By Mina Shah
Last week, a lot happened at Mizzou (University of Missouri at Columbia). I say simply that “a lot happened” because appropriate adjectives to characterize it do not exist, and because there are so many mixed feelings to process right now that I find it impossible to describe the emotional impact it has had and continues to have on me.
For those of you who have been living under a rock or not accessing social media lately for whatever reason, racial tensions have been building at Mizzou for some time now. There have been many acts of racial intolerance against students of color at the university. These have included, but are not limited to, the painting of a swastika in feces on school property and the direction of the n-word at the student body president.
Alongside of the racism, though, there has also been, as one would expect, an upsurge in student activism. This activism has included the protest by the Black members of the Mizzou football team, who declared that they refused to play until the university’s President, whose response to recent events was too little, too late, agreed to step down. The actions have also included a hunger strike following the swastika incident.
I’m not surprised that events unfolded the way they did. When groups in power feel that their power is being compromised, they lash out, often violently, at the group they feel is encroaching upon them. I’m not surprised that as soon as the President resigned, massive anonymous death threats were made toward Black students on the Mizzou campus (and you already know how I feel about anonymous opinions in general; these threats, I think, provide a strong example of how they can be so dangerous). I’m not surprised that there were professors who further marginalized minority students by continuing to hold classes and give exams, while the people who had made those active death threats were still at large. I’m not surprised that the most professional media outlets haven’t paid as much attention to this as smaller, closer-to-the-ground journals. Sure, all of these things disappoint me and make me sad, but they don’t surprise me anymore.
What I am surprised about is the immense response that these events have received — the number of responses from other universities announcing their solidarity with Mizzou, the explosion of social media surrounding Mizzou. For a couple of days after the events, solidarity was the only thing that I saw on my NewsFeed. After seeing the responses to various high profile shootings last year, including the cases of Mike Brown and Eric Garner, the response to the events at Mizzou is overwhelming.
It’s a good thing that people are excited to get more involved. The more people who become active and join the movement, the easier it is to make change and the harder it is to have the voice of the movement ignored. But I also have questions. Why is now suddenly the time for such a huge upsurge in concern for fellow humans? Have the systemically facilitated murders of Black people of all non- and gender-identifying categories not been enough? Where is the tipping point that makes a person care enough to decide to be a part of a movement that is trying to rid the world of a particular injustice?
In an age of virtually unlimited technology and access to news and media, folks who are just now jumping on the bandwagon really need to think about why it took so long and what specifically motivated this change of heart. It’s important for you to understand where you’ve been, why you haven’t been supporting the movement up until this point and how your role can be productive and ethical moving forward.
At the same time, though, I realize that playing the blame-game doesn’t exactly help us move forward. If we focus on moving forward, and leave our individual track records of activism regarding #BlackLivesMatter aside, there still remains the question of where we go from here. How do we maintain the existing momentum to keep the movement going without losing uniformity or speed? How do we continue to grow and build further? I’m not the best strategist, so I can’t predict which strategy would be the best. I imagine, though, that success in the movement would include a continuation of mixed and dynamic efforts: teach-ins, policy efforts and direct actions, placing the right people in the right places for the most effective outcomes.
Contact Mina Shah at minashah ‘at’ stanford.edu.