COLUMN: When talking about race, ignorance isn’t bliss

Joanna Williams

There is a video that came out a few days ago that has gone viral called “What do you know about black history?” It features a white man – in blackface – interviewing Brigham Young University students on certain things such as what month Black History Month is in and who important black figures are.

I cringed throughout the entire video and couldn’t get through the first minute before I clicked out of it, only to come back a few minutes later when I promised myself not to punch my computer screen.

It brought up a bunch of questions such as: Why do these college age students not know who Martin Luther King is? Why do they think it’s wrong for a white man to “act” like a black man? And why, for the love of everything righteous, was the interview done by a guy in blackface?

It seemed as if the creator of the video had a list of the most offensive things to ask and do and checked them off as the video progressed. Regardless if this is a deliberate attempt at trying to lead people to make ignorant comments, the fact of the matter is that you have college students who think that the rapper 50 Cent is a historical black figure.

After my irritation subsided, I wondered what the response would be from WKU students if the same man came to campus and asked the same questions. After a bit of thinking, I came to the unfortunate conclusion that it would undoubtedly be the same reaction. I know this because I’ve been in enough classes when the subject of race has come up and have overheard enough sentiment from people in passing to prove that this happening at WKU wouldn’t be too far off.

But this isn’t really about BYU students or WKU students or who knows more about a national observance month.

This is about how race is something that we never talk about. Instead, we let music videosnews stories and TV shows do the talking for us. The result is problematic and disturbing views on black people, like the students had in the video.

It seems that we don’t want to talk about race for the fear that it will make people uncomfortable or be offensive. So instead of having a much-needed conversation, we stay inside our little bubble and attest to ourselves that racism isn’t as problematic as it was in, say, 1963, and that everyone is equal and that we all have the same privileges.

And when our bubble is burst, and a serious conversation begins, we start to hear the ignorant comments or people fumbling over their words because they said something that they didn’t mean. It’s something I’ve seen way too many times and it proves we still have a long way to go.

People everywhere need to stop running away from racial conversations or scenarios that constantly arise. Talking about race is really, really hard. I get that. But because something is difficult doesn’t mean we have to side-step it.

I think one of the most important things that people can do this Black History Month is not to learn more about Martin Luther King Jr. or learn more black trivia but to have an honest discussion about race. What it is, what it means and to answer whatever questions we may have. It’s something we all should do, because if we don’t, then videos like the one mentioned above will remain all the more prevalent.