Dear black students (and various non-black supporters) who were staging a protest at the fountain at WCU today:
Thank you. I walked by on my way from one class to another, just as you were setting up. You were all wearing black, you had yellow tape across your mouths, and you were holding signs that said, "please respect our silence. We are mourning." And you sat in silence, in the middle of campus, surrounded by chalkings announcing that "blue lives matter," "all lives matter," and "Trump for president." You sat as white students walked past you and laughed, as they yelled that they were "white and proud."
I know that you must be deeply tired of trying to explain how completely offensive all of these sentiments are.
I stayed with you until my class started, and then I came back afterwards to find that you were engaging in dialogue -- you were trying to explain why you were sitting in silence -- to students who didn't understand or who might even have been trying to provoke you. I heard one of you say, "we will start the next discussion in a few minutes." And there were students of all races standing in that circle and talking. Having a discussion. It worked, maybe not for everyone on campus, but it worked. People were talking. And, more importantly, people were listening.
Discussion. You were working towards civil discussion, and that's a brave and unusual thing right now. You were working to educate (although it's utterly absurd to think that you should have to do that) your fellow students who simply seem not to understand, who feel unnecessarily threatened, who are confused and frightened. And these days are confusing and frightening, and because we are confused and frightened, when we disagree with one another we tend to just stop talking to each other. Instead, we start yelling. Or hurling nonsense that we've heard but not evaluated, not fact-checked, from the media or from our politicians and would be politicians, at what we presume to be "the other side."
But here's what I think these WCU students understood: there is no other side. There is only us: WCU. There is only us: North Carolina. There is only us: the USA. There is only us, all of us, having to live together in this world that would like nothing more than to drive us apart. There is only us, and we are all beholden to each other.
You wanted to engage your fellow students in order to be a part of a collective community trying to understand what is happening in our country right now. You were trying to help, to staunch the hatred, and to move us forward together. You were trying to raise awareness of the very real circumstances that perpetuate indiscriminate police killings of black people, whether armed or not (the 2nd Amendment doesn't just apply to white folks), at the hands of those who are supposed to protect and serve us.
I am proud to know that you are our students.
With deepest respect,
Professor of English
Western Carolina University