Higher Learning

We live in a world fueled by instantaneous information and misinformation. The overtaking of the Internet as our ‘news source’, social media, online anonymity, and the dangers of segregation through groupthink mentality have created a strange, and quick moving divisiveness that’s drawing hard lines through and around our community.

I live in Fort Collins, home of Colorado State University (not a CSU alumni myself), and the newest controversy involving a group of white students involved in a racially charged incident. Four of CSU’s students donned charcoal face masks and referenced Black Panther in a photo now widely dispersed on the internet.

What’s the big deal, right? Kids are young and dumb. They do stupid shit all the time.

Yeah…that may be true, we all do stupid shit. ESPECIALLY in college. But this isn’t throwing a chicken into a bar or lighting fireworks out of a car window.

This is racism. And no racism is done ‘in good fun’.

Living in today’s world with access to limitless information means that we have a responsibility to understand where we’ve gone wrong as a country and why we are always responsible for our actions, specifically how we treat our fellow human beings.

Being young is no longer a viable excuse for this kind of behavior. Theirs is the generation that has seen the thick disease of racism, white nationalism, and ethnocentrism bubble up to the surface. They should understand it better than any of us…maybe they do, and perhaps that’s what’s most disturbing about this incident.

The only person to come forward said it all happened so fast, that she didn’t even have time to question if making the gesture from Black Panther was right or wrong.

I call bullshit.

If you’re ‘clever’ enough to think of the reference while your white face is covered in black clay you’re clever enough to understand what it means to American culture and the disturbing history we share.

And if those students haven’t ever learned this history then here’s a quick recap for any of you out there who aren’t sure what the big deal is.

In the 1850’s black face (a white person painting their face in shoe polish, coal dust, etc) began as a way to portray African American people on stage for the entertainment of Antebellum era Southerners still miffed that much of their free labor had been emancipated. Actors played black characters in ways that perpetuated inaccurate stereotypes of them as being lazy, ignorant, superstitious, hypersexual, criminal and cowardly.

It wasn’t right then. It certainly isn’t now.

Now listen…I am human. You are too. We screw up.

Once, I was driving a friend home from a race and belted out the lyrics to a DMX song (because I love post-race DMX) and she stared at me in horror before I realized the word I’d sang along with. I still feel bad about it to this day…so I’m not sitting here on any sort of high horse.

But what I can say is this, when we make a mistake we admit it, we understand it and we OWN it. Meaning that we don’t try to turn the situation around to how our wrong behavior has “victimized us”.

I read through the young woman’s apology (side note and something we should all be aware of when looking at the whole picture: the female from the photo, Leana Kaplan had her apology printed in The Coloradoan even though they don’t accept outside articles or personal letters. Turns out, her father, Les Kaplan, owns the building that the newspaper resides in. Can you say “conflict of interest”, kiddies?) Her apology turned from seemingly genuine regret to her own hardships resulting from the incident. She even went on counter attack saying it was all a political ploy by a prominent educator, Tay Anderson, who is running for the Denver School Board.

I have to call bullshit again. You are responsible for how you behaved, you can’t be mad that people are raising awareness of the racial inequality which brought about such behavior. It’s not all about you, princess.

Public shaming is completely acceptable when you’ve been a total douche about something.

CSU is facing its own backlash and I say it’s about time. The predominantly white upper-class college isn’t a stranger to this kind of behavior from it’s students. In the past two years there have been a string of racist and anti-semitic crimes, including a noose hung in a resident hall targeting a Black resident assistant, graffiti proclaiming “Fu%& Jews”, and even CSU security calling the police on two Native American students who were on a tour of the college. Despite all of these hate crimes, CSU and its board of directors have done little to combat the behaviors that make its minority students feel threatened, anxious and segregated.

Speaking of threats, and to return to a more balanced overview, Miss Kaplan has had death threats (over 50 she claims) due to this incident, and has lost her job, causing ‘financial hardship’.

While there’s a lot to be said for the shady nature of white privilege in this story here is where I want to end this discussion with:

Firstly, if your dad owns buildings that house newspapers, I’m inclined to think that you don’t have nearly the ‘financial hardships’ that other disadvantaged students are facing.

Secondly, no matter how stupid or blindly privileged you are, you are still a human being and no one should be threatening your life.

This is a strange and hard time to live. Especially for those of us with hearts in the right places and genuine care and concern for all the people we share this world with. I feel like a momma to the expanse of the world sometimes, holding my hands out to each child, trying to keep them from hurting one another.

Stop.

Stop thinking its funny and no big deal to make fun of a history that destroys lives, ruined families and entire cultures, and ripped our country in half. Be a better person, goddamnit, and understand that your actions have the power to either perpetuate hate and divisiveness or love and compassion.

Stop.

Stop threatening to take someone’s life for making a mistake. I understand that you worry that by offering forgiveness and a second chance you think they won’t learn…that they will just keep on doing hurtful things. But taking someone’s life makes you no better a person. Causing them fear and anxiety, while seemingly just punishment, is the low road to take.

This post’s exhausted me. I hope you all can take one thing away from it: That you are responsible for your behavior and the consequences that it brings. You are responsible for the world you create through your actions and words…so Be Better.

 

Old Stomping Grounds and New Crossroads

How does the song by Dylan go?

You can go back, but you can’t go back all the way.

Last weekend I was able to attend a writers conference in my home state of Wyoming. I graduated from the University of Wyoming many moons ago. Long enough for them to completely move my Anthropology Department home into a brand-spanking new building and rearrange so many other departments that my morning run through campus was surreal.

Things change.

The world keeps spinning around us, and the evidence of it is magnified when we’ve been away.

The conference goers came from all corners of the state, Colorado, and even Florida. It was a small group but friendly and supportive. I enjoyed meeting everyone and getting a chance to speak about publishing options to a crowd of over thirty (I managed not to vomit, so let’s all take a moment in recognition of that).

I couldn’t help but notice, however, that during some of the talks about trying to bring more diversity into the state and the writing group, dissent from a few gentlemen at my table.

Eye rolls and curses, crossed arms and head shakes.

Psh…Diversity. Libtard Bullshit.

Some things don’t change.

And the evidence of it is magnified when we’ve grown into more decent humans, while our past stays stagnant.

Sometimes you move on while the world you once knew stands still. The world that raised you and built you; the world you want to be proud of coming from, remains encapsulated in a time and space that relies on fear and old beliefs to such a degree that you almost want to slink away and change your own story.

My sister and I have discussed this. She said she could never move back, that the minds were too small. And I agree. There are some pretty petty, tiny minds there.

But this weekend I also saw a lot of open and gracious minds. I met “typical” rancher types who wrote magnificently about the importance of land stewardship and the quintessential diversity and equality of hearts. I met people who shared poetry and thought even though it was hard for them, who took outsiders into their arms and world and accepted them. I saw the stirrings of change.

So I can’t agree with her.

The potential for something better is like a river being stopped up by a long-left beaver dam. If we refuse to take out the dam and just leave the stagnant pools lie, then we leave entire worlds and cultures isolated enough to breed their own hate and misconception. The more people start moving the wood, start letting the fresh water in, start encouraging the current, the faster and cleaner that river will flow. The more good and open hearts we put into a place, the more good and open it will become.

I’ve come to many cross roads in my life, I’ve had challenges both self created and imposed upon me, and it’s taken years of experience to know that growth comes with great discomfort. And choosing a road doesn’t always mean you’ll stay on it. And quite often we’re lost in the boonies…but it doesn’t mean we should stay stagnant, or allow others to stay stagnant when their potential is for something much greater.

Challenge yourself this week writer. Step forward into paths that scare you, take chances with your writing and your ideas. Join that critique group, invite an outsider in, always work on the side of fairness, equality, and love. IF we all choose that road, this life will be a much more beautiful place to travel in for all of us.