The morning after Halloween is always kind of fuzzy. Perhaps that’s why I had to do a double take when I opened my inbox and found an email from the African American Freshman Activities Board. It wasn’t about an event we were sponsoring or some other kind of get-together. Instead, we were being notified that a Northwestern student thought that it would be funny to don blackface for Halloween.
My first thought was “you’ve got to be kidding me. Here?” I had a nauseous, fluttery feeling in the pit of my stomach. This was the first time on campus that I’ve been sincerely disturbed by my peers’ behavior — I had thought that the Northwestern community was above this.
It’s not necessary to point out why blackface is so degrading to the black community. Kellyn Lewis already accomplished this in his excellent letter to the editor, “Lewis: Take a stand against “inexcusable” blackface” My concern is whether I was right to believe that Northwestern is really as progressive as it seems.
I knew when applying to Northwestern that there wouldn’t be too much diversity in terms of race, and that was okay. It was my dream school regardless, and as long as everyone was open-minded and accepting, there could still be diversity in a multitude of other ways.
Imagine my surprise when I became aware of the traces of racism that still plague our campus. I was now questioning the confidence I had about the type of students here when I was applying and my worst fears were being realized. The teasing I received from friends back home about standing out as a minority student was becoming all too real when such a disgusting act was done with impunity. To add insult to injury, I later learned that more than one person was involved, and that this was not the first time that this has happened here.
It can be hard being a black student at any elite, predominantly white university, but I don’t want to be bitter throughout my college career. I joined the AAFAB and National Association of Black Journalists with the intention of making connections within and outside the black community and using them as outlets for furthering my social and journalistic opportunities on campus. I don’t want these organizations to turn into my places of refuge. I see them as sources of celebration and discussion among the larger Northwestern community — not just where we figure out what to do about ignorant people.
I’ve thought about this experience in a couple of ways. First as a wake-up call to my naivety. Being a biracial girl from Washington, D.C., where diversity is a hallmark of the city, didn’t offer much exposure to stereotypes, ridicule and cruelness. I have learned that I will be in the presence of racism wherever I go in life, even among the brightest of people at the best of universities. Unfortunately, these are facts of life that I must accept.
Second, I need to use this experience to call attention to a larger issue at hand. Some people might see the concern as an overreaction, but silence is compliance. What happened is not acceptable by any means. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
I am upset by what happened on Halloween, but my hope is that if those involved are reading this, they understand their wrongdoing and will mature as a result. I still have faith in the Northwestern community because for the most part, Northwestern has been a welcoming, incredible place. Let’s try to keep it that way.