This past Monday, January 20, 2020, Bates College celebrated MLK Day through various workshops and performances. This MLK Day was title “From the Ground Up: Inequity, Bias, Privilege, Structure, and Death.” And instead of talking about my own experience, I thought it would be best to use my platform to show the Bates community why MLK Day is important to students of color.
“To me, MLK day is about so much more than just commemorating MLK. It is about recognizing the impact he’s had on this country and how his politics have changed the world. On top of that, this day provides us with the opportunity to recognize the labor, contributions, and doggedness of all folks who made the dream he envisioned possible. This is inclusionary of black women who did the work until the day they died.” Josh Redd ‘21
“MLK day allows for various and diverse discussion about marginalized voices and communities. It means a lot as students and faculty come together to facilitate these discussions that students and participants can talk with them” Precious Johnson ‘20
“I think that MLK day gives everyone the opportunity to talk about and interact with relevant issues that may not always be discussed in our classes. Like even though Bates is a liberal arts school, some classes/ departments don’t tackle things like race, equality or equity. It’s a chance for people to show that they care or they’ve willing to learn about these things and hopefully delve deeper into the cliché and surface level MLK rhetoric a lot of people were taught in school, like engage with King’s message and legacy in a way that can be uncomfortable and, hopefully transformative. I also think about it as a way to try to hold people accountable, like I look at the white/ non-black students who attend these workshops and hope these aren’t just presentations that they may need to attend for class credit or something. Like I think it’s a really important day, but also question how effective it is and what students are actually taking away from it. But try to hope for the best” Mayele Alognon ‘20
“It is reminder for me to step back and reflect on how far black people have come in their place in the society. Part of this reminder stems from the struggles that people of color have endured throughout history. I embrace MLK day it makes me proud of who I am and my identities.” Maya Church ‘20
“To mean MLK Day means realizing that people come from different backgrounds and taking the time to actually understand those differences” Jennifer Bouzy ‘21
“MLK day is a celebration of a revolutionary time period that commenced the start of the fight to achieve full rights of freedom and liberty for black people in America” Dawrin Silfa ‘21
“MLK day means a day of reflecting not only on our past but the ways in which we as a people have progressed. Reflecting on the ways in which injustice has taken different forms but also recognizing that we have the tools to dismantle any obstacle that crosses the paths of Black Americans.” Layla Dozier ‘21
The reasons why I shared so many quotes from students of color are because: 1) I wanted to recognize the duality of students from marginalized backgrounds not all being the same, but facing similar sentiments being at a predominantly white institution 2) I wanted to highlight the importance of allyship 3) I wanted to emphasize that MLK Day is more than just a day, it is a small part of a larger conversation.
For starters, I am defining duality similarly to that of a paradox. I believe that as an institution and a student body, we have to consider that students from marginalized backgrounds do not all experience race the same or gender or sexuality or classism. However, because these students are not white or cis-gendered or heterosexual or upper class, they are all devalued and oppressed in some form. The ways in which we see students from marginalized background isn’t always intersectional, even though it should be. These students are just put into one big circle of oppression, even if they face oppression at different rates. Now, the duality comes into play, because to an extent, this can be beneficial because it means more students have the opportunity to work together and dismantle the -isms that have cause trauma within their lives. However, the issue comes into play when identities are being forgotten, even though the oppression still exist for a specific identity. This MLK Day was supposed to remind us all of the forgotten, or as the Black Student Union put it “invisible identities.” It was to remind us that the only way to truly talk about oppression is through an intersectional approach. And if you think I’m not talking about this school, guess again. The workshop on “Dismantling the Dangers of White Feminism” talked about how our ideas about feminism even here in very white-washed and American-centric, while “A Discussion of Race and Bias In Lewiston Public Schools” made evaluate the racial and xenophobic bias we have about the Lewiston community.
Outside of recognizing the levels of marginalization, it’s important to note that students facing oppression shouldn’t always be the teachers. Some of the quotes listed previous indicated that what makes this day special, is that students and staff come together to discuss issues on oppression. Now, with that being said, this shouldn’t be a day where white students interrogate students of color, but instead they should come to the conversation with an open mind and an open heart, as well as hold themselves accountable for how they may participate and uphold systematic oppression. A big part of allyship is not only the ability to recognize that you have more privilege, but also putting yourself on the line so that people more vulnerable than you do not have to risk everything. Being an ally is about knowing that whatever punishment you get would be less harsh than those more vulnerable. It’s about addressing issues instead of waiting for the person who is being harmed to talk about that issue. It’s about continuing the conversation, so that students from marginalized backgrounds don’t feel neglected or alone. And that’s why this day is so important. This day is just the start of a much deeper conversation. We need allies to start speaking up more and putting themselves on the line because MLK Day is more than just about discussing -isms in a classroom, it’s about change.