Campus Turmoil?

November 13, 2015

As usual when an event out of the ordinary appears on the media/campaign radar charges and counter-charges fly in the wind, pundits have a field day and gross generalizations rule supreme. So now the issue of the day is campus turmoil over claims of racism, administrative weakness and political correctness, with the first shot fired at the University of Missouri.

There is little doubt that many African-American students at Mizzou have experienced subtle and overt racism, usually in the form of speech – the N word – or symbols – hanging nooses tied to dorm room doors. But as with any mega-university the vast majority of students pay little attention to the smoldering controversy in large part because they are not party to such reprehensible actions. As is the case with most protests, a well-organized and vocal minority gets the attention of the powers that be and push the envelop.

What was different about the charges of systemic racism at the University of Missouri was that the football team joined the protest and refused to play until the president resigned. Now most presidents of institutions of higher learning would have promised to look into the charges, formed a blue ribbon commission and pledged to make reforms. But at Mizzou, there was a potential loss of $ 2 million in football revenue if the team did not play, and so the president, who appeared clueless, caved in to the bottom line and walked away.

Now the protest movement has spread to a few schools, again led by a small minority who make similar claims of racism. But what is most disturbing is that higher education has entered a phase in which every word and action made by administrators, faculty and students is examined for alleged racist or discriminatory content. Rather than working on campus to deal with real racial issues such as greater minority access to college, programs to create a truly integrated environment among students, bringing in speakers and mentors who have expertise in race relations, and hiring bold leaders who aren’t afraid to tell the student body to treat all members of the campus community with respect, the controversy becomes fodder for cable news and presidential debates.

But while it is easy to get caught up in the PC atmosphere on campus, it is far more important to admit that racism exists in this country and that people of color experience major life challenges in a white world. Sure small student groups have become experts at playing the PC card, but it is the climate of racism that needs to be addressed not because a $ 2 million football deal is at stake but because too many white people still do not respect or tolerate differences and then wonder why minorities are angry.

Some of My Best Friends Are….

April 27, 2012

When Joel Ward of the Washington Capitals scored the winning goal in overtime to send the Boston Bruins home for the spring without a second shot at the Stanley Cup, there was a barrage of racist rants on twitter targeting Ward, who of course is black. No one really knows how many of these tweets were sent out, but apparently they were more than a handful, in fact it is likely that there were hundreds.

Now Boston is a passionate sports town and so such a heart-breaking loss can release harsh emotions. But there is more to these twitter racist rants than just high emotion and sports fanaticism. 

 It is not a false generalization to state that the Bruins are the favorites of the white working class in a town with a national reputation for not being welcoming to African-Americans. Sure the use of the N word in the tweets may be from a small minority and both the Bruins management and many fans condemned the messages sent out, but this episode of overt racism in our midst should serve as a stark reminder that right beneath the surface lies racial hatred.

Sure we have a black or at least multi-racial president of the United States; sure the workplace is fully integrated; sure the number of inter-racial marriages is skyrocketing and sure most of us often use the line, ” some of my best friends are black”, but it is important when such a racist incident is exposed that all of us think about how tolerant we really are, how welcoming we are toward people of different skin colors and how willing we are to accept non-white people in power or the victors in a sporting event.

There is no doubt that as a nation we have come a long way from the days of blatant discrimination and segregation, but we still have not conquered racism in its more subtle forms. There is no doubt in my mind that all this birther baloney targeting President Obama is race driven; there is no doubt in my mind that there remains far too many examples of race entering into hiring decisions, promotions, bank loans, construction contracts, and development projects; and there is no doubt in my mind that white folk quietly wish that more sports heroes had white skin.

I am confident that the Boston sports world will learn from this racist episode with the Bruins and some of its intolerant fans, but that doesn’t diminish the fact that there is still work to be done to change the thinking habits of most Americans. People have different skin colors, get over it and treat them as human beings, not some oddity or worse yet a danger.