Editor’s Note: This is a reader-submitted opinion piece; the views expressed in this piece do not represent those of The Charger Times.
George Floyd. Breona Taylor. Rayshard Brooks. Daniel Prude. Ahmad Arbery. Atatiana Jefferson. Aura Rosser. Stephon Clark. Botham Jean. Philando Castille. Michelle Cousseaux, Freddy Gray. Tonisha Fonville. Eric Garner. Akai Gurley. Gabriella Nevarez. Tamir Rice. Michael Brown. Tanisha Anderson.
20 names, some of which you likely haven’t heard before. All black. All unarmed. All dead.
The institutionalized racism upon which this nation was built has followed the plan its creators so strategically set. What once were harsh divisions based solely on race have now become predicated on social standing, economic class, and educational background. What once was undeniably blatant has now become clouded by layers of nuance and hidden, yet ever-present bias.
The success of these biases rests in their ability to shift focus. From race to economic class, and from there to social standing. Even yet still the focus shifted on to educational proficiency, and even further to much more frivolous factors, such as fashion. The metric upon which Americans have been stratified has changed over the years, but the thing being quantified by these metrics has always been the same.
The fact is, race is an elucidating factor of life in America.
While times have changed and many people have defied the stratification that has defined life on this continent since 1492, these strata still exist. And they still hold this country firmly in their fists.
Even in communities seen as highly progressive, such as Huntsville, this stratification is still unmistakable. If you aren’t convinced, keep an eye out for white women who clutch their purses as they pass black men on the sidewalk. Or those who usher their children to the furthest side from their passersby; or those who scuttle to the other side of the street altogether. I present these examples not as hypothetical conjecture, but as lived experience.
As a six-foot-three, two-hundred something pound young black man in Alabama, I know all too well how irrelevant our modern stratifying characteristics are when you look like me.
Security guards don’t care about my family’s economic status when they follow me in stores. Nor do they care that my clothes are the nicest of anyone else’s combing through the racks. It doesn’t matter that I’ve rubbed elbows with NASA officials and their wives. At the end of the day, I am still big and black.
And that plants me firmly at the lowest stratum of American society.
“How does this impact me as a UAH student,” you may ask. Take a look at the local news. You’ll see a public outraged and terrified of our campus police department. A mother who has to take it upon herself to inform the public of the danger that may befall them if they trapse onto our sacred 432 acres. A young man traumatized and fearful to even leave his home.
Many people would be alarmed by the description of such a situation. But more than a few would lose interest instantly upon hearing that the young man is black. The focus would shift from how the public could help to what he said to provoke the officer. What did he do to deserve the officer’s ire? I’ll tell you.
He was black.
For no other reason would a cracked taillight turn into the possession and use of a narcotic. Or driving under the influence. Or the solicitation of prostitution, murder, disrupting a crime scene, impeding a police invesigation, etc.
And if the rapid and unwarranted escalation of potential charges doesn’t click for you, add to that the officer calling his suspected perpetrator “brother;” a common colloquialism used almost exclusively to refer to black men.
None of those words were random, and none of them were determined irrespective of the others. I have no doubt that a white 17 year old leaving work with a cracked taillight would have received little more than a “fix it” ticket, the appropriate response.
And for a university whose core values include “Inclusiveness and Diversity,” whose place as the third in a triplet grammatically insinuates priority and finality, race should never have come into play.
Our institution has failed to establish itself in such a way that these issues were eliminated before they developed. These values should have been integral to the design of every aspect of operation on our campus, and they weren’t. Now, we face the consequences.
Our diverse faculty, students, and staff fear for their safety and freedom. Prospective students of color and those who live with psychological atypicalities will steer clear of our campus for fear that they won’t be so lucky as to leave a police encounter with their lives. The people that give our campus life will disappear; and UAH will become little more than a ruin. An example of what fate befalls those who do not take seriously the evils of racism.
We have to change, or that terrifying fate will be our own. It will mean nothing to be a Charger.
I love this University, and came here because I believed that it could mold me into the best version of myself that I could be. And now, I see that this molding goes both ways. It is incumbent upon all of us as students, faculty, and staff to shape this university into the monument of progress and innovation that we came here to honor.
It is incumbent upon all of us as a Charger Family to demand of our Administration that which will allow us to embody our core values not just as individuals, but as an institution.
If we are to see transparency and meaningful action from our Administration, we must not be silent until those things have been brought to fruition. We can not afford to be silent until our campus is a reflection of the beliefs we hold dear. If we do allow ourselves to fall into silent resignation, we risk not only our lives, but the legacy of our beloved Institution.
And neither of those are losses that I’m willing to take.