I usually get the most out of them when I feel like changing my nail color. Sometimes if I want my eye shadow to pop, I’ll use one to dab a little Vaseline on my eyelids first. However, I never thought something as simple as a cotton ball could be used in such a menacing, hateful manner.
In the early morning hours on Friday, when some person or persons chose to scatter cotton balls across the front entrance to the Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center at MU, it became evident that there’s a conversation to be had that’s long overdue.
To say the least, I, like many students at Mizzou, were disgusted by this act and more so disappointed in the lack of a timely response by our administration. The first text messages, Facebook status updates and pictures began circulating at 8 a.m. as classes got under way and droves of students passed the Black Culture Center.
Sadly, Chancellor Brady Deaton didn’t issue a public statement until 5:10 p.m. Even at that point, it wasn’t enough for him to simply express “individual concern and support to the members of our community who were the apparent targets.” It seemed that people were attempting to categorize this event as minor or isolated. In the year 2010, in our beloved country ran by a man of African descent and at a university that recorded its highest minority enrollment to date in August, the silence of our leaders pained me almost as much as seeing the cotton balls in person.
It’s necessary to remember that the "Father of the University of Missouri," James Rollins, was a slave owner with at least 30 slaves before the Civil War. We should also remember the young black man lynched in town in 1923 after falsely being accused of sexually assaulting a white woman. And we mustn’t forget for whom the beloved Black Culture Center, “where the contributions of Blacks to world history are explored, celebrated, taught and shared” is named after. LloydGaines was denied admission to our Law School by the Board of Curators because of his race and was later responsible for the Supreme Court’s landmark decision forcing the Law School to desegregate or provide a facility of equal status for blacks within state borders.Marian O’Fallon Oldham, was also denied admission to MU because of her skin color but went on to become our first black female curator appointed to the board in March 1977.
No, this isn’t a noose hanging in the library nor is it an off-campus “ghetto-themed” party with 40 oz. beers and gold chains. No, I don’t feel the need to protest Jesse Hall or take over some other academic building. I do, however, feel compelled to blatantly state that racial tensions exist on this campus and are heightened daily — this event has just taken it to another, more public level.
I’d be lying if I said every day when I walk into a classroom, whether as an instructor or as a student, I don’t think my skin color is evident or matters to my colleagues or students. I’d be lying if I said as a minority I feel accepted, respected and equal in this space. I’d also be lying if I said cotton balls in front of the Black Culture Center didn’t frighten me.
It worried me to think of the deliberate racism so freely and effortlessly expressed with no qualms. It petrified me to think how easily some could and did (wrongly) misinterpret such racism as just basic ignorance to be ignored. And finally, it scared me to think of the environment Mizzou might become if we don’t begin an open and honest conversation about the state of race and ethnicity here.
This conversation should be orchestrated by the administration, fueled by the voices of the students and heard by all — campus and Columbia communities alike. If anyone thinks this is an excessive action, I’d ask them how they felt the first time someone here called them them chink, cracker, nigger, oreo, spic, towel-head, etc. If they can’t relate, I’d urge them to ask anyone of us who has been, and then tell me a dialogue isn’t necessary.
Jennifer M. Wilmot is a graduate student at MU and a Columbia resident.