where you figure out how much you like your style you’ve been rocking for the past four years, and if you really want to be with that one person you were all hung up over. College is talked about in clichés because it happens so much, people aren’t quite sure how to describe it. But unfortunately, that isn’t the case for every student.
Seeing the word “Nigger” scrawled out as casually as you would have signed your name, whether you want it to or not, has an impact as a person of color. Coming from the education I received in Texas, racism was never a non issue. But at least everyone knew what was going on. To see Nigger scrawled there, after crossing out black and putting “white,” should have sparked some type of outrage coming from the university as a whole, not just those people of color. But the sad fact is that the university doesn’t really care to react, because it is just as racist as the person who wrote it. We live in a society where we so obviously support white supremacy, yet only address it behind secured doors. It’s not supposed to be talked about loudly. It’s one of those things you talk about quietly and in small pieces, away from big brother. Yet we wonder why racism is still a big issue in the US, in the world.
For some students, this is a game. It’s “graffiti,” not connected to what really goes on at Duke. These students are so privileged, they expect everyone else to live in the same comfortable bubble as they do, to have the same fun experience of being at Duke as they do. But that can’t happen. “Nigger” is not a casual word you throw around, even if you are from a different country. As a global population, there is so much anti-blackness, there’s an equivalent for that in nearly every language. We are only mere decades from the riots, from integration, from Jim Crow. This didn’t happen so distantly. Yet we expect for people of color to “suck it up” and to move on. The system of white supremacy allows for many people to not have to think about it in such a way.
I am not mad by this instance. I’ve become so desensitized to this, it’s sad. But instead of asking me and students like me to not complain, you are asking for us to aide to your comfort, and not make them have to actually look at the way we live. We aren’t responsible for teaching you why this is wrong, and we deserve a decent experience just as much as our white counterparts. Equality is important, but justice must accompany it in order for it to mean anything.
-JW
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