Reminiscing a past weekend, Ryant Taylor outlines why OU activists do what they do.
On Saturday night I stood in a kitchen with a boy, yelling over the music in another room. The conversation started with him verbally stumbling while explaining how Fall Semester’s “Blood Bucket Challenge” had made him uncomfortable. Our dialogue shifted to race when he said that he, as a moderate, didn’t understand the riots in Ferguson or how extremists, like me, could understand. I repeatedly tried to explain to him the complexity of being a minority in America and how having our experiences being reduced to something debatable affects us. I told him it was about more than the f--king news.
It was about the reality of the world I inhabit as a gay, black male. It was about the homophobes in my Jamaican family joking about gays burning in hell. It was about how my mother thinks of Trayvon Martin or Michael Brown every time I leave her sight. It was about the white clerk that followed me around a store when I was 9 years old to make sure I wouldn’t steal anything. It was about White America having the power to ignore a racial caste system driven by the War on Drugs, police officers that stop and frisk in a discriminatory manner and police departments with budgets dependent upon seizing property. It was about our country equating criminality to blackness.
That night, my friends watched my spirit nosedive as I tried to express my unwavering fear as a black person in America to this person. But once again, he told me that his "moderate perspective" blocked him from seeing my side. His points often returned to the two white cops who were killed by a single, self appointed vigilante in NYC. I cannot fully explain to you how exhausting it is to live this reality — to know that the color of my skin makes me dispensable to society. There are others that feel this way too.
Eventually I had to walk away. I went upstairs to the darkness as the band continued to play. My collision with apathy had caused something inside me to explode. If I couldn’t prove my reality and passion to him, how would I ever be able to prove it to anyone? The world was not the resilient family of radicals that I surrounded myself with. The realization that my humanity was not enough to sway his mindset broke me. Before he left, he said with the best of intentions, "Sorry for pissing you off." I told him that I would talk to him again.
This is not to say that his opinion is the most important. It is saying that when someone is an activist they have to understand that there will always be people who have good intentions, but will stand by as suffering occurs. The cause is not worthy to them or they are afraid. Activists have to understand that this is the mindset of those that stood by as the Jews were herded into concentration camps, as Muslims were called horrible slurs after 9/11 or as some people stayed silent as their friends joked about rape. These humans inadvertently turn away from the truth when we need them the most.
On Friday of last week at the Civil War Monument on College Green, students gathered in disbelief and rage over the Board of Trustees’ approval of Guaranteed Tuition. Rev. Evan Young from United Campus Ministry told the crowd that we were in a line of people doing “thankless work.” He commended our efforts and then quoted Frederick Douglas, who said “Without a struggle, there can be no progress.”
I will never forget that moment because it reassured me that we, as activists, were doing the right thing because we were doing it for each other. We were connected because we refused to stand by as others suffered and we didn’t want to. This is why we struggle against apathy. This is why we pick ourselves up even as we are told by our own administrators to be civil and to wait — just like radicals before us. One of Ohio University’s values is civility, but due to the immediacy of our dilemmas, we cannot wait. We are angry. We are unsparingly human. We are ready to stand up for what we believe in and we are here to stay.
Ryant Taylor is a senior studying English, a coordinator for the Ohio University Student Union, LGBTQA commissioner for Student Senate, and an activist on campus. Email him at email@example.com.