The recent student protests at the University of Missouri are part of a growing insistence amongst activist groups in America that black lives matter.
Unfortunately, those student protests also reveal that the honoring of black bodies is hardly a public priority unless those bodies are shoved beneath helmets and packed into padding for public entertainment on SEC Saturdays, and even then, it’s still done poorly.
Citing the University of Missouri’s administration’s long-term negligence of minority issues and a refusal to acknowledge minority student oppression, Mizzou’s black students, fed up, demanded for weeks— and, on Monday, succeeded in forcing— the resignation of university president Tim Wolfe. Led by Concerned Student 1950, an activist group named with a nod to the first black student to attend the University of Missouri in 1950, students refused to spend money that would give the university any extra revenue. They protested. They organized sit-ins. One student even held a hunger strike, claiming that it would end either with Tim Wolfe’s resignation or his own death.
I admit that I was skeptical. In the case of the University of Mississippi, it ain’t nothing to get a chancellor up out of here— if you’re the IHL Board, at least— and subsequently to be jaded by the echoes of the bells of rural racism that sound behind the apocalypse horn of positive societal change. I could only watch, sympathetic but still somewhat jaded, fearing that white supremacy would downplay black pain and step in the way of much-needed progress for a community reeling from racial unrest.
But then, when several of the 42 black men on the Mizzou football team pledged last Saturday not to play again until Wolfe resigned, there was action: Wolfe resigned.
And then, Twitter reaction: people were rude. Many Twitter commenters, mostly white, called for the expulsion of those players from the team so that they could be replaced by new players who would act, in their view, in a manner loyal to Mizzou’s best interests.
Luckily, reading comprehension affords us the ability to understand those comments as a request for those black men to be loyal to the status quo and white comfort instead of the necessary change needed at Mizzou for it to function as well as it should. Asking black students who play football to ignore racism, to suspend the part of their identities so often under attack to become colorless cogs in a machine that masquerades as post-racial is just an exercise in insidiousness substantiated by willful blindness. Though the black talent on football teams is bought, but not paid, the young men there are not workhorses for the comforts of white supremacy— that is, slaves. But when the helmets are off, the scholarships expired, they are still indeed black.
Though it is a relief that Mizzou’s coaches, “even the white ones,” in their own words, support those players who organized for the resignation of Tim Wolfe, it is unacceptable that whiteness too often only has compassion for black entertainers and black entertainment, but not the abuses pummeled against blackness itself. Fantasy football isn’t just played out on the internet amongst avid sports fans. Instead, it thrives inside stadiums and the bubble of comfort that insulates those privileged enough not to experience institutional racism from the real world of black people who aren’t rich, or famous, or athletes without jerseys on their backs to identify how much you should care about them.
Sierra Mannie is a classics student from Canton. You can follow her on Twitter @SKEEerra.