College Racism — Again

Graffiti was discovered warning that on Feb. 2, 2010, the safety of black students here on campus at Hocking College would be in jeopardy

said Hocking College president Dr. Ron Erickson, as reported by the Associated Press. A follow-up note stating “kill the [n-word]” was also found. At least two African American students have permanently withdrawn from the school, and numerous others have moved off-campus.
As reported by the Associated Press, campus spokesperson Judy Sinnott said

Any time that there are young people, you know, there’s going to be tension. Young people will be young people.

Let’s just be clear: Dismissing racial violence (expressed in words or in action) as just “kids being kids” sends a dangerous and clear message of who is protected and, hence, valued at the university, and who is not.

The news coverage (such as here ) reveals striking differences in responses from white students, who thought it was overblown and just a joke, compared to responses from African American students, who reported concern for their safety. In Two-Faced Racism: Whites in the Backstage and Frontstage (Routledge, 2007), Joe Feagin and I discuss the frequency of backstage racist joking among white college students who often dismissed it as “no big deal” as long as they didn’t get caught.

For these students in our research, racist joking was just part of the fun: There were no negative repercussions, and no connections to the larger racial hierarchy. A hostile racial climate could absolutely account for the ambivalent reaction by some white students at Hocking College.

The threats at Hocking College are absolutely a way of instilling fear. Whether or not the threats are carried out, it has already achieved the consequences desired by the person(s) who wrote the threat. The African American students likely did not withdraw simply due to fear of this isolated event, but we can speculate about a hostile racial climate on this campus, and sadly, on many college campuses across the country.American


  1. John D. Foster

    Thanks for the post, Leslie. The tendency of whites to dismiss threats against nonwhites needs more attention. I also found this is some of my research, such as one student who thought a group of white high schoolers hanging and burning a black doll in effigy from a tree on school grounds was just stupid and no big deal. Chris Matthews put his foot in his mouth again, this time following the SOTU, in which he actually said he had forgotten the Prez was a black man. That to me suggests a desire by Matthews and whites in general to see the Prez and Blacks in general to somehow lose their blackness.

  2. No1KState

    In Matthew’s defence, I think maybe only black people who don’t watch his show were really offended. I didn’t watch his apology on Maddow’s show cause I thought it was unnecessary. But prometheus6 has the clip embedded, so I may snip it their. Matthew’s is just a bit off in the head that way.

    To his credit, he’s teachable. During the Gates affair, initially he said even though the arrest was unwarranted (literally), he felt Prof Gates had over-reacted. But when challenged (by Dyson, I think) to imagine if it had been a black cop “big-footing” a white guy, who’d just got home after a flight from China landing at Newark’s airport, he would feel differently about the situation.

    To this Hookings College, much like whites’ overestimating the population of people of color, this is logic I just can’t grasp. I mean, I get it, but I don’t get it. Cause we all know, even the deniers and apologists, that if the tables were turned, the white students wouldn’t leave school . . . because they wouldn’t have to. Can you imagine the security, the retaliation, the media attention this would bring?! I mean, I could imagine more just 2 black students would’ve withdrawn permanantly. Such is white privilege.

    By the by, is there anyone here who really knows what’s going on in Philly? The headline grabber is that Asian American students were attacked by a group of primarily black classmates. (Primarily because a few of the attackers were Asian.) But even by Asian students’ own testimony, the problem isn’t just with the other kids, black or Asian. What’s up?

    • No1KState

      * That is, Matthew’s immediate visceral reaction after imagining the tables turned is that the cop would’ve been completely at fault, or rather, that the reaction of the imagined white civilan would’ve been justified.

      Matthews is just overly honest in a childlike way, sometimes. Sometimes it’s good, as with the Gates affair, sometimes it’s stupid, as with forgetting the president is black.

  3. John D. Foster

    I think there’s something important about context here as well; not sure if you watched it, but msnbc had a special hosted by Matthews with Tom Joyner about “Obama’s America,” hosted by Tex Southern (an HBCU). The crowd was pred black and the guests were pred nonwhites. I was impressed by a couple of remarks Matthews made about affirmative action and reparations, but then wondered why haven’t I seen more of this from him in all the episodes of Hardball I’ve seen over the years? Perhaps it’s whites actually KNOWING what to say around people of color, and then CHOOSING to be regressive when around other whites. If that’s the case, then the whole notion that whites are just ignorant of the facts due to segregation, poor schooling, etc, is out the window.


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