Black History Month means calling out people who just don’t get it

Kim Henry

Black History Month is meant to highlight the accomplishments of black people throughout history, but this February’s news has revolved around white public figures’ history of racism.

The democratic governor and attorney general of Virginia admitted to wearing blackface this month, and Liam Neeson said in a Feb. 4 interview with The Independent that he had prowled the streets, looking for “some black bastard” to kill after his friend said she was raped by a black man.

Liberals have expressed shock and anxiety at these revelations of racism perpetrated by those who are clever enough to publicly denounce the practice and avoid red baseball caps in polite company.

I am not surprised though, because I have taken several D1 courses at UVM and am well aware of white liberals’ ability to speak ignorance in the same sentence that denounces racism.

But I believe I have done my small part to stem the tide of racists, who are ever surprised at being called out for their own racist behavior.

I made a white girl cry in class last week, and it is a practice I think we should all take up a bit more often. I only saw the girl’s tears as I was leaving, though I didn’t stop.

I wanted to get out of there before my emotions got too complicated.

I’d talked to the girl in the past and she seemed nice enough. She also seemed to truly care about African American Art, the subject of our class.

But she’d also said the n-word three times throughout her presentation that morning. I felt bad. But why should I?

No, she didn’t fling the word at me. She used the word in a paraphrased quote.

Her whole presentation was supposed to be about the positive revolutionary aspects of a black artist.

But her presentation was also not good enough, and she should know that.

It ignored the nuance of the guidelines for using the n-word in class and of the black life and art she had researched, and it perpetuated tired stereotypes in a class setting where her presentation would be given the authority of fact.

I have watched the same pattern in nearly every D1 I have taken, where white students’ meager attempts at understanding black art and culture are met with necessary applause.

Then that student is able to continue what is at best the spreading of misinformation on the subject of race, bolstered by the misconception that they know anything at all about what it means to be anti-racist.

While I believe people are capable of change, nothing Northam or Neeson have said indicates they understand their actions were racist, and without acknowledging the racism in the behaviour, I don’t see how I can believe either could avoid being similarly racist in the future.

And I wish somebody had called them out on it before. If the result of letting people know they are being racist is white tears, then I say let it rain.