Last Monday, students at the University of Connecticut Storrs Campus were met with a disturbing sight: “Frat Lives Matter” painted in (appropriately) white paint against a blue backdrop on the school spirit rock. It was soon repainted to read “We are #UConn;” but nothing could erase the feeling of disgust, disrespect and erasure that black bodies on our campus once again had to undergo at the hands of our more privileged peers. What may be the worst part of this latest slight, however, is that it is not surprising. This is not the first time the rock has been a site of racial tensions.
In fall of 2014, brothers of Pi Kappa Alpha verbally harassed women of Alpha Kappa Alpha at the spirit rock, using racist and sexist language as well as intimidation tactics in an attempt to stop the women from painting over their design. These women stood with strength no one should have to possess as they were called everything but their names, endured the torture of a trial by public opinion and had high-level administrators tell them that their experience was not racist or sexist enough to take action on. Still, no one saw them. When PIKE was later suspended from campus, it was because of hazing, as everyone knows that disrespecting black women is par for the course at UConn. To this day, the university failed to address the use of slurs against the women of AKA, including a faculty member.
This inaction only added to invisibility of black bodies at the university. In spring of 2015, the Resident Assistants for Social Justice Education used the spirit rock to bring light to this invisibility, painting the messages “Black Lives Matter” and “Racism: In Storrs Now.” The next day, students woke up to a rock defaced with gold paint covering the words “Black” and “racism.” Erasure in its most literal form. I walked around that day wondering if someone would like to erase me with a dash of gold paint.
Here we are again. On the same campus where megaphones are denied at vigils for Michael Brown and women murdered by police officers, a social justice framework used to uplift, affirm and highlight the painful experiences of Black America is being hijacked to bring attention to their lives. They can’t seem to stop taking our voices. As if the lives of white frat boys have ever not mattered. As if those boys had to fear for their lives when they were arrested. As if a frat is as much part of someone’s identity as the color of their skin. Like you’ve watched your kinfolk being gunned down like a rabid animal in the street on loop. Like you’ve watched their blood seep into the Earth that your ancestors toiled for centuries.
It is that deep. It will always be that deep. On a campus, at a rock where black lives have mattered neither to fraternity men nor the people responsible for keeping them in line, it is as deep as an ocean filled with tears of all the mothers and fathers of little black girls and boys taken away before their time. It is an identity erased in gold paint for the comfort of an overgrown toddler who needs everyone to remember that he too, matters. It is an isolated incident being compared to a phenomenon of unarmed black folks being shot, choked and pinned down into hashtags.
It is more than bad taste, you see. You won’t let black women into the party that we hear Drake blasting at. You don’t go to the protest, but you co-opt the language. You compare six arrests to our executions. Don’t you know that a wrongful arrest is the least of our worries? Don’t you know we pray for a black boy to be brought in to a precinct and not a coroner’s office? To be tried and not mourned?
It is high time for you all to stop coveting things you are not willing to bleed for. Give thanks that you need not remind the world that your life is a life and not a plague to be rid of. Give thanks for your basic human rights, your privilege and your voice. You don’t have to say radical things, say nothing if you must, but if you’re going to say “Lives Matter,” you better put “Black” in front of it.
Haddiyyah Ali is a contributor to The Daily Campus opinion section. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.