Members of the Westminster College community gathered together on Jan. 16 to recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day with a march from Converse Hall down 2100 South. The march was just one event in a week full of events dedicated to celebrating King.
As part of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day commemorations, The Forum sat down with three members of the Black Student Union—President Ebony Tyler, sophomore justice studies and special education major; Angie Mock, junior political science major; and Josie Stoker, junior economics major—to discuss King’s legacy and equality and race on Westminster’s campus and beyond. Read the conversation here or listen to the audio for the full interview:
THE FORUM: What are you looking forward to when it comes to this week or maybe where you see Westminster and how Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy kind of fits into that?
STOKER: I’m excited that there’s actually several classes I know that are taking their first day of class to go see some of the keynotes, which I think is really awesome that they are taking… I mean, you don’t necessarily do a lot on the first day, but it is syllabus day and it is important to, like, get into the swing of things. So to have professors taking that time out of whatever coursework they had planned to help celebrate this week I think is really cool.
TYLER: I’m excited for the dialogues that are going to be happening, because they shouldn’t just be happening during this week. They should be happening continually, but this is a good place to start. And I’m just, like, excited to support everyone who’s put the time into making this week great. Hearing Dr. Barker speak.
THE FORUM: Do you think in classrooms, too, there will be more conversations?
TYLER: I think so.
MOCK: I hope so.
STOKER: I would hope.
TYLER: I mean, like we have these conversations all the time, but other people don’t.
THE FORUM: Do you notice that you often bring that up in classrooms?
STOKER: Always. And people ask, ‘Well, why do you make this about race?’ And I’m like, ‘It’s hard not to talk about race when these issues affect us so deeply.’
THE FORUM: Angie, what about you?
MOCK: I’m looking forward to just seeing, like, the events. So, like, outside of the classroom setting, [seeing] the events that the campus is going to put on. Different clubs. Like, I know BSU is going to be doing some things for Black History Month, definitely, but I think also MLK…
TYLER: Yeah, we’re helping Marco [assistant vice president of diversity and inclusion, Marco Baker] with MLK stuff.
MOCK: So to see what the campus does outside of classes in addition to what they do in classes and see how they, like, handle this week and the types of dialogues that they have. I’m interested to see how deep they end up going.
THE FORUM: What can you imagine for that?
MOCK: Not catering to, like, comfort whiteness in any sense at all. And like acknowledging hard truths if you will, for lack of a better term. And not trying to make it too soft and cushy and palatable when these issues are not.
STOKER: Because obviously we want to be having these conversations consistently and not assume, you know, just this week or just during the month of February. But at the same time it’s kind of nice to know that this is a time when some of us who are being forced to… Where it’s like if we want to have those conversations then we have to be the one to initiate it and we have to be the one to bring it up. And sometimes that’s really tiring, especially when you’re in spaces where people don’t necessarily appreciate your take on those types of things. So it’s kind of nice to have a week where you aren’t necessarily the one who’s always having to bring up those topics—where other people are willing to kind of…
TYLER: Yeah. Yeah. I see you.
STOKER: Where other people are kind of willing to come in and initiate those conversations as well. So, I like that.
TYLER: And while these conversations are happening we are often overlooked, but I think this week people are more willing to hear us out.
THE FORUM: Anything specific all of you would want to be ‘heard out’ on?
STOKER: I think my biggest thing is just how we remember MLK. So much of it is that he was this very passive, very quiet, very reserved person. But he wasn’t. And a lot of the things that we’re doing today are things that he was doing. But then when we do them today it’s, ‘Oh! MLK would, like, frown upon you for this, that, and the other.’ When in actuality, no. Like he was saying that you shouldn’t resort to violence automatically, but that he said rioting is the voice of the unheard. There’s so much discourse surrounding him, and it’s this false discourse. It’s this false idea that he was the perfect black man. This perfect… You know? But in actuality, he was a lot like the rest of us that are trying to do social justice work. And people nowadays just don’t want to admit that. But he was receiving the same backlash then as we are now. So it’s not like he was well-received because of his methods. Like we’re still, we’re still fighting the same fight, and I think a lot of people forget that.
MOCK: They try to like paint him over like with a lens of respectability.
STOKER: He was one of the good ones.
TYLER: He was one of the good black ones.
MOCK: As opposed to Malcolm X, of course.
THE FORUM: In what ways do you see society moving forward with MLK’s legacy, and in what ways do you not?
STOKER: I think it’s moved forward and lived on through different groups in different movements. Then at the same time we’re still being held back because those movements, while they are the same, the labels have changed and society continues to, you know, treat them the same way that similar movements were being treated during the civil rights era. For example, the Black Lives Matter movement would be obviously the biggest example of that. Where it’s very much a movement that has been happening over and over again for generations and then this generation, that’s just the name that we have given it. But then at the same time, people are coming back with all this backlash like, ‘Oh, what’s this new movement? This new thing that you’re trying to do?’ When in actuality, it’s the same movement we’ve had. That’s just what our generation has named it now.
TYLER: And like you see these movements are always criminalized. We’re constantly being told, ‘You’re demanding too much. You’re pushing too far. You’re being violent. You need to make whatever it is you’re doing more palatable to your oppressors, your white audience…’ If we’re going to see change, we can’t do that.
STOKER: I think the biggest thing along with making things more palatable is definitely that… What’s that one quote? It’s something about privilege. ‘To the privileged, equality feels like oppression.’ And that’s very much the situation we’re in, where it’s people getting so frustrated about, ‘Oh, I feel like my rights are being taken away. I feel like oh, now I’m becoming a minority, and I’m this, that and the other.’ One, that’s not what’s happening. And two, like is there something wrong with that?
TYLER: Like, why are you so scared?
STOKER: But you’re not willing to admit that there’s a problem?
And then simultaneously it’s that people expect that they can still be… Like ‘Oh, yes. Maybe we should give all of these other marginalized peoples their rights.’ But they don’t want to come down a notch. It’s kind of like we have to be able to meet in the middle. Because there’s no way for there to still be this level of whiteness along with like the patriarchy and heteronormativity and all of these things cannot continue to exist the way that they do if we are going to truly have equality.
And I think that’s a hard pill for a lot of people to swallow. Even people who do appear or at least think that they are advocates of equality don’t understand that, well, that means they don’t get to sit up there on their little throne anymore. And a lot of people don’t really… don’t really understand that. Because they feel like ‘Oh, if I’m losing anything, even the smallest amount of anything that I didn’t necessarily work for, deserve or need in the first place, then now I’m being oppressed.’ When that’s not the case.
MOCK: Sometimes it’s not even necessarily the loss of anything other than… They’re not losing any rights. They’re just losing the exclusivity to those rights. Which isn’t really a loss of anything, if you really think about it.
STOKER: They’re just losing their throne, they’re not…
MOCK: They have nothing to lose at all.
TYLER: I look at equality… It’s like equality is nice in theory. But I think before we can have equality, we need to have equity. I think people need to be equitable first. I think everyone’s needs need to be met, and once we have that, then we can achieve equality. But people will talk about equality, equality, equality, but they aren’t thinking about what it necessarily takes to get there.
STOKER: Because it’s very much like, ‘Isn’t it enough for me to… I have black friends. I treat them right. I’m not racist.’ And it turns into this dialogue of, ‘Isn’t it enough?’ Rather than ‘What else can I be doing?’ It’s kind of like people just hoping they meet the bare minimum. Because it seems like it’s enough that it’s like, ‘Oh, I treat you the same as I treat everyone else. So that’s equality, right?’ When, you know, if history was erased, then white people had a 400 year head start. So that’s where we’re coming in. So it’s not equal for people to come in and suddenly be treating us exactly the same when for so long we’ve been put so far back.
MOCK: And I think conversations surrounding equality and racism are interesting. One thing that I remember… Someone wrote, ‘We’re damn lucky that black people just want equality and justice and not revenge, because if that’s what they were going for we’d be completely fucked.’
STOKER: I’ve never heard that before.
MOCK: Surrounding, like, conversations about equality and race, a lot of times I feel like people will avoid having those conversations not because they don’t necessarily care or because they are like really, really, really racist, but because ‘racist’ and ‘racism’ are such buzzwords that people like…
STOKER: ‘I, racist? Me?’
MOCK: Yeah, ‘I, racist? I’m not a racist.’ Saying, ‘Oh, what you said was racist’ does not mean, ‘You’re a Klansman.’ People need to like, get to the point where they can hear, ‘Oh, what you said was racist. Like, maybe don’t say that again. Also an apology would be nice.’ And go, ‘Oh shit. I’m sorry. I won’t do it again. Let me know if there’s anything else that I’m doing that’s bad.’ Without having to jump to their own defense and feeling the need to jump to their own defense and say, ‘Well, I’m not a racist, therefore everything I do is also not racist.’ That’s not quite the way the dominos fall.
STOKER: It’s very much about protecting themselves rather than, you know, protecting the people they are supposedly trying to help.
MOCK: We all just need to admit to ourselves that racist thoughts and racist actions and racist words are going to exist and we’re going to perpetuate them at some point and we just need to work to get better.
STOKER: People think that there aren’t, like, levels of racism. They assume, like, ‘Oh, if I don’t want like, all black people dead then I’m not racist.’ Or ‘If I don’t want everyone from Mexico to be deported then I’m not xenophobic.’ And things like that. When in actuality there’s different levels of things. So you can’t… It’s kind of like that ‘is it enough?’ Rather than doing what you can it’s very much like, ‘Oh, I’m doing the bare minimum so I must not be racist.’
What is that fallacy? Where it’s like… If there’s no… It’s like the all or nothing fallacy. Where there’s no in between. Either it’s completely racist and you’re part of the KKK, or you’re not racist at all no matter what you said. So…