“We hope that this message didn’t offend you. We’re very sorry, and we promise we won’t do it again.” According to Lawrence Ross, renowned lecturer and bestselling author, statements like this one often follow racist incidents on college campuses, but they do not actually confront the problem of racism.
On Wednesday, March 14, Ross spoke to a room full of students in a lecture he titled “Know Better, Do Better: Campus, Racism, and You.” The event, hosted by the Undergraduate Government of Boston College's AHANA+ Leadership Council, addressed the prevalence of racism on campus and called students, faculty, and administrators to action.
Early on in his lecture, Ross laid out what he considers the founding principles of the United States: freedom, democracy, free-market capitalism, and white supremacy. He added, “One of the lies that we tell in history class is that slavery is America’s original sin. That’s not true. America’s first sin is white supremacy.”
What is white supremacy exactly? According to Ross, “It is a pseudo-science, a philosophy that is designed to allow Europeans to exploit non-Europeans by stripping non-Europeans of their humanity.” White supremacy is so integrated into society that, to many people, it often becomes invisible. If we don’t feel the effects of it directly, we don’t have to think about it. And if we don’t have to think about it, we can pretend it’s not there. But white supremacy touches all of us, even if we don’t recognize it.
It is white supremacy that results in systemic and individual racism, both on and off of college campuses. Campus racism, Ross stated, can be broken down into four areas: legacy of segregation and anti-affirmative action, campus symbolism, fraternities/sororities, and racial micro-aggressions. Despite the harm in all of areas, they are repeatedly trivialized by those looking to justify inequality.
Almost 90 percent of college and university presidents believe that race relations on their campuses are “good” or “excellent,” according to a survey by Inside Higher Education in 2016. How is this the case when we repeatedly witness students using racial slurs or insinuating that students of color don’t belong on campus? Ross shows that there is a huge disconnect between what is happening on college campuses and what administrators see.
Racism on campus is often used to maintain a sense of dominance, after deciding, “who has the natural right to be human, and who we are okay denigrating.” Campus racism is not new, since colleges and universities have practiced diversity without inclusion for years. Ross pointed out the classic image of a diverse group of students constantly represented on college brochures, but he questioned why these students were not being equally valued in day to day life on campus.
“Campus racism is not a benign issue. Campus racism makes people drop out of school. Campus racism makes people think that their school doesn’t have their back. Campus racism makes people think, ‘Why am I coming here?’”
How can students confronted with these racist incidents—those at University of South Carolina, University of Southern California, University of Hartford, Oklahoma State, Drake University, Texas A&M, Kansas State, and right here at Boston College, to name a few—take action?
Ross explained that eliminating racism on BC’s campus requires everyone to be invested in making a change. He added that racists do racist things, while non-racists, which Ross considers the most dangerous, watch racists do racist things and then rationalize them. With this is mind, Ross challenged his audience to be anti-racist by standing up and speaking up, humbling yourself and having empathy, and not being afraid to be considered stupid while working for justice.
Campus activism is a continuous fight. To make a real change, Ross suggests, “You have to make people see you.”