TO THE EDITOR:
I am happy and surprised to hear that BLM leaders were brought to campus, and NOT surprised to hear that the anonymous comments on Yik Yak revealed some racist and discriminatory feeling around campus. That matches what has occurred around the nation. Anonymity breeds online harassment and hate speech.
But I wish that 18 years after my admission to Miami, the climate around race issues would show marked improvement. Enrollment of African American undergrads still is not cracking 4 percent, and given Miami’s position as a state institution near so many predominantly black cities, that should be a cause for concern.
BLM is also very much about the structural inequality that produces disparate life outcomes, and everyone at Miami should have a sense of how the history of the state shapes the school demographics. While I applaud your attentiveness to thinking about what it means to speak for other groups, an easy solution would be to have a more diverse editorial board. But, I recognize that the demographics of the institution make that challenging.
As for what white allies can do, as someone who lived in St Louis and saw people of many different racial backgrounds at protests, I can say it is important to remember that this is an issue about justice. Everyone has a duty to be informed about these issues as voters, potential jurors and good citizens.
While people often say that if people weren’t doing anything wrong, they would be fine, I think it is fair to ask those who make that claim if they think the penalty for any wrongdoing should be death. They should ask themselves why police officers in other nations have different standards of force. They should pay close attention to the law, which currently makes excessive force possible. The “reasonable standard” for the police is much lower, and they only need to demonstrate fear to be acquitted of wrongdoing. And fearing black people is often seen as reasonable. During my first year at Miami, a serial rapist was terrorizing the community, and a survivor identified him as black. Every black man on campus was harassed. The light-skinned African American man who was eventually arrested did not vaguely match the initial description that circulated, and the university would eventually apologize for a climate that made every black student feel unwelcome. But this speaks to the demographic issue — how easy is it to fear what you are rarely or never exposed to? And how does that produce an environment that is worse for everyone?
And as someone who teaches about race, gender and sexuality, I would say that the other thing you can do is become educated. There are substantive classes that help you understand history, law, sociology, culture and structural inequality. I am at a school with a large pre-med population, and many of our students find those classes invaluable, as understanding the challenges your patients might face — as well as your own potential biases — is essential to being a good doctor.
Everyone can be better served by being comfortable with a diverse population in their professional lives. Our diverse population is not going away.
Finally, I would say that while BLM is addressing the disproportionate state violence that African Americans face, white, middle-class students should not see the issue as something that is “over there” and affecting “those people.”
African Americans can be, as Lani Guinier and Gerald Torres have argued, examples of the “miner’s canary,” who demonstrate a problem that can affect anyone. Lisa Mearkle was just acquitted for shooting an unarmed white man she had tazered in the back while he was lying on the ground, unarmed. Nineteen-year old Zachary Hammond was white, unarmed and in possession of a joint when he was shot by a police officer in South Carolina. Whiteness, wealth and angelic behavior can insulate people from many things that “others” experience. But that may not always be the case. And even if it is, who wants to be a person who turn a blind eye to inequalities others experience?