Home > "Compton Cookout", General, Noose @ Geisel Library > It Doesn’t Take a Noose: Understanding How Your Privilege Affects Others

It Doesn’t Take a Noose: Understanding How Your Privilege Affects Others

An essay by Jamila Demby.

This morning when I woke up I found a message from a friend in my email that informed me that someone left a noose in the UCSD library last night. I was shocked, but only to a certain degree. I guess I should probably describe my feelings as more disheartened than shocked. Unfortunately, the noose has made an eventual appearance in a lot of heated racial situations across the country. Under similar circumstances, I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if it appeared in the chilled out state of Hawaii. Racism and its history runs deep.

I’ve been reading up on the aftermath of the “Compton Cookout” party some students of UCSD decided to throw in “honor” of Black History Month. I’ve been reading news articles, blogs, blog commentaries, and I have been watching videos of protests and speeches. One of the speakers at the teach-in walk out rally made a point that is so valid it’s been with me for the past view days. She noted that some people who don’t understand why the party is hurtful have been saying statements like “it’s not a big deal” and asking questions like, “can’t you just take a joke?” The speaker (I’ve got to get her name, I believe she is a professor from SDSU) stated that “it is a privilege to be able to ask that question”. She is right. It is a privilege to make such statements and ask such questions because you, yourself, are in a state of privilege. The privilege is not being subjected to the daily possible forms of racism and discrimination.

I read a great quote in my very dry human development book recently. “It would hardly be fish who discovered the existence of water”, some chic or dude named Kluckhohn, 1949. The author of the book clarifies, “Like the fish that is unaware of water until it has left the water, people often take their own community’s ways of doing things for granted”. This quote helps me further understand why a lot of the majority have major difficulties understanding the challenges of being a minority.

I’ve been very frustrated and at times angry when I stupidly read the ignorant comments people make about the party itself and the protests that have taken place since. I read it’s no big deal. I read that the BSU demands and protests are not productive. I read that minorities are playing the victims. I read ignorance. To me ignorance can come in two folds. There’s ignorance that comes from simply not knowing. Then there is ignorance that comes from not knowing wrapped in hate and sometimes vengenance. It kills me. I want to explain to gain understanding. I want to fix it. I am frustrated because I can’t.

To those of you that do not understand why feelings are hurt by the mockery of a party. To those of you that think it’s better not to make a bigger deal or raise racial tensions more so by peacefully protesting. To those of you that do not understand that this is real pain that does deserve real action. Please do me this favor. Please trust me. Trust someone that is a minority and has experienced racism either overtly and/or covertly. If you want to ask questions about our experiences, please do so with respect….not just to gather “evidence” to prove your counter point. I am incredibly greatful that my close friends who are not black or even a minority get racism at its greatest and more importantly at its most invisible state. If any of my friends do not get something, they do me the greatest favor by asking with respect with the pure motive to gain understanding and empathy and trusting my perspective. I couldn’t be more grateful.

Our U.S. has have left us a huge mess to clean up. While most of the overt racism has gone down as compared to our past (i.e. nooses, hangins, racial slurs) I find it’s the covert racism that white people cannot see. The covert racism is deep in the water in which you swim but are not aware. Here are some examples that I have experienced:

– “oooh you’re so articulate”
– “I didn’t know your parents were married. I assumed your mom was always a single mom”
– someone assuming I got into 3 different UC’s b/c of affirmative action without knowing my above 4.0 gpa, being the ASB VP, and track and cross country awards
– Being asked where am I from multiple times after switching my hair from a more Euro-centric style to a more natural style and getting disappointed looks when I say Merced/Maryland (most people are hoping for Jamaica or some other country despite not having an accent. Trust me. I never had this question before I changed my hair)
– Being told by a white friend to say hi to my mammy instead of mother or mom. She was clueless.
– Getting a shocked reaction from someone I was talking to that I warmed the bench in high school basketball. He said, “but I thought all black people can play basketball”. I stopped talking to him.
– Expected to hit on the only black guy in the bar just b/c he’s black. Are you attracted to every person in your race?
– Hearing white people change their dialect once they see me. I’ve had Orange County guys go from saying “dude” and “like” to “what’s up girl” and “I’m pretty fly for a white guy”. Some bullshit.

Overt Racism I Have Experienced:
– being called the N-word by Darren Bruce in junior high (took a swing at him)
– being called the N-word and a spade by some punks while walking to my car in OB
– a little girl in pre-school checked her hand after touching me to see if the black rubbed off on her
– being told that people can only see my eyes and teeth in the dark or in dark pictures (I hate the hell out of that “joke”)
– being referred to as the N-word ending in an “a” by a white co-worker b/c she thought she was down. She claimed her “one” black friend didn’t mind. So why wouldn’t the whole race mind, right?
– being told by two white school mates in junior high that they assumed that I would roll my neck and have an attitude. They seemed relieved that I didn’t. I was annoyed.
– My grade school classmates in Maryland would say every girl black character in any movie we would watch in class was me.
– They also stared at me while we studied slavery in class.
– Two of my white high school classmates and I got into a heated debate about race. They had the audacity to demand to know why there wasn’t a white college (like there are HBCU’s) and why isn’t there a white history month. I told these girls there is a white history month….Jan, March, April, etc. Then I asked them what are we going to do during it? Have a review session?!

This list could go on, but I am on a time constraint. My point in listing my racist experiences is to show you why you should trust me and trust other minorities that have real pain from experiencing real racism and discrimination. I am one story of millions. Please do not be dismissive on something you have the privilege of not experiencing. That dismissiveness on your end leads to built frustration and sometimes anger on mine.

Minorities. We’re not being paranoid. We’re not exaggerating. We’re not playing the victim card. We’re tired. We’re frustrated. We want true social equality and to live in an environment where both overt and covert racism does not stack up in our lives such as my list above. And I think most importantly we want recognition and understanding. Recognizing there is a problem, understanding our experiences and perspectives rooted in those experiences, and last but not least effective change. Thank you for reading.

  1. March 1, 2010 at 8:04 pm

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts, experiences, and insight.

    I hope I’m not mistaken, but I believe the woman who said, “it is a privilege to be able to ask that question” is Dr. Edwina Welch. If she didn’t say it, she’s still a key person who has been supporting under-represented students FOREVER!


  2. Yvonne
    March 1, 2010 at 10:53 pm

    Thank you. It’s so important that we know that we aren’t “paranoid” or “exaggerating”. It’s the first thing people say – worse yet, it is often the first thing we ask ourselves. We must stop questioning our own experiences (something we’ve been taught to do) and start questioning the system!

  3. March 1, 2010 at 10:57 pm


    I just heard about this website on DemocracyNOW

    This is just a short note to tell you I support and admire your efforts


    Zach Ruiter

  4. March 2, 2010 at 1:29 am

    Well said.

  5. jan
    March 2, 2010 at 2:11 am

    Thanks for sharing your experiences in this post. Heartfelt and poignant. Hopefully, some good will come from this mess at UCSD. But why do African-Americans so often have to strive to take care of these issues?
    I sure hope there are many white allies among those speaking up. I’m one, sharing posts and speaking out with my young students. And continuing to unlearn my own racism.

  6. Rebecca
    March 2, 2010 at 4:01 pm

    Thank you for sharing so bravely. I know it’s exhausting to put yourself out there “to teach” others from your own personal pain. It’s work that not everyone can and is willing to do, but thank you for sharing these very tangible acts of people both enacting privilege and downright racism.

  7. CMS
    March 3, 2010 at 10:45 am

    Since you so closely track the race of all these events… when are you guys going to mention that it was a female minority student who put the noose in the library.

    There needs to be more honesty about “diversity” as typically defined by the education system, media, and government. There is diversity, there are several minority cultures that thrive in the education system: asians, indians, persians, etc. Many of whom face the same odds as other inner city minorities (at least for the first generation they come here before moving on up). CA is ~15% asian, UC asian enrollment hovers around 50%.

    Basically, you are only a minority if you come from a failed culture that chooses to exploit society instead of self correcting for serious problems. Example, in one culture 4 out of 5 kids spend significant time without a father, in another culture 59% of females have been pregnant by age 20. If you want to know which ones, look it up.

    The compton cookout party was pretty obscene, but so are all the race bating opportunists trying to turn it into preferential hiring and additional mandated useless course work.

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