Black at Emerson: Confronting racism through social media

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Media: Christine Park

The school must hold a mirror to itself, showing the college what they are, rather than the facade they want others to see. For a school that preaches diversity and prides itself on modernity and liberalism, Emerson does not practice what it preaches.

By Maxx Carr, Creator of @blackatemerson

Maxx Carr created the Instagram account @blackatemerson, which presents Black students at Emerson with a platform to anonymously discuss the injustices they’ve experienced on campus. Carr is a second-year student majoring in creative writing.

I grew up in New York City, described to many as a cultural melting pot. It’s the symbol of ambition and freedom where different backgrounds come together to create a beautiful whole.

I went to high school in the city at a performing arts school made famous by the movie Fame. It stayed relevant in the mainstream through alums like Nikki Minaj, Jharrel Jerome, and Timothée Chalamet. The school was marketed as a place where students from any background could study the arts. 

But as diverse New York is, the dream of a racist-free “melting pot” doesn’t exist. New York’s school system is incredibly segregated and separated—a sad reality that leads to students of color, especially Black students, feeling isolated and alienated.

This is what the Instagram page “Black at LaGuardia” was born out of in early June. The page lays bare the wrongdoings of the students, teachers, and administration from my high school. In a school students are told to trust, there are far too many incidents of racial injustice. And the page shows that students are not alone in their struggle. Quite frankly, it was high time the racists at my high school had the rug pulled out from under them.

We stand for community, fact-based journalism. What do you stand for?

Some things in life are essential; they touch us every single day. Good journalism is one of those things. It keeps us in the know as we hurry through our busy lives.

Not only is there a “Black at LaGuardia” page, but there are pages all over the country from other high schools exposing the skeletons in institutions’ closets. And higher education establishments are not exempt from this injustice.

The histories of these institutions play into these ongoing issues, as many—in fact, most—were originally established only for white students. 

There are accounts devoted to higher learning institutions’ poor handling of issues like race. But when I searched on Instagram for one dedicated to Emerson, there was not one to be found. 

After debating the idea in my head for a bit, I decided to take the initiative: I would create the page and craft a Google form that allows anyone to submit their stories. I created the Instagram account “Black at Emerson.” I took the leap. 

I was afraid it could get overwhelming—and it did—but I also knew it needed to be done. The responses initially came in slowly, and I included a few experiences of my own. Now, there are more than 100 individual accounts of discrimination, and the account has grown to around 1,400 followers—almost a third of Emerson’s total student population.

As I write this, there are 113 entries, four of them being mine (I’ll give you a dime if you can figure out which four). Many of the stories overlap, speaking out against professors who have confused students for other people of the same race, moments where professors allowed students’ racist comments to go uncorrected or even encouraged them, and even moments where professors were incredibly racist themselves, either explicitly or implicitly. Stories include students who have unapologetically said the n-word, students who disrespect the physical boundaries of Black students, and students defending and performing Blackface. There are many stories, too, about how the school administration failed to handle these situations in a manner that would result in justice for those hurt by these actions.

The comments under these posts tell even more stories. There are comments from other students with the same experiences or who witnessed these aggressions. There have been two students who openly admitted in the comment section that they were the ones who perpetrated the racist action in the post and then apologized for it in the comments. However, other commenters deemed both apologies insincere, because while they appreciated the apology, growth does not begin performatively.

The account makes one thing alarmingly clear: Emerson needs to face itself. 

The school must hold a mirror to itself, showing the college what they are, rather than the facade they want others to see. We see you, we know that you’re out there, and now we know, without a doubt, what you’ve done to all of us. For a school that preaches diversity and prides itself on modernity and liberalism, Emerson does not practice what it preaches.

Black students only make up about 4 percent of the school population, which proves Emerson’s hypocritical preaching of diversity. There shouldn’t be any reason why students should feel tokenized, discriminated against, wounded, and insulted by what goes on in the school environment due to the racist practices of their peers, their professors, and even components of the school administration.

Different organizations, like EBONI, Flawless Brown, and POWER, have fought for progressivism. These groups have shined a light on the school’s shortcomings and forced it to address issues that continue to afflict Black students and other students of color. Their work has been momentous in advancing and bettering the lives of students of color here. They continue to work towards creating a better Emerson for all students, and I applaud their work and what they do for the Emerson Black and other POC communities.

For too long, Emerson students’ attempts to voice their truth have been silenced by a fear of speaking out or by other students, professors, or the school administration. In some of the page entries, students reported constant complaints about professors’ acts of racial misconduct never being addressed. In many cases, when they are addressed, the college’s administration essentially gives the professor a slap on the wrist, rather than fully addressing the issue. 

As a Black woman, I knew I would encounter racism in my life—it’s everywhere, embedded in the fabric of the country like a  stain on the carpet the country refuses to address. Like I said, I had my own stories, but I didn’t know that I’d have so many responses with similar or even worse experiences. 

Emerson students aren’t naïve. We know that racism exists. We just didn’t think we would be paying for racism to be thrown at us daily. This page is a necessary outlet for students, since there are little to no places on campus for them to express these frustrations. Most of all, this page, I know for sure, is a necessary tool for Emerson self-awareness. 

But self-awareness is the bare minimum. Self-awareness is where we should have started from the get-go, not a milestone the world is meeting now because groups of college students decide to suddenly be “woke” instead of actually taking stock of their actions and seeing how they affect Black people around them. It should be the bare minimum instead of being what institutions strive to be, especially Emerson. It should be the bare minimum for non-Black students, professors, and administrators who are insensitive to the needs of Black students.

What we strive for is a place of change. We shouldn’t have to tell you what we need you to do to change. You should be aware of what you need to change and go from there. In fact, you probably already know what you need to change about yourself as an individual; it probably has been nagging at you since the moment you started reading this. And before tears start falling at your own shortcomings, pull it together and figure out where to go from there. Do what you need to do to unlearn and grow and show—not just tell—people that you’ve changed. 

Emerson as an institution has been given the chance to address its demons many times, seen in 1969, 2015, and 2017. Although on-campus organizations for students of color have made great strides, there are still things Emerson has never addressed.

So this is what I mean by holding a mirror up: what has the school done to hurt Black students? What has it done to harm our learning experience? What has it done to show us we are welcome? What has it done to show us that it holds remorse for its actions? The posts answer all these questions.

Emerson has allowed professors to treat Black students as if their race was a blight on their existence. And Emerson has had little administrative-led initiatives that acknowledge these incidents. These aren’t just far-fetched claims; they have been proven by more than 100 stories submitted by students. Emerson needs to do better, not just for the sake of the integrity of the school; not just so the school can live up to its claim of diversity; not even so it can assuage its guilt over not doing so before, but because the students deserve it. If the school is doing it to assuage their guilt, then is it really worth doing in the first place? And, in that case, is it really worth going to Emerson if we’re going to be treated the same as anywhere else, with little regard to us as people?

We deserve better. Do better.