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

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.