Sitting in silence: Discussing racism as a community

Jonathon Hogan
Opinion and News Editor

RC students gather to discuss their viewpoints.

RC students gather to discuss their viewpoints.

I’m nervous as I drive to get pizza. My hands are shaking as I impatiently sit in my car and hope I can get back in time. I’m frustrated that I’m not as prepared as I feel I should be. “God, just show up and help us all out,” I think.

This is a glimpse into my feelings as I prepare a group of five students for a “roundtable discussion” on the Charlottesville incidents and race. I can’t get the images of that day out of my head — or the trauma it unleashed. Like a soldier scarred by the sounds of war, I cannot hear anything else but the chant, “You will not replace us!”

Thankfully I’m not the only one; others cannot leave that moment of history. Three black and three white, we sit at two uneven tables with pizza and Sierra Mist before us. We watch a “Vice” interview, which depicts the events in Charlottesville. After watching, we just stare at one another.

The video is nasty and raw and all too real. Elle Reeve, correspondent of Vice News Tonight, interviews white nationalist leaders Christopher Cantwell, Robert Ray, David Duke and Matthew Heimbach. The reporter stands with the white nationalists as they protest and others counter protest.

What’s shocking is the hatred. What’s horrible is the reality that people still believe this.

In tears and anger and shell-shock, we begin to talk.

“The right to exercise the freedom of speech is a God-given right… but I can fault them for speaking an opinion that has no place in the world,” Junior Courtney Cronin said in our first round of discussion. She holds her pen tightly and grasps at her bracelet with the other.

“Yes, they had a right to be there legally, but they overstepped their bounds.” Courtney concludes.

“The freedom of speech runs out after the moment things get violent,” senior Alex Link said. His traditional joking manor is gone; this is real.

“It’s upsetting to see everyone has lost their damn mind.” Alex finally says frustratedly.

Junior Jadera Perdue said, “I felt like I was watching a movie… there’s such a strong hate for things people cannot change about themselves… I don’t understand why you feel you have something to fight for when it’s been something you’ve had your whole life.” She stares at the table for a long moment while she speaks.

“I don’t know why they have to feel like they have to fight for their rights…,” she continues. “Growing up as a young black girl you knew white people were given better opportunities than you were.”

“My other problem is I don’t know how we can fix it,” Jadera says. “It has escalated to a point that… we are actually divided… [Violence is] the only thing that’s gonna stop this.”

I turn to sophomore Kameron Allen and ask him what he thinks. I don’t think I’ve seen him move much in the 15 minutes since Alex, Courtney and Jadera started talking.

“[That] wasn’t American… they’re Nazis, [America] beat Nazis… [America] fought the South, [America] beat the South… we’re not here to hurt you… there’s no one on earth who wants to wipe any race off the face of this earth except for [white supremacists] ,” he said quickly and passionately.

“What we’re trying to say with Black Lives Matter is ‘we matter’… we want to matter.” Kameron says at long last.

It’s perhaps the most honest confession I’d heard. We want to matter. We want to feel as if this world has a place for us. We want to know we actually belong and aren’t just tolerated. Kameron’s words sounded much more like a cry for help than an angry rant.

“The reason it’s a race issue is because we neglect it’s an issue of economical status,” Alex adds.

“When it began, I thought the Black Lives Matter movement was a great movement because it made a statement ‘Black Lives Matter...’ ” adds Alex, a man of mixed racial heritage. As he sees it, the Black Lives Matters’ movement has some great things to say, but the polarizing effect of the name does have consequences. For Alex, those realities have been very personal.

“I’ve been told I don’t know what it’s like to be black. I’m just as black as you are! I’ve been called the ‘n word’ by family members! The use of the word Black Lives Matter is poisoning their own cause,” he said.

So, maybe race isn’t as obvious as I’d thought. To hear black and mixed people debate the Black Lives Matter movement caught me for a moment. I listened in and waited for where the discussion would go from there. It went all around the Black Lives Matter movement, but it centered on one key principle.

“We need white people, we need Asian people, we need Mexicans!” Jadera exclaims.

Kameron reminds the group, “It wasn’t just black people who marched with MLK… it was all races.”

So what do we do? I posed that question to everyone, and different thoughts were expressed.

“We need more things like MLK ‘I have a dream’…  I am for this… being for something peacefully and not meeting other movements with resistance,” Courtney says.

Alex surmises, “It’s about treating people with respect… if you continue to live your life in a way that respects you and everyone else around you… what are they gonna say about you that won’t make them look like an utter fool?”

“We don’t need to hate each other,” Kameron says. “Alex you’re black and white… we can do this… eventually it’s gonna be fine.”  

Jadera says, “It “starts with having these conversations… wherever these conversations go… we need to make sure that we are going to be open to someone who has a completely different mindset from us… it starts with meeting people in the middle… if we don’t do that… nothing will happen.”

“I think we need to move past this… we need to change the country by the people we are… and who we want to be,” said sophomore Brendan Bordine. He was mostly quiet through the conversation, but vocal at the end.

This conversation between six RC students is only a beginning point. Charlottesville has opened a gaping wound in our nation and in our communities. White and black people agree racism is wrong, and we have a ideas how to fix it. This conversation can still feel like an end point, but it isn’t. As we all sat and talked with one another, we were all filled with one feeling: hope.

Rebellions are built on hope. Change is built on hope. I want every member of this community to sit and talk with each other about issues like this. We have more than enough people, white, black, mixed, or otherwise to find those different from us. Talk about this issue like we did and find ways to change the world because of it. We all agreed that we cannot stay the same way we were before Charlottesville, and this is just one way to make a change.