Hello, average white Duke student. I see you’re scrolling through your Facebook newsfeed. Ah, a great choice considering I overheard you tell someone on the quad this morning that you’re “literally so busy.” Look at that! I see one of your friends has shared an article about Colin Kaepernick. Will you open and read it? No? Oh, you’ve just read the title, clicked “like,” and kept scrolling. Good. Great stuff. Pat yourself on the back for that. Congratulate yourself! You’ve been “woke” enough today. You’ve been a good enough white person today, right? Sure! Whatever helps you sleep at night.
What’s that? You’re offended? You do think you’ve been a good enough white person today? You’re tired of people telling you to “do something” about the race problem in America? Oh, I see. Since you go to an elite university, you’ve decided you just don’t know what else to do about it. Well, if you, a 19-year-old Duke student, can’t figure it out I guess no one can, right? Wrong! There are things you can do.
First, think about the social spaces you find yourself in most often. Next time you’re sitting with friends or at a party, look around. What do you see? Probably a lot of people that look like you. But our campus can’t be segregated along racial lines, can it? Duke is liberal! How could that be? Well, Duke admitted its first Black undergraduate in 1963. The racial landscape of Duke’s social scene is spotted with ruins of institutions based on white supremacy, some of which are obviously still in good condition.
What’s that? You need an example? Are you in Greek life? Yes? There you go. Next time you go to a chapter meeting, look around. I bet you’ll be able to count the people of color in the room on one hand. But PanHellenic fraternities host “open” parties? That’s inclusive, right? Ah, yes. A bunch of white people running around in appropriated costumes and screaming the n-word to a rap song. How welcoming! But Duke has Black sororities and fraternities? Yes! That’s right! Name their chapters. You can’t? Name one person in one of these organizations. You can’t? Interesting.
Second, educate yourself. Colin Kaepernick is kneeling for a reason. People are protesting on this campus, too, for a reason. Find out. The resources are out there. The next time the Office for Institutional Equity hosts a diversity training session, go. Go to jazz night at the Mary Lou Center. Attend a panel on racialized police brutality. Read The Bridge. Register for a AAAS class. Information is everywhere!
But you’ll be uncomfortable in those spaces? I mean, yes. That’s the point. But you really don’t know what to contribute at those events? Ah, you’re in luck! Your whiteness means just your presence alone, your effort just to be there is meaningful to a certain extent. Our construction of race in this country is based on physical appearance. Thus, we are extremely sensitive to the way protests against racism look. White society has always been threatened when Black bodies have occupied white spaces—lunch counters, public transportation, public schools, Olympic podiums with a fist in the air. Moments in which white bodies have joined Black bodies, too, have also been powerful—Joan Trumpauer sitting next to Anne Moody at the Woolworth’s counter, white NFL players kneeling alongside Black players during the national anthem.
So, what does that mean for you? It means that you simply showing up makes a difference. Literally just putting yourself in any of the spaces I listed above would be significant. Your white face in a crowd means something; it is a form of protest. So, show up. Be at those events, sit in those AAAS classes. Hell, kneel during the national anthem. Do something. Show up. Ideally, you wouldn’t just be in those spaces staring at a wall. Ideally, you would listen or affirm or learn or something else that sentient humans do. If you can’t do any of those things at first, that’s okay. You’ll be able to eventually. But until then, you have to show up. You have to do something more than liking an article on Facebook. That obviously isn’t working because too many white people in this country—no, too many white people on this campus—don’t understand why Colin Kaepernick took a knee and why they should care.
And it’s going to be hard, I know. And I know you can do it. You are a Duke student after all.
Annie Delmedico is a Trinity junior.
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