Thursday evenings in the African American Cultural Center (AACC) are familial affairs. Each Thursday from 5:30 p.m. to 6:20 p.m., the Preparing African American Students for Success (PA^SS) University course meets in the Center. Dr. Price, the AACC’s director, walks into a room packed with students, affectionately known as her “babies,” greeting everyone she lays eyes on as she sashays past.
If the AACC is Black UConn’s home away from home, or safe space, PA^2SS is Sunday dinner. From first year students to PhD candidates; seniors to professors; generations of excellence housed in black bodies congregate, some standing for the occasion, to discuss, participate in and improve on an experience of blackness in higher education and beyond.
I have said many times that I have never existed in a space as black as the AACC on Thursday evenings. Even on weeks where we watch our kinfolk being made into hashtags on loop, we can congregate, look at each other and feel some semblance of wholeness. This is not to say that every class is controversial, however, they are all intentional.
A lot of what makes PA^2SS important is the way that Dr. Price uses the course to connect her students with outside resources and start important conversations. While none of these take place “because” we are black, they each lend themselves to a racialized experience. This past Thursday an annual event took place: members of the UConn safety department sat on a panel to answer questions. Although there was a representative from the fire department, the majority of the time was spent hearing from members of the police force.
My usually cathartic Sunday dinner felt much more like a forced Thanksgiving meal with problematic family members. When faced with important questions about implicit bias and de-escalation trainings, members of the force responded with sweeping generalizations such as “we all have bias.” Further, while they claimed that their training implores them to be aware of bias, they failed to give evidence of spaces that the force creates to have a dialogue and unpack biases amongst themselves.
Throughout the presentation, officers boasted about the rigorous drilling that their department goes through, maintaining that they are at the highest level of preparation that a department can reach. Additionally, they are hosting events with pizza and coffee in order to encourage conversation between officers and UConn students. When asked what else was being done, officers suggested students to make our own change.
When the oppressor’s henchmen look you in your beautiful black face, surrounded by a sea of black excellence, in your house, on Sunday dinner, and tell you to make your own change, it is poor manners. When the same henchmen, confronted by questions about Black Lives Matter, evade any definitive statements while conceding that they don’t know nearly enough about the movement, it is grounds for no dessert.
The most uncomfortable part of the discussion, though, and what continues to bother me most about the situation, is that the lack of competent answers does not appear to be due to evasiveness. In my opinion, it is instead a genuine lack of understanding on behalf of the officers. In other words, they really don’t know what they’re talking about.
Any group of officers who throw around terms like “community policing” but respond to questions or criticism with “make you own change,” while at the same time not comprehending Black Lives Matter, cannot be trusted. Reaching over colored elbows that fight for scraps and plucking the best piece of cornbread, then sitting back and suggesting we find our voices to ask for more simply won’t do. Any guest who comes to Sunday dinner unprepared – no casserole, no pasta, not even a salad? – ain’t coming back lest they get they mind right.
And so I offer this one piece of advice; back to the kitchen. All of you. Cooking lessons can be messy; you’ll have to first accept that there are things you aren’t doing right, things Martha Stewart can’t teach you no matter how much training you go through, and things that aren’t always going to be said nicely. They are, however, as necessary as they are messy. Reach into the peripheries of the communities for your least heard. We are not voiceless, you simply flipped the channel in favor of Rachel Ray. Turn up the volume, put on your most humbling apron, and prepare yourself for the next Sunday dinner.
Haddiyyah Ali is a contributor to The Daily Campus opinion section. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.