how i got sent to the academic dean for reverse racism
Spring Semester my sophomore year, I was taking Visual Rhetoric with a visiting professor. I say visiting, because he was new to teaching and had a bit of trouble wrangling the classroom, but this day was especially tragic.
We had just come back from Spring Break, and Black Panther (2018) was quickly becoming a cultural phenomenon. I was bopping the soundtrack everyday on my way to class. It would later be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars but lose to Green Book.
The professor asked the class if we had seen anything “visually stimulating” over break.
“The beach was visually stimulating,”a classmate excitedly offered.
A collective sigh befell the classroom.
My professor then asked if we had seen Black Panther yet.
A predatory white male classmate, a member of the tennis team, and a Film and Media studies major jumped to articulate his opinion, including critiques of the “terrible CGI,” “cheesy jokes,” and “annoying music.” The class collectively grew quieter as his list of critiques of Black Panther began to grow.
“It was just way, over-hyped!”
You could feel the air getting thinner in the room. Black Panther had become the new media litmus test for racism since the meme potential of 2017’s Get Out had begun to fade. He finalized his opinions with,
“I just wanted to see a Marvel movie, and that is not what I got.”
There was a heavy pause. My classmates’ silence solidified the heavy realization of his implicit racism.
My fellow (and only) braincell, a white queer, in the classroom interjected.
“How do you think your race maybe affected your reading of Black Panther?”
The collegiate athlete was stunned, clearly offended at the accusation that being white would have anything to do with the way he percieves the world.
Cutting off his exasperated questioning, another classmate chimed in— offering up the the Vanity Fair interview with director Ryan Cooler as he breaks down a scene from Black Panther. Coogler notes the extreme attention to detail to bring notes of Blackness and African diaspora into every aspect of the choreography, costuming, and dialogue. As the video is projected onto the screen in the corner of the classroom, the tension slowly begins to evaporate. Reading and educating yourself tends to have that tension-relieving effect, if you’re actually trying to learn something.
The brief moment of calm is punctured by the original Black Panther heckler. He shoots his hand up before the lights can even be switched back on.
“Can I just say something?”
I clasp my lips with my fingers, smushing them to create a seal to prevent saying something I might regret.
“I just have to say, I think it’s really racist that you all think I can’t have an opinion on Black Panther just because I’m white.”
My hands freed my lips and a noise had emanated from my throat before I could realize that others were still catching their breath.
“Did you just say that we were being racist to you because you’re white? Reverse racism isn’t a thing.”
Bodies froze. Snickers stifled. Whatever oxygen was left in the room had officially vanished. My classmates’ heads swiveled between my face, the professor, and the athlete. The all-star tennis player began to crumble. This wasn’t the first time I had aimed to articulate the palpable racism in my classroom space, but this was my first direct hit. And I felt no remorse. I had zero sympathy for the boy who cried reverse racism. As he demanded “a definition of racism” from me, my eyes nearly rolled into another dimension as I turned my gaze to face my professor to take the wheel of this sinking ship.
“Racism… is… defined as.... well, there is power involved...”
I spent the rest of the class sitting and staring silently, trapped in an internal dialogue wondering if I should remove my body from the room. I’m pretty sure I stayed, but I really wish I would have dropped the mic and left. I don’t even remember what the fuck we were able to talk about after that. The depersonalization and dissociation from that moment set in quickly, another tale of woe in my college experience.
I later received this email, a follow-up from the Academic Dean. My classmate, the great White protector, had filed a report through the Discrimination Reporting system, and the Academic Dean needed to speak up with me, because Whitman “feels it is important to follow up with all student concerns and to treat them with sincerity.” I don’t think any of my friends that have actually used this form for actual racism in the classroom have been followed up with.
I reluctantly scheduled the meeting where I sat down and gave Kendra Golden the story I just articulated. I was told that he was feeling attacked “as a film major” and felt “a right to his educated opinion about movies.” She thanked me for my time and I promptly left memorial to text my friend about this experience.
That was the time I got sent to the Academic Dean for reverse racism.