Last week, an opinion piece published in The PHOENIX titled “Some Friendly Advice for Would-Be Protesters” addressed the population of student activists and organizers, citing the recent protests here on campus. In the piece, the author continually made assertions against student protesters, and by association, members of our Loyola community. The author went so far as to say, “Let me say again: Dr. King would be ashamed of you, and I am embarrassed to be called your peer.”
To the author: We have absolutely no idea what Dr. King would say about the recent protests on race and discrimination across the United States. We don’t get to adjudicate how he would act and preach his ideology by reading his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” or listening to his “I Have a Dream” speech. He was more than the number of times he was arrested; he was a movement that was necessary then and just as necessary today. He was supported by women and men who were tired of their society telling them how they had to live their lives.
The undeniable truth is this: There is systemic racism embedded in our culture. Prejudice and discrimination are still alive and well today.
We live in a society where African Americans are incarcerated at a rate six times higher than that of their white counterparts, according to the NAACP. We live in a world where black men and boys are 21 times more likely to be shot dead when apprehended by police. Currently, African Americans make up roughly one million of the 2.3 million Americans that are currently locked up in our prison system, and when you add the Latino/a incarcerated population to the equation, they account for 58 percent of all incarcerated individuals. On average, they are sentenced disproportionately longer for non-violent crimes than their white counterparts.
On Jan. 16, President Barack Obama declared a federal state of emergency in Flint, Michigan, where city administrators changed water sources, poisoning their own constituents, according to The New York Times. Residents of Flint have a median household income of $24,000, and 56 percent of residents are black, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Notably, a CNN article published Jan. 13 (and updated Jan. 31), stated that everyone the network interviewed, including “residents, the former mayor, the current mayor, Congressman [Dale] Kildee, city workers,” blames Gov. Rick Snyder’s office and Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality for the crisis. Snyder apologized in a press release on Dec. 29.
Here’s my point: As white individuals, and especially as white men of privilege, we do not reserve the right to tell people — especially oppressed individuals — how to live their lives. Just because their narratives are different than yours does not afford you the authority to tell them that Martin Luther King, Jr. would be ashamed and condemn them for being vocal about their unequal treatment in society.
So what can we, as white individuals and allies, do?
We need to support and sustain black narratives on campus. We cannot speak to what it’s like being black, and that’s fine. But do you know who can? Our black peers, including the fantastic team at The Black Tribune. They, drawing on their experiences as members of a minority group in the United States, are driven to write stories that speak to the experiences of oppressed people and to voice displeasure with the current state of our society. Our black peers are asking for tangible goals that we, as a community, should be able to reach.
But we haven’t reached them yet.
And why? Because our white entitlement tells us that we should be telling people how to protest. Protesting and organizing to enact change isn’t something you can tell someone how to do. Protesting is standing witness to injustice. Protesting is allowing your voice to be heard.
And these protests are striving for a community that includes and cherishes diversity of thought.
We, as allies, should be striving to support a community that has suffered and continues to suffer immense oppression. So whether that’s through writing for the school paper or standing in solidarity with your fellow peers, we’re here to be educated and to respond to our world — to “set the world on fire.”
Dr. King, Jr. once said, “A riot is the language of the unheard.” Protesting is a necessary and urgent indication that our society is active and willing to fight for justice. It makes me proud to see my peers within the Loyola community taking steps to fix our inclusivity issue on campus with UNIV sections that focus on African Americans and education. As white allies, we need to remember that our society has been shaped by colonialism and deliberate exclusion of black and brown people. We should be educating ourselves and listening to new narratives in order to understand that our differences are baseless and essentialist. Simply, it is up to everyone to speak out against injustice.
And as for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.? I have no clue what he’d say, but I’d say I’m proud of Loyola students who are unwilling to accept the status quo. It’s time for us to listen and support — not tell people how to act.
Our black, Latino/a, Asian, LGBTQIAP, Muslim (specifically Palestinian) and other oppressed, historically underrepresented groups are just as entitled to being upset with the establishment as you are sick of hearing about it. And it’s about time that we understand that.
Kyle McCloskey is a senior theatre major.