It’s troubling, if not plain ridiculous, to admit, but America, the self-proclaimed “superpower” of the world and the alleged bastion of democracy, has yet to find a way to overcome its greatest sickness and societal ill — racism. Maybe that’s because those who have long maintained the most prestige, privilege and power really don’t want to open the door and allow access to those who don’t have “blond hair, blue eyes and a centuries-old pedigree.”
Despite the recent two-term election of our country’s first Black president, the avowed successes and changes that have been achieved during and following the turbulent Civil Rights Era and even with more Blacks being elected as members of Congress and in local seats of power than in any point in history, in many ways Black Americans seem to be trapped in a time warp.
Certainly the obstacles we face are not as debilitating or deadly as those our ancestors faced in 1865 or those that we faced in 1965, but it’s crystal clear that we have not “overcome” as activists from the 60s sang about and anticipated.
But sometimes momentary victories cause us to pause and even celebrate, recognizing that only with perseverance and sacrifice can we bring about the kind of America that will truly guarantee a level playing field with opportunities available for all regardless of race, creed, religion, gender, economic status or sexual orientation.
That’s why we applaud the efforts and diligence of Black students at the University of Missouri who pressed for change and achieved success in the recent resignation of both the university system’s president, Tim Wolfe and Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin, who before his decision to vacate his post, had overseen the university’s main campus in Columbia, Missouri.
It should be noted that Columbia is just a stone’s throw away from Ferguson where the police shooting of a Black man in 2014 ignited a national debate about race. Meanwhile, students at the University of Missouri found their president to be indifferent and unresponsive to both the drama that had unfolded in Ferguson and the public outcry that followed.
And with numerous racial incidents occurring on the campus and with Wolfe putting his head in the sand and refusing to address them, students, particularly those of color, sought ways to put the spotlight on him and other officials who supported him and his lack of concern.
Wolfe had done nothing to address racist incidents during the current academic year including the undergraduate student body president being called the “n-word,” a black student group rehearsal being interrupted by a white student who climbed on stage and spewed out racial slurs and a swastika being drawn on a campus wall with human feces.
Black students at the Midwestern College had had enough. And following the examples of other Blacks, from Ida B. Wells and Sojourner Truth to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Congressman John Lewis, they exercised their right of peaceful protest. However, the Missouri students flavored their protest with the new forms of technology which have become almost second nature to them: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
After weeks of escalating protests, the threat of a football team boycott which would have cost the university well over one million dollars, a hunger strike by one Black graduate student, the boycotting of classes on Monday, Nov. 9 by many faculty members and students and the student government’s formal call for his resignation, Wolfe agreed to step down effective immediately.
But here’s what really troubles us. How did things get to such a point on a public university campus? Why were students allowed to feel fearful, unwelcome and be subjected to numerous racist acts without university officials investigating their complaints?
It may not be Little Rock, Arkansas, 1957, but some things sound ominously similar.
America’s ugly, hateful skeletons have yet to be buried. Perhaps today’s younger generation will finally get the job done.