Football players at the University of Missouri are vowing to boycott any further sports activities until the president of the university – Tim Wolfe – either resigns or is fired.
Uh, oh, you’re thinking. Some idiot went and said something racist. What did he do? Use some old-fashioned word like “negro” to describe a secretary? Get caught sending racist jokes through the department’s email system? Post a picture of himself holding the Confederate flag on Facebook?
No, he…he…wait, what did he do?
Let’s back up for a minute, because this story has a little bit of a history to it.
According to the reports, the “racial tensions” began last month when an unknown individual smeared human excrement – in the shape of a swastika – on a dormitory wall. That incident led grad student Jonathan Butler to initiate a hunger strike.
But that’s not all. Payton Head, the president of the Missouri Students Association, claims that he was “racially abused” when walking across the campus. His story encouraged students to protest when the university failed to do anything about it.
Finally, an unknown student yelled the N-word at a group of black students who were rehearsing for a play.
That’s it. Maybe there is more to it than that, but that’s pretty much the sum of it according to the news. And you can bet your bottom dollar that if there was more to it than that, the news would be telling us.
Oh, wait, there is one more thing. The students don’t just want Wolfe to resign because he hasn’t addressed their demands. They are furious about something he said Saturday night when he was asked by protesters to define “systemic oppression.”
Wolfe said, “Systemic oppression is because you don’t believe that you have the equal opportunity for success.”
This bit of uncensored truth was too much for the university’s aggrieved black students to handle. They accused Wolfe of blaming African-Americans for their own oppression.
“The athletes of color on the University of Missouri football team truly believe ‘Injustice Anywhere is a threat to Justice Everywhere,’” read a tweet from the Missouri Legion of Black Collegians. “We will no longer participate in any football related activities until President Tim Wolfe resigns or is removed due to his negligence toward marginalized students’ experiences. WE ARE UNITED!!!!!”
Wolfe issued a statement Sunday that said the university would be working on a “systemwide diversity and inclusion strategy” complete with a “plan” and “metrics” for success. He did not, however, indicate that he would be stepping down from his position.
A Sad Fiction
Someone needs to be straight with these players. With these students. Because they are being fed a story that has almost nothing to do with real life. A story they’ve heard since they were old enough to listen, watch, and read. A story that tells them that the great black heroes – Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglas, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, etc. – all had one thing in common: they stood up bravely against white racism.
Those may be inspirational figures in anyone’s book, but there’s a dark side to this narrative. There is no more slavery. The Jim Crow laws are gone. Racial discrimination is illegal. There’s a black man in the White House. For a black kid who has been told his entire life that the greatest, most honorable African-Americans struggled mightily against real oppression, what purpose is he left with? If your ideal is MLK, how can you be satisfied with a family, a good job, and an average life?
This is how “microaggressions” come into existence. This is how it comes to be that it’s racist to shoot a black man, regardless of what he might have been doing. Racist to have prisons filled with minorities. Racist not to have any black people up for Best Actor. Racist to tell a black person that he’s articulate. Racist to say “thug.”
It’s intoxicating to put yourself in a position where you can actually become Rosa Parks. Where you won’t move to the back of the bus.
Is it realistic to tell these kids that they can live in a world free of racism? That they will never have to encounter another demeaning word, if only they complain about it loudly enough? That the school administration owes them a campus where racism is entirely gone?
You can spend your life wishing for things that are literally impossible, but it’s a guaranteed ticket to misery. Someone should at least tell these players – and anyone else who thinks this is a worthy cause – that sometimes it’s okay to just stand back, take a breath, and be thankful for the precious gift of life. You don’t have to be a crusader for justice to make your life mean something. And if you feel that you do, then at least look for a species of justice that could conceivably exist in your lifetime. Or, for that matter, anyone’s.