The Collegian
Thursday, July 09, 2020

To those offended by Isaiah Bailey's poem:

Quite frankly, Tiffani Lewis-Lockheart, you chose to make your response article a personal attack; your efforts to mask disdain are fairly thin. Secondly, I didn't think that J. Isaiah Bailey was speaking for all of us; rather, it was his own testimony. It just happens to be the bitter reality that, whether this is true in your own social bubble or not, quite a number of black students on campus have at least one experience that resonates with Bailey's poem. If you would like to verify this, randomly select ten black students you haven't met and ask them about their experiences on campus.

Additionally, I don't think anger toward racial inequality and being subjugated to constant "other" status, particularly in a campus setting, needs to be justified. Deeply entrenched racial attitudes can prevail during daily interactions. An action does not need to be explicit in order to be considered prejudiced or racist. It is often so subtle as the white woman who grows nervous and subconsciously tries to create more space between herself and black males within range; the "hard to explain" dislike of the Richmond City elementary students' presence on campus during tours; requests toward black students to contribute "the Black Perspective" to a discussion, and so on.

The rising anger that has buzzed around Bailey's poem has come mostly from white students. I and other students continue to hear the article decried as racist. One reply to your article goes so far as to declare that he hasn't experienced any serious incidences of racism in all the years of his presence here, as if that were the standard. I suppose, then, this is a great moment to discuss white privilege. The oversensitive may feel free to skip over the next two paragraphs, albeit to their detriment:

White privilege, as defined by WiseGeek, is "a term used to describe certain unintentional benefits given to people of Caucasian descent. It is distinct from racism, as the recipients and even practitioners may be unaware that they are in a race-based system of decisions." And that would make sense, given that the "experience of whites is viewed by whites as normal rather than advantaged" (Wikipedia). It's a tricky little thing, especially because "whites are carefully taught not to recognize white privilege" (Peggy McIntosh via White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack). In short - and you may struggle with this - it "essentially confers an unearned set of benefits to white people" (Wendi C. Thomas). Mr. Bailey isn't masking anger using a racial veil; but you could argue that he's angry about the veil (in the "Souls of Black Folk" sense) as created by multiple privileges, including white privilege, and other campus issues.

White privilege is also the parent of the Angry White Male stereotype, which may or may not have visited The Collegian via other opinion articles in the past. White privilege gives you the added cushion to the assertion that yes, you are an awesome person who has succeeded based on purely hard work or sheer merit, rather than foundations laid for you that give you a very clear advantage. White privilege gives you the ability to not have to see race if you don't want to, because your own skin color is the right complexion for the protection. White privilege also gives you the ability to take the testimony of an "other" and label it "angry," and "racist," simply because you disagree and it makes you uncomfortable. White privilege is the ability to also claim victim status when you are challenged by a minority, and immediately garner support. But there's no victim status to claim - privilege, not just white privilege, hurts everyone.

Oh, and white privilege is what made me try to publish this article anonymously, because angry white people confronted with the reality of the advantages of their skin color can be a dangerous entity. The fact that I'm risking a hell of a lot more than a shouting match to even bring this up is a problem. Richmond, we need to work on that.

And if you found yourself getting increasingly angry over what I just wrote, that would be your sense of privilege, whatever form it may take, coming out. I'll give you a second to tuck it back in, while drawing from Wikipedia yet again: "White students often react to in-class discussions about white privilege with a continuum of behaviors ranging from outright hostility to a 'wall of silence,'" and so, I say to all who experience it, you are not alone in your indignance. The great thing about privilege is that it allows the possessor to sequester away his or her experience as the norm, and dismiss any other testimonies that don't fit into the framework of their worldview. What I and others (as I drew from multiple people for this article) continue to notice is how quickly some people on this campus dismiss minority experiences as the exception, not the rule. Lewis-Lockheart, you have added your voice to that crowd.

While an inquiry towards athletic status may not happen with ALL black men on campus, there is no reason to dismiss the occurrence in its entirety. And simply because one of your black friends hasn't experienced this doesn't mean it won't happen to him and that it hasn't happened to others. I suppose - after all, you've only just come out of high school - what you may soon learn is that although people are not often immediately aware of how race influences their actions and responses to other people, it is something that runs in the background, whether you accept this or not. It comes with the territory of growing up in the States in particular. Attempts to be colorblind, I might add, only add to the problem.

I hope that you will take a deep look at some English literature, so that messages interwoven through poetry may become clearer to you - it may give you an alternate perspective in understanding Bailey's reference to Tajh and Tenaj. Bailey's reference to the two students was simply an illustration of how interconnectedness with other students of color is often beneficial to the black student. We are a noticeable minority, despite what admissions would have newcomers think. Being connected to those other students not only helps a student of color meet new people faster (should I elaborate on the obvious?), but provides a network of support when, honestly, you feel like a Cocoa Puff in a bowl of Kix.

As for racism amid the fraternities, I don't feel the need to point out any lodge in particular - it could just as easily happen within any particular one - but I've only been around for two years; it only took two months here before I was called a "nigger whore" with zero provocation. It took two semesters before I heard about a fraternity demanding that its members not bring "black booty bitches" into its lodge, and just as long to meet the women it was directed towards.

And just last weekend, I learned of a story in which several minority students attempted to enter a lodge - by the end of the night, the line consisted of almost all minorities, and few had gotten in. Everyone else had gotten in on the basis of "knowing the brothers" - did the brothers of that particular fraternity, then, not know any Blacks, Latinos, and Asians?

But it's time for me to conclude my response. My main problem with your "response article" is that it is presented as some sort of defense. "Everyone listen up! THIS is what it's NOT like to be Black at U of R." To everyone else, I want to clear up the misconception that's she's thrown out there. All to be gained from this "article" is that you now (kind of) know what it's like to be Lewis-Lockheart at the University of Richmond. There are multiple, complex black experiences at the University of Richmond, with a number of common threads. Some have wondered whether Bailey's poem inflicted any sort of social damage on campus.

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The damage was done well before him; it will continue after him, unless we use our fingers and mouths to form honest discourse, not verbal sparring.

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