Blackout Week aims for conversation on race

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The women involved in planning and carrying out Blackout Week activities last week pose together in the Unity Room in Reamer Campus Center. (Courtesy of Krystal Edwards)

They gathered together in the Unity Room in Reamer Campus Center around midnight last Thursday. Students discussed the success and shortcomings of what they called “Blackout Week.”

Headed by Kiana Miller ’16, the band of students spent all last week trying to raise awareness of some racially based problems on campus and start a conversation about race at Union.

Participants in Blackout Week wore all-black clothing for the duration of the week, hosting events and hanging posters throughout campus.

The movement arose when Miller and several other students grew frustrated with the way they were being treated by some members of the campus community, especially with respect to their hair.

Dioni Daley ’16 said that her “hair was a major part of (her) identity.” Daley and Miller said they are often asked “ignorant questions” about their hair and they often have their hair felt by random strangers without their permission.

Miller told me she was sick of being treated like an “exotic fascination.”

“Separate incidents occurred out of ignorance to make us feel uncomfortable about our hair,” Miller said.

The organizers of Blackout Week have been holding events to discuss racial ignorance and how to combat it.

“We were having the conversations, but nothing was being done. Since no one was coming, we decided to put it in their face,” Daley stated.

The organizers of Blackout Week said they wanted more of the student body to have the perspectives of students of color. They said they wanted to bring together the campus community to show them what it is like being a black student.

So, the campus awoke on Monday, Oct. 26, to find hundreds of flyers with the words “Don’t Ask, Don’t Touch” overlaid on photos of black Union students.

The members of the movement said they grew tired of always having to educate members of the campus about their hair even though the students asking the questions did not personally know them.

“The posters weren’t so much about their hair but more about the identity, self-esteem and culture that it invokes,” Daley said.

The members of this movement were expecting a mix of responses, but many said they were hurt when they opened up their social app Yik Yak.

Yik Yak allows users of the app to post anonymously about almost anything they want.

In response to Blackout Week, one Yak suggested that things were better when African Americans were enslaved.

Daley was shocked when she read this.

“We were expecting a mix of microagressions,” she said. “But, they were attacking us because they believed we were attacking them.”

The posters, however, did not mention any race or group of individuals on campus — they solely highlighted the issue of touching people’s hair without consent.

Blackout Week leaders also wanted to focus on what they said was a frequent question many African American students are asked: “Do you go here?”

They said that they are often asked if they go to Union when they are at campus parties and suggested that some Campus Safety officers follow them around campus due to their “different appearance.”

“We don’t need to wear a certain style of clothing to prove that we go here,” Daley said.

When asked about this issue, Director of Campus Safety Chris Hayen said, “The Campus Safety Department is sensitive to discrimination concerns. My door has always been open and I am available to listen. I meet with Jason Benitez and Gretchel Hathaway quite regularly and I am a member of the Bias Awareness Team.”

Hayen also noted, “When it comes to stopping and interviewing persons, it is typically based on a call we have received or knowledge of suspicious activity.”

To bring focus to this question they say is common, participants in Blackout Week went around to different students last week asking them if they go here.

Deibel Bennett ’18 relayed her experience asking this question to a few students. When she asked if they went here, she said, “they were very confused. They didn’t understand what it was like to be asked if they went here. To them it was obvious. But for me, that is a constant struggle.”

Leaders of Blackout Week also want the policy of IDing all students to be enforced so it is universal and could not be viewed as based on race.

Students involved in the week’s activities said they sought to take people out of their comfort zones and confront some of the microaggression that they see as often going ignored on campus.

Miller said the whole goal of the week was to get people talking. She said participants wanted to address Union’s issues while not making it a white vs. black problem. Leaders of Blackout Week emphasized that they do not represent the entire black community and they do not make generalizations about the white population.

“When we say ‘we,’ we don’t mean students of color and when we say ‘them,’ we don’t mean all white students,” Miller said. “We are attempting to fight ignorance with education.”

Blackout Week also featured a talk on Thursday, Oct. 29, to discuss how to keep the conversation going after the week ended. On Friday, Oct. 30, participants held a discussion on the week as a whole and showed a film made by a student on how the different aspects of the week were created and carried out.

 

2 COMMENTS

  1. Great job of opening up the conversation ~ Unfortunate that people used an anonymous app to relay feedback instead of attending the events and having an open dialogue. However, it seems that the message got across, and hopefully some different levels of respect/understanding will start to take shape.

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