Hiding In Plain Site: What Villanova Taught Me About Institutional Racism

In the midst of all of the hype surrounding the Villanova men’s basketball team winning the national championship, a couple of my friends and I decided to take a trip to the school to greet the players on their arrival back home. Being as though Villanova is a short 15-minute drive from Cheyney University we figured it wouldn’t be a bad idea to hang out with the champs for a while.

After realizing that we were the only black people in attendance I began to feel uneasy. I wondered what schools the affluent African-Americans who lived in the surrounding Villanova community attended and if there are any at all.

My feelings of discomfort being around so many non-black people derives directly from both my experiences in Bulloch County, Georgia and also at the nation’s first HBCU where I always feel comfortable being surrounded by people who look like me. Bulloch County is the home of Georgia Southern University, a large university in the small town of Statesboro where many members of my family hail from, including my grandparents who returned to be buried there after their deaths.

Bulloch County, where it isn’t uncommon to see confederate flags flying outside of homes or stickered to the back of someone’s vehicle, is also the place my uncle is rumored to have once been in a shootout with a group of white male agitaters that subsequently led to my ancestral family’s relocation to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in the 1950s during the great migration.

Where my experience in Bulloch County and Villanova overlapped is when I met a 12-year-old white boy from Alabama who said that he moved to Pennsylvania after his father began working at Villanova University. In my conversation with this boy from Alabama I asked if he had ever taken a ride in a red pickup truck.

Red trucks are a staple in southern confederate culture and it’s not uncommon to see them around Bulloch County printed on t-shirts, parked in driveways or outside of any mall complex. I didn’t find it surprising when the boy from Alabama admitted he knew exactly what I was talking about and that he has in fact been in them since his uncle has one.

Not to imply that his father is a white supremacist, what I took away from my conversation with this 12-year-old boy is that many people who adhere to the beliefs of white supremacy are able to hide in plain site among us and often more times than not hold positions of authority in both the political and educational spheres.

Though this information is not at all new I was reaffirmed by this boy that these people, in fact, do exist amongst us and it is indeed a burden, to the people affected by the decisions made by white supremacists, to prove and identify who works on behalf of institutional white supremacy and that their decisions have disproportionately affected the lives of non-white people.

Past organizers of black social, economic and political interests such as Marcus Garvey, Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm X understood the need to engage in dialogue with members of white supremacists group. I believe that going directly to the people who own and control many of the industries and institutions designed to enforce negative outcomes for the lives of non-white people outside of their institutional or professional setting is perhaps the best way to allow philosophical grievances between opposing groups to merge, engage and foster new ideas that could provide solutions to the problems of institutional racism and white supremacy.

The problem with this approach and why in 2016 it does not appear to hold weight is that the people who actively and consciously act on behalf of white supremacist groups are difficult to identify and have been able to hide themselves plainly in their institutional and professional roles. Unlike social justice warriors of color who are heavily laden with the burden of being outcasted for exposing themselves as such.

In the past year, we’ve seen instances of white men being outed from their positions of power for acting on behalf of institutional racism and white supremacy including former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and former University of Missouri President Tim Wolfe. The tradition of engaging people who perpetuate systems of racial disparity seems to be alive and well. However, the engagement remains in a sphere of political protest that attempts to transfer power out of the hands of unjust individuals instead of engaging the philosophical roots of white supremacist institutions in an effort to gain ideological clarity and produce solutions that will create a society that is better for all people…

Either way, a win is a win, especially with 4.7 seconds on the clock to sink a buzzer beater from deep range.

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