By Erykah Benson
The Tower (Grosse Point, Michigan)
“I’m a reflection of the community.”
— Tupac Shakur
When white people tell black people to go back to Africa, it has never made sense to me.
Who do you think brought us here in the first place?
And yet, these words reverberate throughout our nation. We see them in black and white photos, haunting images of people stabbing the air with picket signs. We hear them from the mouths of angry people, present-day and fluent in hate-speech. We may even hear them from the mouths of sophomore boys. Students of Grosse Pointe South. Representatives and members of our own community.
I took a look at the recent racist Facebook video showing South students, who were sitting on a couch and expressing their plans for black people if they were elected president in the year 2040.
Their nonchalant conversation made me sick to my stomach. While allegations that they were under the influence spark argument of the students’ consciousness of their statements, their words still have consequences. I still felt the knife sting when my people were called “stupid.” Still it twisted deeper into my gut when my people were called “worthless.”
We are anything and everything but worthless. The nation itself was built on the sweat-stained, lash-worn backs of my people, through the blood, sweat and tears of my people, the long fighting and enduring of my people.
We’d love to believe people don’t think like that anymore. I thought we were past that. Perhaps our wishful thinking and constant denial keep us dangerously delusional to what’s truly happening under the surface.
Right when I feel like we’ve made a step forward, it seems we’ve taken two steps back. As a school, we have had our struggles this year in overcoming the strifes of prejudice in order to achieve a diverse sense of unity. For the first time in my life in high school, I saw Black History being recognized and celebrated, thanks to the hard work of the Black Association for Student Diversity.
We’ve overcome incidents of ignorance, by tackling hard issues like the Instagram post featuring teens wearing the N-word on their bodies. Through mature, respectful conversation we were able to turn something so negative into something constructive and positive.
And then this happens. And it feels like we are back to square one.
As a student, I feel ashamed. As a person of color, I feel wounded. I feel wronged. Is injustice a feeling passed down genetically, automatically, if your skin is brown? It shouldn’t be.
Now, as a staff member of The Tower, I am privileged to have a voice. Next year I have the privilege of leadership. As next year’s editor-in-chief of this newspaper, inseparable to its long 89 years of history, I will be the first black and Japanese student to have this title. And as editor-in-chief, I will ensure that The Tower is a paper where discussion about race and equality is held. We must spark conversation. We must promote openness in order to gain understanding. And through understanding, we can achieve The Dream.
Oh, did you forget The Dream?
Not too long ago, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who actually visited Grosse Pointe South once in his lifetime, dreamt of a world where all are welcomed. All are treated fairly. Respectfully. Regardless of the color of their skin.
I do not believe the statements made by the students in this video are a reflection of the beliefs of all students at South, nor all the members of the community. I do, however, believe each of our actions and words help to form the image of our community. And looking at the picture now, it seems we have a long way to go.
Just two days ago I sat in a discussion championed by students Zoe Evans and Logan Cholody, both ‘17. I sat in that meeting in Cleminson Hall with an overwhelming feeling of promise. I saw people who were exhausted of the same old, tired routine. I saw people who wanted change. Suggestions on how to improve the school bloomed from their minds. I saw their Dreams, their visions for what the school could be, a place where all are welcome and included.
Is The Dream an unattainable reality? I don’t think so. It’s possible. Through discussion? Perhaps. Through compassion? You bet. And while anger towards those who were in the video is easily the immediate reaction, understanding is the solution. We’re all capable of that. Let’s be honest with ourselves and look each other in the eye. Let’s not lose sight of what’s important here.
Let’s not forget The Dream.
Photo Credit: Patrick Marioné