I don’t remember what I told my mother, but it must have been a lie, because my curfew would never have allowed me the time to go out to a party. The midnight carriage-to-pumpkin life was a big part of the reason many kids never saw me at parties (or any social gatherings outside of athletics for that matter). But that night I was in a car with my homies on the way to what we were told was a “party by the cliffs.” I really don’t remember who I was with, how we heard about this “party,” or what our intentions really were (I didn’t drink or anything), but I remember I felt this crazy sense of freedom and excitement at the possibility of just being there. When you’re 17 year old virgin who never even has to opportunity to party, this makes total sense.
After I had hiked down the flights of stairs, I headed down the sandy beach towards the cliffs we knew our peers would be located. I never made it.
As I approached the gathering, a small group of kids stopped me. “What the fuck do you think you’re doing here?” one of them said. It was a kid named Cyrus. We weren’t friends, but I wouldn’t have called us enemies. I barely knew him outside of whatever classroom environment we had shared in the past, so it was odd that he came on so strongly.
“What are you talking about?” I asked, confused.
“Get the fuck out of here now, you stupid nigger, before we kill you,” he replied.
I stood there shocked for probably longer than I should have. Here were four kids I had shared classes with since eighth grade, approaching me for the first time ever, in a completely racist manner. I promptly left and went home and cried to myself. These people had seen me around for years and years and never once mentioned that they hated me, and that it was racially motivated. I had had run-ins with racist people or situations in the past, but this was so different. This was home. Was I supposed to never go to the beach again? Was I supposed to now stay away from certain areas during school? Why? Just, why? I never felt comfortable within 100 yards of any of those guys again.
So a few days ago, the President of the University of Missouri resigned over student action regarding his (mis)handling of recent racial tensions on campus. I kept tabs on the story, especially once the Mizzou football players became involved and refused to play another game until he resigned. That was an epic, brutally effective way to not only call attention to the situation, but to also get results. I felt elated that athletes had somehow learned that (for some odd reason) a University can’t survive without it’s major sports. I did, however, wonder what the resignation would really do to ease the tensions? If anything, I postulated, this could escalate further with no one in a position to actually handle the situation the way he should have. I expected there would be a ton of anti-blacklivesmatter rhetoric and conspiracy theories about how the whole thing is a hoax. I expected comments like this:
I expected these things because I’m used to these things being standard reactions from people who don’t get it, or can’t get it, or (and most infuriating) have no desire to get it. I never thought about what happens when these people who don’t “get it” believe they’ve been so wronged that they must act. I never thought that these people would take to the streets and to the campus and literally terrorize black students.
I won’t repost all the hateful messages or disturbing videos here but there are plenty of them. That said, one message was made abundantly clear: black students should prepare for a “school shooting” style massacre if they dare show up tomorrow (Nov 11). Students are scared, teachers are saying they will still administer tests, police are relatively unresponsive. It’s a mess. It’s a frightening mess.
Upon hearing about what has recently unfolded at Mizzou, my mind went back to that night at the cliffs. There’s an especially helpless, scary, cold feeling when the racism is in your home. These kids are students. They live on campus. They are part of the fabric of that community, and the hate has come to meet them right there. The portion of their lives that can be a refuge from all of the negativity and hate has now been taken over, like a cancerous tumor, with little option of how to proceed. The only options are seemingly like Chemo — as harmful to their health as to the problem. MAN my heart sank when I heard this. All of the feelings have resurfaced; I feel as they feel.
But I say all of this not because I can be another outlet for the information to disseminate, but because I need people to “get it.” Don’t say you don’t, or you can’t, or you won’t “get it.” TRY TO F&*$ING GET IT. Here’s what I’ve realized: people who don’t “get it” are liable to flip and become someone who acts in ways I’m not even sure they’re proud of. Like a lot of the kids I grew up with who had never lived anywhere else or seen a different way of life so closely that they had no choice but to understand it, the people who don’t “get it” haven’t experienced enough other things/people/ways of life to even understand that they don’t “get it.” Example: one of the kids from that night at the cliffs saw me at a bar many years later and apologized. He said he never felt good about it. It was one of the most meaningful apologies of my life. The other kid, Cyrus? He killed himself a few years later. He was obviously dealing with a lot in his life and I forgive him for how he manifested it towards me. We were kids. We all did things.
What I’m saying is it takes an understanding beyond the usual “I have a black friend” state of mind. I have many non-black friends (some very close) who don’t “get it.” Why? Because they tune me out when I try to bring it up. It takes an understanding that #blacklivesmatter is not some conspiracy to wage war on whites and police. I understand that your favorite politician may say it is, or your favorite blog, and they may be right about many other things, but that is patently false. Last year I had the pleasure of marching with these folks on a few occasions. It was peaceful, but deliberate. It was powerful, yet tame. It was necessary if even one more person “got it.” It takes an understanding that minorities of all kinds aren’t looking for special treatment, but maybe putting up with the usual racism in blog comments (how many times was I called a Nigger in my one youtube video that had a million views? I dunno, maybe a million times), social media, police interaction (yea, Ive been pulled over for no reason more times that I can count), general media portrayals, video game interactions, and institutions is cool, but when it hits home, we are forced to do SOMETHING to show those who don’t “get it” that we wish they would.