In the past, I have witnessed the misinterpretation of diversity first-hand. When DeRay started discussing the underlying characteristics of the word “diversity” I thought I had gone to church for a second because he was preaching. I could not control the emotions that began to overtake my mind. I just wanted to get up and shout with him that “adding bodies does not change the culture of a place.” It does not contribute to the diversity when those bodies are exclusively limited. The modern day institutional thought is that they can only respond to incidents. The fact that these institutions, for example PWIs, believe that their only option is a “response” shows the lack of understanding they have for the intersectional theory. What they believe in is a choice, not a limitation. They are choosing to only respond; they are choosing to not put in the work; they are choosing to not be woke.
“This ain’t your average real talk.”
Those words stuck with me the minute they left Henry Washington’s mouth, President of the Black Student Alliance. What did he mean by that? I had only been to one or two other “Real Talk”s so I was not sure what to expect at this one. I listened intently as he discussed the agenda for the night and then he moved on to a series of questions that I found to be intellectually stimulating and appeared to evoke thoughts and emotions amongst the attendees of the event. I felt safe, I trusted the peers that surrounded me with seeing my choice, as I am about to reflect on now.
“Racism is prevalent at Duke”
I practically ran to the “Strongly Agree” side. To say, racism is at Duke is an understatement. It lives at Duke. That cannot be denied. As a first year, I already know it is embedded in the roots of the Duke community, entangled in the minds and hearts of the uneducated; it suffocates those who are just striving for their black excellence. I understand that racism can be found everywhere, but the incidents that have occurred over the course of the 2015 year cannot be masked by free t-shirts and “turn-ups” that are “lit af”. I look around, every single person is on the “Strongly Agree” side, every body, black or white, refused to deny the prevalence of racism at Duke.
“Under some circumstances it is acceptable for some white people to use the “n” word”
Nobody moves. I don’t move. I hate the word. I hate the “n” word, I don’t know how some people can use it, whether they are Black, Caucasian, Hispanic/Latino, Indian, or Asian. I’ve been called it, but I never liked being called it. I mean I am more comfortable when my Black friends call me it but I just feel that it should only be them really using it in an everyday setting. The word causes tension; the fact that you need a “card” to use the word if you are not Black should serve as reason to keep it to a minimum. The word is known to have a negative denotation but in some settings it changes into a positive connotation? Personally, that does not seem right to me. I am not a “nigga”, I am not a “nigger”, my name is Briana Kleiner and I am a mixed young woman, honored to be black and white, honored to have such a diversity in my family. And this is my real talk.
“I think it is the responsibility of black students to educate their white peers on racism”
I see confusion, some people stumble out of the crowd to go to the “Strongly Agree” side while I find myself drawn to the “Strongly Disagree” side. Why should I have the responsibility to educate my peers on the aspects of racism? It should be common sense for them to understand that I am not necessarily from “the hood”, that my parents are not in a business of manual labor,
that I can be educated and literate, that I am capable of being successful, that I am just. like. them.
“I think that black students are too critical of white students on issues of race”
If a white student was to commit an action that was racially aggressive, I believe that the black student has the right to be critical against them if it was blatantly deliberate. As a community, I believe that we have not been too critical of white students on the issues of race that have occurred. As a community we want to ensure our home, Duke University, is woke and stays woke. There is a difference in being woke and staying woke. As DeRay so eloquently put: “you weren’t born woke”. Understanding the significance and criticality of racial issues is common sense because of its prevalence in the United States. It is a part of history, therefore it should not be ignored, it should not be forgotten. For this reason, we have the Black Lives Matter because OUR lives matter because they are so often disregarded.
“The black community overreacts to issues they assume are racially motivated”
The only controversial issue I pondered as I briefly decided the side I would choose, was the word “assume”. Assumptions are in my opinion, the epitome of the demise of the human mind. We constantly are assuming and overthinking ourselves into conflicts, petty arguments, and periods of emotional imbalance that leave us isolated in our thoughts, trapped behind the closed doors of our minds. But when it comes to racial issues, I do not think those are being “assumed”. The recent incident of the defilement of a #BlackLiveMatter poster was a racially motivated issue, did we overreact as a collective community? No. Do I believe that Duke’s black community has overreacted in the past over possibly or actual racially motivated issues? No. Not at all. We react because we feel our safety is being threatened, we react because issues like this cannot be ignored. This is not us challenging or “seeking revenge” , this is us protecting one another, this is us being woke and STAYING woke. We react because we should not feel unsafe, unhappy, and disrespected at our home.
“I think that the hanging of the noose was racially motivated”
This will always be another debatable topic. During the week after my weekend visit to Duke for the Black Student Alliance Invitational back in March 2015, I was scrolling through my twitter and found countless comments with the attached image of the noose on my timeline. I was in shock. I could not believe that such a controversial object could be hung off the deck of Penn. Pavillion. I could feel the fear of the black community from my humble home in Connecticut as I awaited the punishment of the culprit. The safety of the black community was being questioned that week. The safety of the black community is being questioned daily. The safety of the black community is being questioned hourly. The safety of the black community is being questioned every minute. The safety of the black community is being questioned every second; it is being questioned right now. I did not let that incident discourage me from attending this prestigious institution. I gaze around the room and see people on both sides, I look upon them with respect for being true to their opinions because I was not here. My secondary knowledge validity does not compare to their physical experience of the incident on their campus. I continue to listen to each statement, maneuvering my way through the crowd, thoughts rushing through my mind. I felt like I was in a maze, lost in thoughts I had been encouraged to leave behind, to blocked by walls of façade that behind them held the truth that we had been hindered from for far too long.
“Standing up for justice is worth losing my job or career”
Yes. Yes. Yes. Strongly agree may be another understatement. Standing up for justice is always going to be worth losing my job or my career. Respect is not always given, it is earned, but when immorality is paired with ignorance, injustice is the only result. People who have no professional respect for others have no respect for themselves. The workplace is meant to be a community with a central goal: success. How can a business be successful if it does not work as a unit? As a collective group of intellectual individuals who should have been hired based on their credentials? “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. so brilliantly put. By allowing injustice wherever you may find yourself, you are allowing yourself to be victimized by inequality, silenced by its hands of segregation and condemnation.
“The fight for equality is worth my life”
The room scatters and time stands still. I can hear the slight inhalation of the tense air that has engulfed the group. Worth. Is it worth it? I hesitate but find my body drawn to the Strongly Agree side. If you are fighting for something, what is the purpose of fighting if you are not giving it your all? You fight for success; you fight to achieve a desired outcome. You fight for what you believe is right. Equality is right. Justice is right. The fight for equality is right. Sometimes you have to sacrifice, to bring about significant change. Sometimes you have to sacrifice, to be productive in the battle. Sometimes you have to sacrifice, to allow for life in the future. Sometimes you have to sacrifice, because it is something worth fighting for.
“I feel the fight for equality can no longer wait”
I sit down, still mesmerized by my rediscovered thoughts that had been filed away in the back of my mind for too long. DeRay snaps me back into reality when he says “be real with yourself”. In a world where we are chastised for being real with ourselves, it is challenging to bear the truth, to bear what is real. I listen to DeRay talk about engaging with members of a community he was visiting, talking about how he did not know their names but he knew their hearts… That he did not know their names but he trusted them with his life. Real talk: the fight for equality is more than just a battle “to be seen”, that is not the goal. We wish to be heard, to be free from being hindered in our strive for excellence, in our advocation of the truth: that we continue to face aggression because of the color of our skin. We wish to bring about a greater change, one that is violence free, but intellectually fulfilling in understanding the concept of intersectionality. A change with peace, love, and respect for our melanin.
Class of 2019