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Larry D. Moore, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Students Discuss Race, Sacrifice, and Mindfulness with Dr. Ibram X. Kendi

On February 17, Ebony Graham ’23 and Darius Graham ’22 moderated a conversation with author and activist Dr. Ibram X. Kendi on what it means to be anti-racist. Dr. Kendi was originally supposed to speak at Haverford in the fall. However, his talk was canceled because of the student strike and rescheduled for Black History Month. This weekend, The Clerk spoke with Ebony and Darius to reflect on how Dr. Kendi’s words can provide guidance and lessons for the Haverford community. 

Sadie Pileggi-Proud: What were some of the key takeaways for you?

Ebony Graham: One thing I really remember him harping on is that you can’t make sense out of nonsense. And racism is nonsense. To be anti-racist, it’s active. You can’t be passively anti-racist, and institutions like Haverford still need to do that work. It doesn’t just happen… And also, the people who take on that work need to take care of themselves, because the potential for burnout is very high. Darius, did you want to add anything?

Darius Graham: Everything you’re saying is what was on my mind. A big takeaway for everybody is to stay active in this work. Don’t only think about it, address it, or change your ways of approaching race during a certain moment in time like this summer or when someone gets shot and killed. It’s very ongoing, active work that doesn’t stop.

Sadie: How do you think Haverford has been doing in sustaining the work from last semester? What do you think of the changes that have already been implemented?

Ebony: I think that we’ve seen a start. It’s definitely not one hundred percent where it should be, especially because even in conversations we’re having about racism now, it feels as though people are walking on eggshells when this should be a conversation. And yes, the conversation needs to be centered around Black and BIPOC voices, but we all need to get to a place where we are comfortable having that conversation. And I understand it takes time, so I think that we have started the process, but we’re far from finished.

Darius: Right. I think the wheels have just started turning. I’m getting emails asking for people to be a part of this and accountability measures being created. We’re starting to see that but still waiting for more concrete change. I think one that I can remember is them changing something in CAPS [Counseling & Psychological Services] to make it more inclusive, and I remember that being one of the demands. Like Ebony said, [it] is very ongoing and they just need to keep these conversations and have these portals to address issues. A lot of things weren’t put on the demands that have to be addressed. But kudos to those who have worked on that, because it is a great start. But it is only a start.

Sadie: I think something that many members of the community are asking themselves now is, “What is my role in this? What should I be doing to continue this work?” As far as professors versus students versus the administration, what do you envision everyone’s unique roles in this being?

Darius: Professors, I think a lot of it is making their classes accessible to people who have not taken AP classes or went to these crazy good schools where they learned to think the way that they do. Whereas a lot of people of color on campus don’t have that background. So I’d say mainly providing resources and ways to make the classes accessible that don’t center around money.

For students, I’d say the main thing is paying attention to your Black friends. Noticing them in the room. Not taking up space. A lot of things that are very, very basic. Acknowledging their privilege and learning what that means and learning what that means constantly. Because it changes with every environment you’re in from classroom to state or whatever.

For administration, a lot of the issues are within the community of Haverford, and admin, I feel like, are so separate from us, and I think they need to open those portals. It’s their job to figure out what the issues are. What’s going on? How do I fix it? The trust isn’t there, and they need to establish it. The issues are going on inside the community, not outside of it.

Ebony: Talking very generally, I think that everyone needs to understand that all of this labor should not be on the backs of Black people exclusively. Racism and institutional racism are not Black-created. They aren’t. In addition, people need to stop being afraid of being called racist and work to just not be racist. Those are two different things, and one has much more impact than another. If you are racist and not contributing anything to the community, [it] is much worse than being called racist. It’s an important line of making sure that the burden of the work is not solely on Black students but also making sure that Black students have a seat at the table. And the people who do decide to do that work should be listened to. It should be meaningful change.

Sadie: Dr. Kendi spoke a lot about that kind of active versus passive racism. Were there any other topics that you discussed with him that show up frequently on Haverford’s campus?

Ebony: The main piece I still see is what we were just talking about. The false idea that being called racist is worse than being racist. We saw a lot of that during the strike, and there is still a ripple effect of it now. There are people who just aren’t on this campus anymore, because they can’t face the fact that they were called racist. They didn’t want to reckon with the fact that they may have done something racist. People are so worried about being categorized in a certain way they’re hiding, but running away is not going to help anything. These issues are still going to be here. Whether they come back or not. I think that people are getting to the point of not even wanting to answer for these things. Even if they did do something, there’s a lack of wanting to take ownership, which I think people should be much more open to accepting. Especially because a lot of people advocate for a mistake-friendly environment, but the only way that works is if people take accountability for their mistakes.

Darius: What Ebony just said has been on my mind. Another point that stuck out to me was when Dr. Kendi spoke about sacrifice. I remember him saying that this work is sacrificial. I think that was a big dividing factor in the strike, especially as time went on. For this work to be done, people need to be willing to make sacrifices, especially institutions. And that’s the bottom line.

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