by Brian Davis
Before I came to Penn State, I had a well-grounded understanding of being Black in the United States. America was founded on white supremacy, self-deception, and the exploitation of Native Americans and Africans stolen from the continent of Africa. Race, as a social construct, was created to subject me to slavery, the most punitive environments, state violence, and unending systematic oppression. The culmination of slavery on paper, ending in 1865, led to radical reconstruction. The Reconstruction of White Supremacy, that is. I do not say this to undercut the triumphs of black people in the South; I say this in particular to acknowledge the re-establishment of white order and the confiscation of the rights gained by black people in the South. As bi-racial coalitions emerge throughout the south in the post-reconstruction period, this represented a threat to the Democratic Party. The illegitimate authority of the south — the Ku Klux Klan and other white paramilitary groups — worked to organize their grassroots terrorism via lynching, raping, pillaging, and infringing on blacks’ rights to vote. The 1890s epoch of the nation-state created the highest stage of white supremacy: segregation. Segregation or American Apartheid was an effort by the south to keep blacks ensnared in a second-class citizen status, leading to the separation of blacks from all white facilities, denied suffrage, and financial resources. This is the inception of ‘whites only’ and ‘colored only’ signs throughout the American Apartheid epoch.
In a time of Trump epoch, I’ve been taken back to Jim Crow segregation. The Daily Collegian wrote an article highlighting my efforts in reducing institutional racism at Penn State University. The article was written to capture a book I created for Penn State called the Penn State Treasure. This is a resource guide for first-year and change of campus students of color. A dearth of resources for students of color, high retention rates compared to low graduation rates, and the lack of institutional support was the antecedents for the publication. Many students came to me on the first day of classes mentioning I was featured in The Daily Collegian. Once I grabbed a copy from the HUB, I put it in my book bag and decided I’d read it later. However, my mentor, Carlos Wiley, Director of the Paul Robeson Cultural Center, asked me if I read the paper. I said, “Not yet.” He said, “ Read it and tell me what you see.” After perusing through the paper, it said verbatim:
“It’s no wonder Brian Davis, senior editor for “ Penn State Treasure”—a guide created to inform colored students of the opportunities and resources available to them..”
This is not acceptable under any given circumstances. Several questions emerged after reading this ahistorical, imprudent, emotionally debilitating, unsolicited comment by The Daily Collegian reporter. At the outset, she mentioned she did not know the difference between colored students and students of color. Originally, I thought to myself, how is it 2017 and she didn’t know the dichotomy between the two? But I came to my socio-historical consciousness and realized, at best white privilege allows for this context to reveal itself at a given moment. But I also thought to myself, how many other reporters have the same idea that the two terms are synonymous? When the editor read the paper before it was printed, did they not catch the racist rhetoric of the story? What adds more insult to emotional, social, and physical injury is the response after I addressed the reporter. In response to their ahistorical comment, The Daily Collegian’s website said:
“The language of this article has been updated to more accurately convey the message of Brian Anthony Davis.”
As a reader, before you see this as an attempt to redress the situation, you must understand the underlying message. This is not an apology for what happened, this is saying without formality, “ We are writing this because a student of color got mad. We had no intention of apologizing as a newspaper, so changing colored students to students of color reflects his message, not our message.” This response is unsatisfying, and humiliating on behalf of The Daily Collegian.
This is a teaching moment. This is a moment, in the era of Donald Trump, where the privilege pot must no longer boil. As a white person, in America, you must understand the perils of privilege. The privilege was created so you can never understand a person of color who is a victim of, subjected to, constantly being oppressed by the United States. The message I received from the asinine remark made by the reporter is a message worth examining. It does not matter how much black people progress, how much access we are given at an institution, it does not matter how many degrees we get, it does not matter if we comply to a police officer, it does not matter if we win an Oscar, we are still under a white supremacist patriarchal system that perpetually oppresses us. To the reporter, The Daily Collegian, white students, staff and faculty at Penn State, Carter G. Woodson, the father of Black History month said, “If someone can control what you think, they don’t have to think about what you’ll do.”
Editor’s Note: You can read the Collegian article Davis refers to throughout this post online here. As is mentioned above, the phrasing “colored students” was removed from the digital version of the article.