"Oh, what's his name? Uhhhhhmmm... oh yeah Trayvon."
"I will call out your name, I will call out your name," said a poet at the Living Memorial for the Blacktivism Conference at Harvard University. As the white student, across the room, was struggling to remember Trayvon's dear name, it was then that the poet's words hit me like a train. How can anyone possibly forget that name? To forget his name is synonymous to forgetting black misery in this country.
This happened during a discussion about Ferguson at the Political Forum meeting at Emmanuel College. A 40-minute discussion about Ferguson and race was barely brought to the surface. Everyone was tip toeing around the words: race, black, and white. I can tell it was uncomfortable for many of them to just say it, and my black presence did not make it any easier. I was overwhelmed by the lack of empathy for Mike Brown and ignorance of black life in Ferguson that was highly apparent in that college classroom.
Though many expressed distrust for the media, their minds were clearly saturated by the media's portrayal of ALL the protesters as rabble-rousers and looters. "The police need to protect themselves (with tanks, weapons, and other combative gear)," said another white student, "because the protesters are throwing bottles (and other materials)... at them."
All I kept hearing was that police militarization was essential since the people of Ferguson were violent and the police needed to keep the peace. The victimization of the police, rather than the people of Ferguson, in this discussion made it clear that these students did not do their homework. They did not address Ferguson as a largely black town with an overwhelmingly white police force that antagonizes its black people. They did not address Mike Brown, his family, or his community and how they may be feeling. Police brutality was largely a southern issue to them, as if police brutality does not happen right here in Boston. They failed to understand that the people of Ferguson are not only fighting for Mike, they are fighting for all innocent black bodies that have lost their lives by the hands of the very group that is supposed to be protecting them: the police.
As the only black voice in the room, I felt obligated to educate them on Ferguson and to refute all the statements agreeing with the militarization of the police. I needed them to step outside of their privilege for five minutes and reevaluate the issues going on in America. Police brutality is not some abstract concept. In fact, it is very concrete and it is disproportionately affecting the lives of black men and women. I wanted them to view Ferguson, not as some town full of random people fighting for some frivolous cause, but as a town that is overwhelmingly black with an overwhelmingly white police force that has a long history of committing heinous crimes against them.
Then fear set in. I feared that they would attack me with their hardcore facts and logical reasoning on why militarization was important in America. I began to stutter and my voice began to quiver. There was so much ground to cover and I did not know where to start. I felt everyone's eyes judging me. I said a few words but they were not impactful. I got lost in the moment and escaped the meeting soon after I spoke.
It is my hope that all black students make it a priority to address these type of issues on our campuses. Do not compromise your beliefs or your black experience for the pretense of neutrality. We need to arm ourselves with the knowledge, the proper vocabulary, and ally-ship to properly address these issues in an effective way. We must continue this seemingly never-ending fight for justice but not without educating our white peers about how race affects our everyday lives. Some of them just don't know. Yet, ignorance is no longer a good excuse. We need to drag our struggles out of the abyss and place it in the presence of the sun so that all people can spotlight the injustices that are deeply-rooted in America's fabric.
For my beautiful brown and black people whose existence have been and still are threatened by violence, we will call out your name. We will never let them forget you.