Finding My Voice in the Midst of Social Bigotry on Campus

By: Emma Jean

As a black girl attending an PWI and the grand-daughter of a union activist, I planned to have a voice on campus and join my black peers as we rallied in support of  the Black Lives Matter movement. It wasn’t until some of the band members took a kneel during the national anthem at a home football game, that I realized how fake I was with standing up for injustice. What startled me was not the backlash and threats received from students, parents and donators of the school, but my lack of faith in myself and my lack of confidence to support my own beliefs.

During a nationally televised football game, a dozen band members personally decided to take a kneel during the national anthem. Mind you, it was parents weekend so everyone and their mamas were there. The stadium erupted with boo’s, to the kneeling band members of course. It wasn’t just bigoted young adults, there were bigoted older adults there as well. I even saw a video that someone snapchatted of a parent booing, with all the energy she had in her body, at the kneeling band members.

Students took to Twitter, some in support of the band members kneeling while others shaming them and ranting about the unexpected event. I was on my phone for hours reading the rants. I commended those who were in favor of the band members kneeling. My school’s chancellor released a statement instantly, saying that he understood why people were upset but that the university would respect the band member’s rights to express their views.

I read the comments from the others who threatened to physically harm the band members for “disrespecting the country”. A local radio stationed decided to no longer cover the football games at my school because of what a few band members did. I began to feel disgust and rage towards the parents who threatened to no longer donate to the school, and felt like cussing out all my peers around campus who were against the band members kneeling. I read all of these hateful, racist comments, yet I said nothing.

The next day, I expected all the talk to die down. I sat in class, as the only black girl amongst 20-something white students, and proceeded to mind my business. It wasn’t until my classmate that sat across from me said to another classmate, “Did you hear about what the band members did? What a disgrace to our institution.”

I tried to ignore their talk as they discussed how embarrassing and un-American it was to kneel during the national anthem. Within minutes it was as if the whole classroom was discussing the event. “It was so embarrassing, we made national news.” “My neighbors threatened to no longer donate money to the school unless the band members who kneeled get expelled.” “The ones who kneeled need to get kicked off the marching band or something, they shouldn’t be let off the hook so easy for what they did.”

One classmate even had the audacity to say, “I know the band director personally and he would not condone this. Like, I know he’s going to kick them off the band.” As if I, the only black girl, wasn’t there or they just didn’t give two flips whether or not I was offended, they continued on ranting. I thought about a million replies to shut them up, to call them out on their ignorance and biased remarks, yet I said nothing. I think that was the moment my grandfather turned over in his grave.

A day or so had passed until the chancellor, along with the band director, seemed to change their stance. They released a signed statement saying, “protest of this nature by the-band members- will not be tolerated moving forward.” At the time I didn’t really know how to feel.

Disappointed in the chancellor or myself? Dissatisfied with the chancellor’s response, or the fact that I didn’t respond? None of the band members who knelt down were expelled or kicked off the team, instead they received a firm warning to not do something like that again while representing the school.

I realize now that while I cannot let anyone walk over me, I also should not allow anyone to offend me and not speak up for myself. Do I regret not speaking up when I was confronted with bigotry? Of course. However; my support and knowledge towards the Black Lives Matter movement and injustice towards African Americans has grown stronger than before I stepped onto the campus. As I blossom into a young woman, I plan to not only use my knowledge to educate others but to also use the most important tool I have: my voice.

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1 year 3 months ago

It is never too late to realize that we can stand out, stand up and stand on the grounds that our voice should be heard in what matters to us!!! Black Lives Matters!! Great job, Emma!!

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These guidelines will be perfect and I hope that students, not only black, but also white will follow these to make their time best to spend at their campus.

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