This Black History Month, I am more reflective than ever. Maybe it’s because I am separated for a semester from Southern (and American culture) by the great pond called the Atlantic Ocean. Maybe it’s because I am up pouring out my thoughts into an opinion article at 2 a.m. Whatever it may be, I am reflecting on what my black experience at Southern has been.
Sometimes as a black student at Southern who loves and extends so much of her personhood to this university, I do not always feel the same love or the same extended hand in return. I have always wondered how a school that I love may not care to understand the totality of my being.
Being black at Southern has been one of the most exhausting, yet eye-opening experiences of my life. I can count on both hands the number of professors of color at Southern. I can vividly recall the racism I have experienced at Southern, both online and in-person. I can recall the many times people have told me that race is a non-factor when they do not live and breathe in my black body every day.
I can recall the times people have told me to “get over it” when I point out the fact that my own mother has been alive longer than Southern has been an integrated campus. I can vividly recall the many confederate flags I have seen around campus, their presence feeling like a terrible way of saying, “You are not welcome here”. I will always recall the countless conversations I have had with black students at Southern who feel like they just do not belong.
Southern prides itself in Christian benevolence. However, I wonder how far that love and kindness extends? Are we ‘living to listen’ as much as we took the initiative to last year, or do we stop listening when it gets too uncomfortable? Do you stop extending your hands when black students are critical of the institutions and traditions you have loved for so long? Do you write an opinion piece on how you were offended? Or do you change your actions and truly listen? How far does your Christian benevolence extend when black students are voicing their concerns about race at Southern?
I write this to say that the black students at Southern are not leaving. We are not going to Oakwood or switching to a public university. We love Southern and all of its flaws. We are critical of Southern because we see the potential this school has to be better and to do better. In the words of Assata Shakur, “Constructive criticism and self-criticism are extremely important for any revolutionary organization. Without them, people tend to drown in their mistakes, not learn from them.”