Black Mizzou: We Are The Elite


The University of Missouri, better known as Mizzou, has a sea of problems.  The biggest problem being systemic and blatant racism, classism, and gender based violence.  My alma mater has been in the news over the last few years and few of the reports are positive.  

I graduated in December 2012.  I spent 3 and ½ years actively working against campus and community racism and sexual and domestic violence against women.  I was involved passionately in the school’s NAACP, RSVP (Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention), LBC (black student government) and more.  So while recent news seems to be ‘exposing’ how oppressive Mizzou has become, it has always had those elements.  Mizzou’s first accept black student, Lloyd Gaines, subsequently went missing after his lawsuit (Read about Gaines Now).  My point is, this is nothing new. (check out my old blog from the college days).

Students of color who choose to go to PWIs (predominantly white institutions)  must go into it knowing that they will not fit in.  You must acknowledge that for every nice and liberal white person you meet, there is one closet or blatant racist in the crowd.  There will be classes where you are the only black person.  There will MANY, MANY times where your response will represent ALL black people to those ignorant white students.  For those of us that grew up in poverty, you will also have to deal with your financial hardship in a sea of spoiled, rich kids.  Some of your well off peers will only work to pay for booze, while you struggle to pay for a meal.  It can be frustrating. There will be times where you wonder why you have to work so hard.  (Please read Nikki Giovanni’s, College Racism 101,  It is required reading  here ). 


All that being said, I (overall) LOVED going to Mizzou.  I made some of the best friends of my life.  I had some of the best opportunities.  I made lifelong connections with some of my professors.  I can only speak on MIZZOU, but we had (and from what I have heard still has) one of the strongest black communities I have ever witnessed.  The desire to fit into the rest of the Mizzou community was non existent because we had our own.  We had our own student government, professional organizations, choir, homecoming, events, parties, etc.  We had our own midday meeting area.  We had our own twitter hashtag.  I know that some of, if not all of this, is a part of the systemic racism black students at mizzou have had to endure over time but we successful and excelled in spite and despite all of this.  


Similarly to HBCUs, we had the opportunity to connect to Black excellence in a way that endures longer than the college experience.  It is our constant reminder in a sea of whiteness that we are absolutely amazing.  I went to college with people that not only went on to be business men and women, lawyers, teachers, doctors and nurses but actors, artists, entrepreneurs, authors, social media coordinators, journalist, and more.  I am soooo proud of every single person I got to know at MIZZOU and those I didn’t know.  We exude excellence and magic and joy.  We didn’t just become successful for ourselves but for our community.  Many of us still volunteer, or work in non profits.  

I know that this does not undo all of the negative aspects of MIZZOU and other PWIs but it shows you how strong we are.  Its shows how little we need to fit into mainstream society (whatever that means).  I am a teacher now, and when my students ask me about my experience at Mizzou, this is what I tell them.  I tell them that society may treat them  as if they don’t belong.  As if they do not have the capacity to be great without assimilating.  It will make them feel inferior at times but they are not.  They are the strongest people most of the world has ever seen.  They are creative and compassionate.  They are logical and calculating.  They won’t fit in because they were made to stand out.  


My fellow Mizzou Alum, y’all taught me that.  You all taught me that we are beautiful and tough.  We are educated hustlers.  We are spiritual and hold knowledge beyond our years.  I love you guys.  I love all of the future Mizzou tigers too.  Keep your head up.  Don’t give up and Mizzou is just as much yours as the rest of the students.

-Imani

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Baltimore: Is it Necessary?

source: Washington Post
source: Washington Post

The last year has been eye opening for many people. The black American plight officially made it past the boundaries of this country and is open for the entire world to see. While the rest of the world is finally seeing the struggle the black Americans still go through, black people have always been aware. We are always reminded of the color of our skin; whether it’s in the classroom, at the store, walking down the street or with a group non-black friends. No matter how good you are, it is never quite good enough to prove to the world the worthiness of black people. If you are a successful black man or woman, you are believed to be the exception. You are not really representing blacks. We are always reminded the much of the world views us as inferior.

Freddie Gray
Freddie Gray

The murders of people of color by officers over the past year have been amplified. These acts of brutality aren’t new but thanks to social media and technology, it is no longer just the problem of blacks. Growing up we knew better than to trust the cops. We wouldn’t call the police unless it was absolutely necessary. The black community and law enforcement have had strained relations long before now.

Source: USA TODAY
Source: USA TODAY

Many people are criticizing the acts of youth in Baltimore right now, the same way the criticized the youth in St.Louis. I refused to do that. Right now teenagers of color have it bad. They are being taught in classrooms that they aren’t shit. The government reminds them that they are worthless everyday when more money is invested in the prison system than in their schools and communities. As a youth worker, I’ve had discussions with teenage boys who had no desire to dream because they knew for most of them it wasn’t worth it. Many black teens have accepted that they may not live past 24 and that their days as a free man are limited. Prison has become an accepted right of passage. Violent encounters with the police are expected. Living in poverty with no access to health care is the regular. So excuse them for not giving a damn. Excuse them for their refusal to respect the institution that doesn’t respect them.

Personally, I think they have it right. They have the right to be angry. They are the main targets. Those who hate people of color are trying to eliminate POCs while they are young. Black youth are choosing to go out fighting over laying down. They are challenging an unjust and illegitimate authority. I fear for them just as much as I am proud of them. I want them to know that they have power. They can change their own lives. They can make a difference. The youth are so often ignored and silenced and now they refuse to be. I admire it.

Source: Madam Noire
Source: Madam Noire

I wish things could be peaceful, fair and just. I wish that peaceful protest garnered as much media and political attention as the riots and uprisings did. We don’t live in that world right now. A friend of mine told me a long time ago to be a hellraiser and to raise hellraisers. He told me that polite people don’t incite change, only those who are willing to disrupt the comfort of those in power can. I think today’s teenagers are hellraisers. I believe that they know where the world should be and they will continue to push the world to that level.

Is the violence, looting and destruction of property necessary? History has taught us that every great revolution has two sides: the violent and non violent. So to answer the question, I would say yes. Yesterday’s events in Baltimore were necessary. The events in Saint Louis (Ferguson) were necessary, LA was necessary. That being said, we still need the other side. We need those leaders that call for calm. We need those who will redirect the anger of the youth. We need those who are willing to stand in front of storefronts to protect the community’s businesses. Together both sides have a role. They balance each other. So, I can admit that the violence and destruction of property is necessary. It has a role to play in the growing revolution.

Ending Police brutality is just the first step. We will eventually break down the foundation of the system that oppresses people of color. Poverty will no longer determine a person’s health or ability to be successful. It is not just about Mike Brown, John Garner or Freddie Gray. It is about setting a group of people free that have been enslaved since the slave trade.

I could go on forever about the subject. Instead I will suggest some readings.

The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

Nigger by Randall Kennedy

Black Boy by Richard Wright

Revolutionary Suicide by Huey P. Newton

Motorcycle Diaries I and II by Che Guevarra

Angela Davis, An Autobiography by Angela Davis (she also have several books on prison injustice.  I have not read them yet).

*Yes, I have read them all.  I am recommended them because they give different perspectives throughout time of the effects of racism, poverty, classism, etc.

Being Black v. Being A Woman

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When I was in college, a friend and myself were educators of relationship and sexual violence prevention (RSVP) for our university.  As you can imagine, a group of educators for RSVP issues are full of activist and young people motivated by what I call ist-isms (think all things political and justice related).  My friend and I often discussed feminism and what it meant to be a feminist.  While we were both women of color, my friend identified as a feminist and was motivated mostly by women’s issues and rights.  On the other hand, I had always identified more with being black than I did with being female.  At the time I was heavily involved in activism for black civil rights and equality. I never felt that my gender held me back significantly or that I was being stereotyped or mistreated because of it.  I have, however, felt the differences in how people treat me and others based on their skin color.

Our differences in what we identified with more always stimulated great conversations on feminism and its history and relevancy to the black woman.  In some ways, it felt like the issues plaguing race trumped the issues plaguing gender.

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Black women are in a unique category of oppression. (Get a brief explanation on intersectionality here –> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intersectionality).  Our gender has been and can be used in a manner to oppress us and hold biases towards us.  Our blackness does the same.  It may just be me but when fighting for justice and equality, it sometimes felt like I had to pick one.   Historically, feminism was about the liberation of white middle class women.  Feminism was about giving them choices and options about how they lived their lives, the type of education they had and the decisions being made in the home.  Feminism in its early stages left out women of color and women in poverty.  Traditionally, women of color and women in lower economic classes never had the choice to stay home.  Black women have always had to play multiple roles; provider and nurturer.  The differences in lifestyle often led to and still does lead to a disconnect.

White women will never completely be able to understand the additional plights women of color have.  They will never get the stereotype of being an angry black woman.  They don’t have to deal with the media stereotyping and advertising products to single mothers.  They have not had centuries of being hypersexualized.  They won’t know the stress and fear that black mothers have had since the beginning of America’s history regarding the safety of their children.

Black women deal with a lot.  We are one of the most degraded and disrespected groups. We are often overly sexualized by the media while simultaneously considered the most unattractive group by some mainstream media groups.  Black women are more likely to become single parents and to never be married.  Many of the stereotypes that we deal with are so deeply engrained in society that even we, ourselves, sometimes carry it with us.  We can at times view other black women as unapproachable, angry, or bitter.  For many of us, our idols growing up looked nothing like us.  We have become a bit of a media joke with all the reality shows centered around ridiculous and immature black women. In today’s trash television mecca, black women are portrayed as unable to evolve into “civil” behavior.  When these images show successful business women and decorated musicians getting into all out brawls, what is the message they expect the world to take? Black women not only have to prove to outsiders that this is not an accurate portrayal of us, but we have to prove to ourselves too.

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While there are things white women will never have to worry about, we do share commonalities.  Women across the board are subject to lower pay wages than their male counterparts.  Women have a higher risk of being sexually assaulted in their lifetime than men.  Women also have a higher chance of being blamed for being attacked.  In other countries, women’s education, safety and development are blatantly ignored and in some cases purposely derailed. As women, we have many bumps in the road.  The older I get, the less I see the struggles as different entities and the more I realize the importance of changing  them all. As an adult, I definitely see the areas traditional feminism misses but I also recognize the importance it has played in the lives of women everywhere.

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What it means to be a black woman changes from woman to woman.  We all identify differently and we all will represent ourselves in the way that makes us feel most comfortable.