Civil Rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. are remembered for refusing to accept that they were lesser because of the color of their skin. They knew they should have equal rights to vote and be educated. These were visible, obvious inequalities that activists fought against and won.
Decades later, my generation fights against the idea that racism is over. What I know from my own personal experience and the MLK coffeehouse is that racism is definitely not over. MLK didn’t resolve everything — he never got the chance to. Acting like conversations about race are no longer important is an insult to black people and other people of color. Just like MLK’s critiques of America didn’t mean he hated his country, my critiques of Goshen College don’t mean I hate GC. But on MLK Day I did not feel like Goshen College loved me or the color of my skin. Instead, I felt like Goshen was determined to not see color at all.
After such deep revelations and words shared earlier in the day, I was excited to expand and have productive discussion about MLK and what he fought for. Unfortunately, I was let down. It’s not that I have not been let down before, but it cuts deeper when you expected more. And I expected so much more from Goshen College.
Goshen is an institution that prides itself on diversity and that is one of the main reasons I chose to come here. But every day I feel stifled here. MLK Day is one of the days of the year in which I get to escape the box society has put me in.
Only, on Monday I did not get a chance to escape. Instead, I sat in my box and screamed internally. I wanted to stand up and shout, but I felt too uncomfortable to say anything about race. The atmosphere was one of comfortable lightheartedness, something I do not get to appreciate in my everyday life. The town hall and workshop were sugar-coated for white people. Unfortunately, the world I live in is not sugar-coated. It is harsh, brutal and oftentimes overwhelming.
MLK day left me with a bitter pit in my stomach and anger in my heart. The theme, “Beloved Community,” ignored the simple fact that we have MLK day because black people were not loved by the community. It ignored the long fight we had to even have a place in this community and it ignored the ongoing fight we have to be heard in this community. The reason this MLK Day cut so deep is because black voices are so rarely heard and actually listened to. To have the one day black voices can be heard stripped of the opportunity for thought-provoking conversation is heartbreaking. And to have it done by the very institution you chose for their understanding of racial and ethnic diversity is crushing.
I always knew that Goshen College wasn’t perfect, but I also knew that it was willing to listen. So when I attended a town hall on MLK Day in which not a single person mentioned racism, I was shocked. When the workshop was led by white women I was hurt. Representation matters.
When I look around my classroom and see a sea of white faces, I feel like success wasn’t meant for me. When I see mostly white professors I think higher education is for white people. When I looked around the room on Monday I saw community members, staff, and professors and thought I had the chance to say something to change the way that Goshen College operates. Instead, I felt like Goshen College proved they were part of the problem not the solution.
Martin Luther King Jr. said that the biggest stumbling block to freedom was the white moderate, not groups like the KKK. King felt like the white moderate wanted black people to wait for a “more convenient season.” But the Civil Rights Movement was not convenient and listening to oppressed people is never convenient for those in power. That’s why change is so slow to happen. So the real question for Goshen College is whether it wants to continue to be a white moderate that holds its students back or whether it wants to give them the chance to succeed.
Earlier I said that my generation fights against the idea that racism is over and done with. But there is always a chance to do more, understand more and be more. I know that Goshen College strives to understand people of color, but as Martin Luther King Jr. said, “shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.”