Mizzou in the Eyes of Non-Black People of Color

Veryl Pow and Khaled A. Beydoun

This past Monday, the fiction that student protests are merely demonstrative and ineffectual was ruptured when student protestors at the University of Missouri (MU) achieved a rare victory with the resignation of President Tim Wolfe, one of the protestors’ top demands.  Hours later, Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin also stepped down.

The MU protests began shortly after a Facebook post back on September 12, when Payton Head, the president of the Missouri Students Association, described an incident the day before about continuously being called a “N—-” while walking through campus.  It took a full six days after the incident before the Chancellor issued a response.

Through October, while the protests were underway, frustration with on-campus racism and the lack of administrative response swelled during those days, culminating with solidarity from black student-athletes on the Missouri football team. That solidarity proved to be the tipping point, or what pioneering law scholar Derrick Bell’s calls, “Interest Convergence,” forcing the University to take action in order to secure its financial interests.

While many have critiqued the University’s response to the protests as a strategy of self-interest cloaked by progressive action, the Mizzou protests should not be reduced to what the University administration did or did not do. The protests take place within the broader contexts of the Black Lives Matter movement and the erosion of affirmative action, which together, isolate rapidly declining Black student communities on college campuses and enhance their vulnerability to racism.

From the vantage point of non-Black people of color, the protests further reveal the importance of solidarity against anti-Black racism both for its own sake and for the elimination of other forms of racism and bigotry in America.

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Mobilizing Protest at Mizzou

On a campus where only eight percent of the nearly 28,000 undergraduates are black, simply mobilizing the black student population would not have achieved the numerical pressure necessary to remove President Wolfe.  However, the continuity and perseverance of the protests publicly exposed the prevalence of bigotry and the resulting institutional hostility towards racial justice.  This exposure, in turn, generated the broad support and the threat of economic disruption needed to remove Wolfe from office.

The protests united preexisting campus struggles for social justice.  For example, the Coalition of Graduate Workers (CGW) at MU, which had been organizing for months for union recognition, realized that the same administration responsible for paying graduate workers less than the national average was also responsible for maintaining an institutionally racist environment.  Connor Lewis, a CGW co-chair, stated that what “led to Wolfe’s and Loftin’s resignations is really the collective action from a number of engaged constituencies on campus that realized that they had kind of a common struggle outside of just narrow sectional interests.”

The frequency and expansion of the protests into a broader movement provided security in numbers for traditionally apolitical entities dependent on the university for scholarships and paychecks – here, the football team and faculty – to leverage their labor, in the form of a strike, in pushing for institutional change.  In so doing, these student-athletes and faculty members exposed the dependency of the university on their labor.  Many faculty members declared that they would not teach on November 9 and 10 to walk out in support for racial justice.

Thirty black student-athletes similarly announced that they would not resume football activities so long as Wolfe remained president.  Mizzou’s football team would have cost the university $1 million alone to forfeit their next game.  Like the graduate workers, the athletes of color recognized their personal stake in the protests, stating that “Injustice Anywhere is a threat to Justice Everywhere . . . WE ARE UNITED!!!!!”  That students were willing to risk their enrollment and workers were willing to risk their careers is a significant milestone for the contemporary anti-racist movement.

While the football team’s decision to boycott the November 14th game against BYU was the catalyst that spurred immediate administrative action, the financial interests of the University and the interrelated power of these football players should not minimize the efforts of other segments of the Mizzou movement, particularly the black student leaders who initiated it, and the allies who pushed it forward.

If black student leaders didn’t initiate and spearhead the Mizzou movement, the subsequent action taken by the football team would not have been possible.

Members of the black student protest group, Concerned Student 1950, raise their arms while addressing a crowd following the announcement University of Missouri System President Tim Wolfe would resign Monday, Nov. 9, 2015, at the University of Missouri in Columbia, Mo. Wolfe resigned Monday with the football team and others on campus in open revolt over his handling of racial tensions at the school. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Members of the black student protest group, Concerned Student 1950, raise their arms while addressing a crowd following the announcement University of Missouri System President Tim Wolfe would resign Monday, Nov. 9, 2015, at the University of Missouri in Columbia, Mo. Wolfe resigned Monday with the football team and others on campus in open revolt over his handling of racial tensions at the school. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Broader Implications

Unquestionably, the Black Lives Matter movement is a salient lifeline of the modern anti-racism movement in America, and more broadly, a vital source for other struggles against bigotry that emanate from it or influenced by it.  The success of the Mizzou protests has opened the door to a reassessment of the broader anti-racist movement, both in terms of how it’s framed and who can participate.  Thus far, the movement has largely been framed as a response to police violence against black males and led by black youth.

On one hand, the Mizzou protests changed the framing by revealing the systemic nature of racial injustice and the fluidity of how people of color experience racial injustice from institution to institution, not just from the police.  On the other hand, the protests expanded the possibility of participation by revealing the necessity to organize against all forms of racial oppression and to do so by leveraging collective power from strategic alliances based on commonalities.

For non-Black people of color specifically, the Mizzou protests and the broader Black Lives Matter Movement have been instructive in two principal ways. First, they emphasize that contesting and combatting anti-Black racism is more than just part and parcel of fighting racism at large – but a prerequisite step for advancing the struggle to end a system of racial oppression.

Second, as a precedent for contesting other forms of racism and bigotry, the commitment to dismantle anti-Black racism breeds the coalitions necessary to erode xenophobia, anti-Muslim bigotry, anti-Asian American sentiment, and other forms of racism. In addition to principle, coalition building across racial lines (within communities of color) is a political imperative because numbers, sustained solidarity, and power – not benevolence for the well-being of marginalized people by those in positions of power – will deliver the progressive strides demanded.

For non-Black people of color, these are some important lessons we should take away from the Mizzou Movement.

Veryl Pow is a community organizer in Los Angeles and a second-year law student at UCLA engaged in Critical Race Theory scholarship.  He currently organizes with community members of South Central around the intersection of racial profiling, traffic court debt, and incarceration.  As a scholar, he believes that theory should be informed by grassroots experiences on the ground, and consequently focuses his writing on social movements, rebellious lawyering, and racial justice issues.  Veryl maintains his personal blog at http://smashingthemodelminority.blogspot.com/.

Khaled A. Beydoun is an Assistant Professor of Law at the Barry University School of Law in Orlando, Florida. He previously served on the UCLA School of Law faculty, and currently serves as affiliated faculty with the UC-Berkeley Islamophobia Research & Documentation Project. Professor Beydoun has extensive experience as an attorney, working within the realm of civil rights, criminal defense, and international law practice. A Critical Race Theory scholar, Professor Beydoun examines discrimination from a legal, race based and intersectional perspective. His scholarship examines the racial construction of Arab and Muslim American identity, criminal and national security policing, affirmative action, and the intersection of race, religion and citizenship. His work has been featured in top law journals, including the Michigan Law Review, the Harvard Journal of Race & Ethnicity, the Stanford Journal of Civil Rights & Civil Liberties, the Howard Law Journal, and more. A native of Detroit, Professor Beydoun earned his law degree from the UCLA School of Law, and his BA from the University of Michigan. His also holds a Master’s Degree from the University of Toronto. A commentator on pressing issues, Professor Beydoun contributes regularly to Al-Jazeera English, serves as an expert consultant for the US Census, and the African American Policy Forum.

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7 responses to “Mizzou in the Eyes of Non-Black People of Color”

  1. Khatam says:

    My respect to all who achieved what they did. Institutional racism or bigotry of any kind still exists and is only removed by the actions if those not willing to tolerate it & fight. It saddens me somewhat how senior figures,those of responsibility and accountability allowed it to carry on and only threats of financial loss to university as well as reputation insured the result it did. These senior figures we don’t need and thus believe a justice has been served.

  2. It has been an historical error for the American Muslim community to align itself with the Civil Rights Left which essentially despises Muslim traditions, thought, and ethics. The Mizzou protests quite vividly demonstrated how an an alliance of gender activists could literally mob an Asian American journalist deeming his free speech and right to photograph as an aggression against their ‘safe space’.

    The eventual consequence of this is that the Muslim Left will eventually by necessity align itself with a movement to ban the Quran as hate speech. Why? Because quite clearly the Quran despite being pro civil rights and equality advocates against fornication adultery and same sex marriage while affirming traditional marriage roles for men and women.

    And clearly being Asian or Arab will not be a defense against this onslaught anymore than it was for Tim Tai the Asian journalist physically ejected from the public space at Mizzou.

    • Aksa says:

      Please don’t reduce what Professor Click did down to mere racism; it wasn’t. Professor Click believes in the old fascist saying of “Free speech for me; but not for thee”. She assaulted TWO student journalists that day; only one was Asian. And not because he was asian. She did it because she fears an honest account of the protests. She is being sued by said students and hopefully will be duly punished.

    • francis Ayala says:

      It’s a funny world we live in. The left would defend your race and your rights, but look down on your religion. The right would agree with the conservative values of your religion, but some would look down on your race and your rights. Being a white female, I am looked down on by your race and religion. Knowing nothing about it, I strolled through a neighborhood in Kashmir long ago, just to enjoy the day and have a look around. Suddenly, large rocks went whizzing by my head. I turned to see a large group of boys throwing them at me, but what was shocking was that their mothers, all clad in veils, were watching approvingly. I was 28 yrs old, innocent but independent, dressed conservatively in khakis and long sleeved shirt, and didn’t know a thing about Muslim attitudes towards women and “infidels” at that time. I thought at the time that I had walked into a neighborhood of insanely hostile people, because most of the people in the downtown area were well behaved. I ran out of there!

    • Veryl Pow says:

      Yes, historically both the Civil Rights movement and, as Francis points out, the traditional “Left” have substantial blindspots that do not incorporate intersectional identities (race, gender, religion, class). In the 60s and 70s, many black women left traditional Civil Rights and Black Liberation organizations to form new organizations, such as the Third World Women’s Alliance, precisely because of the gendered hierarchy that they existentially encountered. In turn, these organizations produced seminal analytical writings that advanced the movement in more intersectional ways.

      My point in invoking this history is to suggest that we should contest the traditional framing of social movements. Indeed, this article does that, insofar as it questions the traditional framing of the contemporary anti-racist movement as a “black male” struggle. However, contestation of the meaning of social movements should not be an ends in itself. As non-black POC, we need to find ways to intervene and emphasize our commonalities against an oppressive system, such that our experiences with racial and religious oppression can be meaningfully incorporated and assist in the framing of the broader movement. Despite acknowledging its weaknesses, the movement is youthful and growing. How can we contextualize the Mizzou protest as an advance in the anti-racist movement, since it broadens participation and shifts focus to institutional violence aside from law enforcement? Furthermore, how can we build off preexisting unity efforts, such as the solidarity between BLM and Palestine activists? Far from distancing ourselves from racial justice movements or so-called “left” movements, we need to actively participate in numbers and craft a new narrative that promotes racial and religious justice for all.

      • francis Ayala says:

        You misunderstood, Veryl. I was not referring to the left or the right when I mentioned the gender issue. Rather, it’s been my personal experience that both racism and misogyny occur virulently both by people of color, and in Islamic culture, against whites, though there is some kind of pretense that it doesn’t exist. I notice that many people claim the high ground on civil rights issues, etc., on this site. We are in agreement that a new narrative could be crafted that promotes justice for all, but you may be surprised that white voices actively participate in numbers, and ask for recognition in the endeavor. Was Paris a hate crime? Yes, it was. I would like to see the next slogan read, “HumanLivesMatter”.

  3. Abu Yahya says:

    Francis Ayala,

    Since nobody addressed directly what you were talking about, I will. I’m assuming you are being honest.

    You relayed that in your opinion because you are a white female and a so-called infidel (BTW, Muslims don’t use this term and this is a very old word that was historically used by Christians to describe non-Christians, i.e., primarily Muslims and Jews) or a non-Muslim/disbeliever, that Kashmiri Muslim kids threw rocks at you, and their mothers just looked on not telling them to stop, and of course this suggested their likely “approval.”
    Well, what unfortunately and sadly happened to you (and as a Muslim I’m sorry that you had to go through this; you should have sought to redress this by going to the authorities if possible), according to what you have relayed to us, is WRONG, period. Just because you are white or a female or a non-Muslim does not excuse the behavior of the kids one bit. It is against the teachings of Islam. There is NOTHING that would condone this very criminal behavior on the part of the kids (and their mothers).

    There are no teachings in Islam that tells Muslims to not like or hate white people. The so-called Nation of “Islam” as you probably know are not Muslims (and they hate white people). I assume you would know this. Anyway, did you ask the mothers why in the hell their kids were throwing rocks at you? Did you ask your Muslim colleagues/friends why this was happening? Just because Muslims may be doing x, y, and z does NOT mean that this is part of Islam. In the US, Christian males are committing rapes, murders and other heinous acts EVERY DAY. People can’t even go out after it gets dark in many of the neighborhoods where I live near, let alone even when it’s still light! These are NOT Muslims by the way doing these despicable, atrocious things EVERY DAY. But I’m not going to say this is an alleged “Christian” thing, or how about the more PC “Judeo-Christian” thing. It seems as though EVERY SINGLE bad or negative thing that Muslims may do is attributed to Islam (but the non-Muslims NEVER do this with themselves). Although I do hear it is VERY common in Zionist Occupied Jerusalem and other parts of Palesine to have Ultra Orthodox Jews (including grown men if not Rabbis and other Jewish scholars) throwing rocks and stones at women who are not fully covered, or who stick out too much, etc. But unfortunately, we won’t hear much about this in our American Zionist controlled press (or the many other things that don’t make various Zionists or Israelis look less than “perfect”).

    And I have to disagree with you about conservatives looking down on Muslims primarily because of race. Yes, there are some that may do this. HOWEVER, the so-called “right-wing” conservatives of the West definitely DO NOT agree ONE BIT at all with the “conservative” values of the Islamic religion. The right-wing “conservatives” are brainwashed these days (and they’re now known as “neoconservatives” and have been influenced by “former” Trotskyite Jews, and are all now rabid, fanatical, “Israhell-can-do know-wrong,” Zionist extremists, who worship at the alter of war criminal NuttiYahoo) to HATE Muslims and would like nothing better to do then go on more “crusades” (for the sake of Zion) against even more Muslim countries. Now, the Paleocons (classic conservatives, who have been kicked to the curb by the neocons) and Libertarians are in theory more neutral in regards to Islam, and they in general, would agree with and respect certain “aspects” of Islam, although, mostly these days, because of “societal pressure” and what is “in” or popular, etc., will of course disagree with what the Muslim (and classical Biblical) stance is on homosexuality, and other things such as the traditional family, etc.

    Also, I’m not in agreement with what many Muslims in the US are doing in terms of them almost blindly supporting the Left, and even in the article, there are philosophies that as a Muslim I don’t at all agree with, such as Critical Race Theory, which is a Jewish created Cultural Marxist philosophy that has NOTHING to do with Islam, and it’s primarily aimed at always blaming whites for everything that so-called “people of color” do or don’t do. This philosophy at its base, says that white people are always guilty and evil, and that people of color are always innocent, pure and good. Even if blacks kill each other, or Latinos kill each other, or Asians kill each other, etc. it’s all the evil white man’s fault. And FYI, the Black Lives Matter movement, is backed by George Soros and other Marxist, neo-Bolshevik Jews. And while the BLM movement does do some good things, as it helps to expose white police brutality against blacks and other so-called POCs (it’s silent if the cop is black or if the victim is white though), at the end of the day, they only speak out about white cop on black violence (or white on black and other POC violence), and they never critique instances when black thugs (and the BLM movement is trying to make certain words like thug “racist” as if there are not many white thugs) are killing blacks. As Muslims, we should look at justice, and yes when black people are being oppressed, or there is racism against them, etc., they should speak out, just as when blacks are killing other blacks (or non-blacks), or when whites are killing other whites, etc. NO, Muslims should not support extremist left-wing, Judeo, neo-Bolshevik, Marxist/Cultural Marxist ideologies that have as its goal amongst other things war and fitna between the races, and this will not help black, brown, white, yellow, or purple people. And this is exactly what the NOI/black panthers and groups like the KKK/skinheads are calling for. I choose not to support either of these two sides.

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