When I first heard about the incident of a group of fraternity members performing a racist chant, I only caught that the men were from Oklahoma, not which university they were affiliated with. I currently work at Oklahoma State University, and I held my breath while I Googled whether the group was from OU or OSU. I felt relieved when I saw that the students are from OU. This was OU’s problem. Not mine.
But I was wrong. This situation is my problem. If I weren’t living in Oklahoma, I wouldn’t have collapsed this situation to the university level. I might have collapsed it to the state level: “This is Oklahoma’s problem. Not mine.” Or maybe, if I were still living in Minnesota, I would have invoked regions: “This is the South’s problem. Not mine.” But this is my problem. It’s Higher Education’s problem. And it’s the US’s problem. Racism is real and systematic across the US. And its effects are not felt “somewhere else” – some other state, some other region. They are felt here. They are felt in Stillwater, OK. And they are felt where you are. It is not just within the SAE frat at OU where students feel it is OK to say racist things. It is not just in Oklahoma or the South where people are treated differently along ethnic lines.
There are a lot of articles about actions that people like me (white, female, educator, etc) can take to counteract racism in the US. These lists can feel overwhelming and, sometimes, abstract. Here’s what I’m working on doing in my own life to help my students who are minorities feel welcome at my campus and what I am doing to help my students who are not minorities understand a system that is bigger than themselves.
- Acknowledge that racism is institutionalized – and that I can accept that fact without discounting any achievements of others – or myself.
- Listen with compassion and without indignant rebuttal when someone tells me about their experiences with racism.
- Speak up when I hear someone say something that is racist or downplays white privilege.
- Incorporate readings about linguistic privilege and stigmatized varieties in my classes. Even my English grammar class analyzes writing from such articles.
- Talk about the richness of stigmatized language varieties.
This is my start. This is what I am doing about something that is, in fact, my problem.