“What is that black stuff on your hands? Is that ink? Did you get that from choking a black guy or something?”
When someone tells a racist joke at Laramie County Community College, I’d expect that the administration would have zero tolerance for it. Imagine my surprise, it didn’t start here.
Since I can’t shake you and tell you to be a good person, I’ll just have write something for however long it takes until it feels “good enough” to get people to understand that, specifically, racial issues aren’t something from days of old. They still exist.
To those who get it, I give you permission to move on to the next article. If you’re curious or just feel like whatever I’m about to go into doesn’t matter, keep reading, it may be even more of a waste of time than you thought.
My goal in writing this is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable when race issues arise. Here’s my pipebomb:
Race. As a black person, this might surprise you, but my race isn’t the only thing that’s at the forefront of my mind. I’ve got enough room for other mundane thoughts: Money, education, my future, and will anything I do really matter? Just your run-of-the-mill life things.
Just because I fall into the category of whatever “thing” I am, I don’t blast that as the sole makeup of my being. I’m not going to pull out a megaphone and say “HEY I’M BLACK” anytime the situation arises.
I was taught growing up that race was something that talking about, discrimination or equality, would likely fall on deaf ears.
I was taught to stay quiet.
I’d follow whatever protocol the system had in place when discrimination arose, but it left me feeling that following protocol was pointless. Nothing would happen whether I said anything or not, so why not say nothing about it and keep my head down?
If I wanted any form of semblance or understanding when it came to that struggle, I’d find it in a nod from one black stranger to myself. A connection and silent form of understanding. Understanding that I don’t share with most of my peers.
Someone’s gonna have to talk eventually. Guess I’m gonna talk about it.
When I recognize my race, I don’t have control over when that happens, and it’s rarely in a situation of pride. Mostly I find the situation to be when someone else draws attention to it.
Recently, a student made a joke (a very bad joke), asking “Are your hands black because you were choking black people?”
Situations like this are what cause me to realize this lack of control; humbling myself in a surreal moment of, “You’re still a person but remember, you’re a black person.” Just my run-of-the-mill life things +1.
That’s not always a bad thing. But when this recognition of my race is brought on by a racist comment or joke, that’s a scenario where I feel “put back in my place” and reminded of how the world works.
It’s not that I’m not over slavery; it’s that the world still seems attached to it.
I’ve let a lot of comments like this slide before. No change would come from bringing it up. If anything, the hassle from bringing it up would be more stress than ignoring it. But this time, I decided I couldn’t do that again.
Given that this happened on campus in a public setting I figured hey, I’ll deviate from my own ingrained lessons on how to handle this and bring this up the people on campus whose job is to handle this.
I met with James Miller, Interim Dean of Student Life, confessions were taken and it was a week turn around. To his credit, Miller gave me the works.
“What can we do to make you feel more whole?” Miller said.
I don’t think anyone can answer that question ever, but asking it shows at least a surface-level depth of the severity of how serious the situation was.
What was hammered home to me by the end of my meeting with Miller was that LCCC isn’t a court of law. They’ll handle the situation, but it’ll need to be handled as a learning experience.
Maybe I had it wrong all along. Things do happen if you aren’t silent about it.
The situation was classified as a harassment case.
I’d have called it misconduct, but I digress.
We meet the next week and a bridge of understanding for how this situation was going to be handled was in the works.
“I tried understanding the situation from your perspective, but I don’t have the same experiences as you,” Miller said.
(If you’re ever talking to a person of color, don’t start it off by saying some shit like this. It literally means nothing. You can’t understand it so don’t waste words and people’s time. You might as well say two words to that person that, since I feel I’ve reached the quota on how many expletives I can write, start with an F and end with a U).
Forgive me for not applauding how LCCC handled my grievance. It wasn’t handled well.
When Miller told me that the consequence had to be a learning experience, I didn’t think he meant that literally.
The consequence, if you’d call it that, for the person in question who made the racist joke was to write a paper sourcing issues black people face today — your Ferguson and your Black Lives Matter movement — and afterwards, said person would issue me an apology.
Sure, the cynic in me expected to be disappointed, but not this spectacularly.
I didn’t know that the Interim Dean of Student Life at LCCC handed out extracurricular history papers as a form of harassment conseque- I mean, a “learning experience.”
I was also told steps could be taken to keep us from being in class at the same time, but at that point I felt so insulted that I saw the consolation as a learning experience being akin to separating preschool kids who didn’t get along. It was too much for me.
If Miller wanted to insult my time any more, he might as well have given me crayons to draw with and asked me how I’d change the world, then tell me he couldn’t do it and offer me apple slices as the next best thing.
If it were me making a racist comment, I’d expect to be kicked out of the course. Apparently, that’s not a learning experience at LCCC. When it comes to school policies, LCCC can’t kick you out for saying something that’s racially offensive or constitutes harassment because, according to Miller, “That’s within your First Amendment rights.”
First of all, that’s not what the First Amendment is.
Second of all, given the context, what was said wasn’t an opinion.
If that person were to say that they don’t like the Black Lives Matter movement, that’s fine. Whatever. I could care less. But if they said something that was a form of harassment and racist, which it was, that veers out of the opinion parking lot and crashes into the lane of “racist and common knowledge not to do.”
With that in mind, given LCCC’s interpretation on the First Amendment, if you ever get told that whatever you said wasn’t politically correct, as a learning experience, be prepared to write a paper. Students hate having to write.
That’ll teach you your lesson.
And saying you’re sorry just burns one’s soul if it isn’t genuine. One can’t ever say those two words and not mean it.
These things entirely break your psyche.
Given LCCC’s interpretation of the First Amendment, people can say whatever the fuck they want and get a slap-on-the-wrist research paper assignment on how (fill-in-the-blank) is bad and here are five reasons why. I guess I’ll ignore my quota and flash whoever was offended by the expletive in the previous sentence my First Amendment pass and exonerate myself from dealing with how insulted you felt. I can write a “Why Swearing is Bad” paper real easy and really work on not doing it again.
Am I being cynical? Maybe. But to me, a learning experience for saying something racist in a classroom should be the removal from whatever class you’re in. Especially if you really have no argument to defend yourself.
But hey, I get it. College is a business. Can’t imagine kicking someone out of a class for saying something racist.
What about your big enrollment numbers, LCCC?
All your big renovations are right around the corner!
November is the month!
Can’t have a student kicked out, that’s a loss in revenue.
It’s tough because I can see the perspective of who I’m personally going to war with. LCCC wants to uphold both parties involved in these incidents. Fair and pragmatic. But from here on out, if some change in LCCC’s policy doesn’t come, I’ll just follow my learned lesson from this and not stay quiet.
What LCCC didn’t do in all of its careful policy process is respect me enough as a person to actually do something impactful to work toward making me feel “whole,” or simply like a respectable equal person.
Suggesting both parties be separated like preschoolers so they don’t fight again isn’t enough. We’re all adults here; let’s handle this like such.
Suggesting a solution in the form of a research paper on why racism is bad is a really big expletive put-off. It’s as if LCCC hasn’t had to deal with a racism grievance before. It felt like the majority of how to handle the situation was on me to suggest, then be told that they’re sorry, that I feel that the process didn’t work out in what I would deem satisfactory.
Let me talk about how upset the “learning experience” makes me to my core. Writing a paper on the “black struggle” to me is a joke within itself. That learning experience trivializes my day-to-day life to the summation of a research paper. A case study to better oneself.
Just because I write a story about a car doesn’t mean I get cars now.
A learning experience to a harassment case in the form of a research paper isn’t progress. Instead of hoping the public will vote for outside changes on the campus, LCCC should focus on its subpar handling of racial issues on campus.
Do better, LCCC.
If LCCC can’t handle a simple situation like a racial harassment case, I’d hate to see how it handles a sexual harassment case.
I, Isaiah Colbert, African-American editor for Wingspan and a student at LCCC, do not have faith in LCCC. I do not have faith in its process. And I give negative infinite amount of expletives on whether the community college succeeds in what it pursues.
And my First Amendment rights protect me in voicing my opinion of this school. Notice how it’s not implying violence. No Worldstar reaction from the disgruntled black youth.
Just focused rage.
If anyone is in need of case study on “Why not to ‘insult’ the school that currently employs and teaches you,” here, be my guest. Just know that plagiarism is grounds for removal from the college.