If you know anything about me, you know that I’m from this area. I grew up thirty minutes away from CNU and fifteen from ODU. Most of my high school classmates and friends ended up attending ODU, and I’ve always been supportive of them. In fact, I’m still supportive of them.
Recently, I saw a video on my friend’s Facebook about a video that was posted on YouTube and included a woman wearing an ODU shirt and something covering her face. Before I watched the video, I noticed it was labeled “White Power” and my progressive sociological brain automatically went: “Oh, sh*t.” And then I found myself asking other questions.
Is this even an ODU student?
How can you speak against black culture but have fake acrylic coffin nails and wear a bandana and fake aviators, just like the stereotypes of the culture you’re speaking against?
Also, a rap? Not a country song? You know, something that wasn’t risen to popularity by black people?
What kind of person is bold enough to make racist statements but too scared to show his/her face?
How is this going to affect the rest of us?
I realized then that just shaking my head wasn’t enough. Most people in the community are outraged. The video was featured in a news segment from WAVY TV-10, a local news source that I remember sometimes being broadcasted in my own home from time to time growing up. Of course, YouTube has removed the video, but only after the outrage on social media occurred.
The Old Dominion community is most definitely looking to scapegoat someone. Recently, The Virginian Pilot reported last week that some people have taken to Twitter to try and find the person hiding behind the mask, but the woman they’ve aimed their suspicions at says she’s not the perpetrator. ODU issued a statement (located at the bottom of this Washington Post article) about the situation, expressing the severity of it and reassuring everyone that ODU is investigating the issue.
If you’re interested in learning more about the video, and how you can help ODU catch the person(s) behind this, check out Her Campus ODU’s article on the subject (it’s beautifully written, so read it!)
That’s the extent of the news-i-ness of this piece. The rest is based on my sociological and political opinion, so if you don’t think you’ll like it, I suggest you stop reading now. (And, for all you readers who seem to think we don’t put disclaimers in our articles before posting controversial and uncomfortable content, you just read one).
The question left remaining is what we can learn from this situation. For one, racism still exists. There’s this concept, explained by sociologist John Hartigan in his textbook Race in the 21st Century called colorblind racism. Basically, if you say that you choose not to see color, you’re actually being racist. The mechanics behind this stem from the fact that while, yes, racism is a social structure, it’s been around for so long that you can’t not pay attention to the color of someone’s skin. For many people, it’s the first thing you think about when you see them. It’s their identity, something that they hold integral to their entire being. To say that race doesn’t exist does one important thing (amongst many others):
It establishes and secures your privilege.
By being “color blind,” whites can say that their successes and opportunities are earned based on their success as individuals and has nothing to do with the fact that they come from a group of people that have been statistically advantaged for over 200 years.
So, we’ve covered that racism still exists. But what else? What can we as Captains, who strive to lead lives of significance and progresss, do to learn from this monstrosity? The answer is simple:
Educate fully. No lying, no choosing to tell the bits and pieces that make America(ns) look good.
For example, how many of you learned that the true events of Thanksgiving didn’t include peaceful dining between Native Americans and white Pilgrims? That, in fact, the pilgrims had massacred a plethora of Native Americans and the dining was a celebration of the murders?
Or, my personal favorite, that Carolus Linnaeus (you know the order of species classification/binomial nomenclature) created the four races, which based humans on their skin color instead of staying with the original, their hair type? I didn’t learn that until last year.
Like, excuse me? I had to wait until my first year at COLLEGE to learn that this old white guy decided that, because exploration had started and people had never encountered people of other skin colors due to the decline in literacy and knowledge during the Middle Ages, the only way to differentiate between us and them was by skin color? I spent seven years of my life thinking all this guy did was create a categorization system but come to find out he was one of the people who instituted skin-based racism? Absurd, people. Absurd. To top it off, this was in an introductory anthropology course. I have met many CNU students who haven’t taken that Anthro course, and they are so dumbfounded by that fact it makes me want to vomit. If we aren’t telling each other the truth — the whole truth — then are we really being Captains? Are we really, honestly moving higher and farther?
I definitely know there’s way more to this situation and way more possibilities for change, but change isn’t something that happens overnight. You have to start out small, and then eventually work your way into making larger structural changes. We, as the CNU student body, need to make sure that we don’t experience a similar issue in addition to preventing subtle acts of racism from occurring on our campus. Telling minorities, who may or may not be our good friends, things like, “Oh, you’re not black, you’re white,” or asking multiracial/Asian-American students where they’re really from are things we can do on campus to help prevent that, along with making sure our professors don’t single out minority students on campus by asking them how blacks or Latino/as feel about certain situations. A lot of times, racism is ingrained, and it’s hidden so that we continue to do those things without realizing what we’re doing is wrong. I’m not saying that this has happened on our campus, just that it shouldn’t. And if it has, it needs to stop. If being a Captain means that we live at a higher standard, we go above and beyond for each other and those around us, then we need to be the leaders we’re told to be and take a stand.
Another thing we need to take away from this is that an institution as a whole is not defined by the actions of one student. My sophomore year of high school, a student was hazed and murdered at VSU, but the school didn’t shut down, and people my senior year of high school accepted admission offers. People on our campus who continue to perpetuate the idea that ODU is ghetto and dangerous should probably check themselves before making overarching statements. I’ve had countless neighbors who didn’t realize that CNU was no longer a community college and ask me where I’m transferring to because I needed to be at a school that would challenge me more — but that doesn’t mean that I think my school is dumb or lesser than universities near us, like William & Mary or Virginia Wesleyan.
We’re all college students, experiencing similar struggles, and we can’t change the world if we don’t work together to do so.