This Halloween, some students decided to dress offensively. There are two categories of relevance here: ignorance and willful ignorance. I could have written about the history of blackface and the value of African lives, but this is just one incident among many of unrelenting willful ignorance on this campus.
Explaining the history of blackface and the value of African lives would appeal to people who are ignorant of their actions. I’m not going to do that. I have some personal stories before I explain their relevance to how we approach political correctness.
In the summer of 2012, I went home to Uganda where I worked in the North with an NGO that provided psychosocial care to communities victimized by Joseph Kony. I met people who carry the physical and emotional scars of war. People who were mutilated, lost family members, or were forced to kill others.
It shouldn’t have taken the internship for people in northern Uganda to be humanized. Seeing people who have overcome unimaginable difficulties was truly inspiring and life-changing. Fast forward to the Kony 2012 campaign. The internet is filled with jokes about Kony and child soldiers. I saw this on my Facebook feed and cried in the privacy of a cubicle. I refused to tell anyone because I didn’t want their pity or to cause them discomfort.
This summer I went home again. During a Buddhist meeting, my mother showed us a video she made of some of the Buddhists she chants with in Liberia. She had been working in Liberia for some years before the Ebola virus outbreak happened. My mother has not heard from the people in the video, and is still unsure of how they are right now. She has lost a colleague and a student to Ebola. She went back this September and is living and working there. This fact is only scary for me when I occasionally indulge in western hysterics about the disease. Knowing that my mother is very close to her community in Liberia has made this outbreak very serious for me.
I’m just one black person who regularly encounters racism. From being straight up called the N-word, to having others regularly frame my opinions as nothing more than dramatics from an angry young black woman. This community is far from post-racial and it’s pathetic that I have to remind people of that.
I have shared these experiences because I want to illustrate that Ebola, Kony, and racism are significant parts of my life. I am a part of this community and I ask that my experiences not be trivialized.
Racism is real in Sackville and at Mount Allison. If you know that something is offensive, don’t participate in an ongoing erasure of the diversity of this community. You are allowing the perpetuation of a shared myth that these issues are abstract and far-off. I don’t have the luxury of pretending racism, poverty, and disease are not real issues.
We wouldn’t make jokes about cancer, or the shooting in Ottawa, because we are being polite and truly understand how hurtful it would be to others. We respect their feelings and experiences. So why not afford the same respect to people who have suffered from Ebola?
I’m here to get my degree but I also hope that my presence as a black African will make you unsettled in your privilege. I hope to disrupt the narrative that claims my problems are not real. Like anyone else in the Sackville and Mt. A communities, I deserve respect.