Accountability’s Role in Battling Discrimination
The stories on the @DearMereCo Instagram page have shown the range of discrimination that Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) experience on Meredith’s campus. BIPOC students are asking that white faculty and students be held accountable for their actions, but many are wondering the best way to do so. Understanding the balance between accountability and education can be difficult, but it is key to addressing racism in our community.
Learning about racial injustice starts with understanding how it is impacting our community. The recent murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor have pushed white allies to educate themselves on systemic racism. Many of the resources shared are ones that focus on the common themes that exist throughout the U.S. Using these resources to understand higher incarceration rates among Black men or high rates of death during childbirth for Black women is helpful. However, discussing racism in the abstract ignores the issues most pressing in our community.
For example, COVID-19 cases in the U.S. have disproportionately impacted communities of color. In North Carolina, the Hispanic/Latinx community, which only makes up 9.3% of the state’s population, represents 46% of cases. This higher case rate can be attributed to several factors, including that members of the Hispanic/Latinx community make up a large portion of essential workers in the state, therefore increasing their risk of exposure to COVID-19. Additionally, according to the CDC, Hispanics are three times as likely to be uninsured and often don’t seek medical attention due to language barriers and systemic bias. This makes the Hispanic/Latinx community in North Carolina more susceptible to the virus and less likely to receive proper medical care. Identifying systemic issues such as these makes it easier to listen to the voices of marginalized members in our community. Too often, we relate racism to extreme acts where a person explicitly states their hatred. This fails to account for the significant role microaggressions and complicit behavior play in upholding systemic racism.
Racism is expressed in many different forms. One important thing to keep in mind when analyzing the stories shared by Meredith’s BIPOC community is that they have little to do with the intent of the perpetrators. From microaggressions to blatant harassment, these stories are meant to show the impact of unaddressed racism. These actions are perpetuated by ignorance and, whether it is willing or involuntary, result in BIPOC women feeling left out of Meredith’s sisterhood.
The only place where intent is truly taken into consideration is in accountability. Punishment in itself is the lesson of consequences and reprimanding those who have demonstrated racist behaviors establishes precedent for a safe environment for BIPOC students. However, not every consequence entails expulsion. Incidents involving harassment and physical threats are (seemingly) straightforward, but white faculty and students who act out of insensitivity or participate in exclusionary behavior must be held accountable as well. They have to own up to the impact of their behavior by exhibiting that it has changed. Part of the education process involves holding people accountable for their actions, so in order to address different forms of racism, different ways to hold white community members accountable must be established.
As a white person, retrospectively condemning racist behavior shows your growth. However, it isn’t enough to prevent actions that harm BIPOC women on campus. Dismantling oppressive systems requires you to hold everyone accountable with actions, especially people you interact with on a consistent basis. Knowing that something is wrong simply isn’t enough: you have to take action with that knowledge.
When white members of Meredith’s community are called to the carpet, give them the space to change. That change starts with acknowledging their past actions and directly apologizing to those they hurt. It continues with changed actions and active participation in learning new behaviors and unlearning toxic ones. If none of that happens, don’t make excuses for their inability to do better. Know whom they have shown themselves to be.
Accountability and education can and must coexist. The truth is, incidents will have to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis for the most effective outcome. BIPOC women on campus have never been asked for their insight on how to handle these situations. So, instead of choosing to explain your truth as a white person, listen to theirs. Racism in any capacity is a learned behavior, so act accordingly to ensure their negative experiences are never again duplicated on our campus.
By Aminah Jenkins, Staff Writer