Isaac Bailey is the James K. Batten Professor of Public Policy at Davidson College. In a recent piece at Politico, he describes what his son experienced at Erskine College, a Reformed Christian college in Due West, South Carolina.
Here is a taste:
Kyle, my 19-year-old, told me this past fall, as though he were reading the ingredients on a cereal box. His college roommate had been getting physical in ways beyond young men horsing around, initiating unwanted wrestling that felt a bit too real given the weapons nearby. That white roommate had knives he liked to display, two pocketknives considered unlawful weapons by the school, and a much larger hunting knife that made their dormmates uncomfortable. This had gone on for weeks during his freshman year at a mostly white Christian college, Erskine, where weekly faith services for students are mandatory. It’s located upstate in South Carolina, where Donald Trump flags fly comfortably alongside those dedicated to Jesus.
Kyle hadn’t wanted it to become a big deal. He thought he could handle it alone, with reason and empathy. No need to alert his parents or the campus police and start trouble for a potentially troubled kid. No need to foolishly get in a physical confrontation, given the knives. Being called n—– changed his calculus. Even then, he didn’t want to become a martyr in this post-George Floyd world, didn’t want to seem aggrieved. He just wanted to be a college student.
Kyle finally went to the campus police. They searched the room and found two of the knives but not the largest one. They moved the roommate across campus. They apprised Kyle of his options. They somehow settled on the one that didn’t require a police report or formal inquiry before a student-led disciplinary panel, but rather a kind of reconciliation process in which he and his roommate worked it out through talking, better understanding each other. Kyle even helped that now-former roommate move his belongings, shook his hand. Kyle would find out only after I began asking questions to college officials that the roommate was still denying calling him n—– even after that supposed reconciliation.
And here is Bailey on life in a white evangelical church:
We noticed the first real changes in the wake of President Barack Obama’s victory in 2008. My family and I attended a mostly white evangelical church, and the demeanor of many (but not all) members began to shift once Obama became president-elect. They began viewing me more as a Black man than they ever had before. Black as in “he won’t humor my racism”; Black as in “he gets upset and asks us to do better when we accidentally copy him on email chains that include racist memes and stereotypes.” That kind of Black.
I wasn’t Black in their eyes before Obama was elected, not really. Politically, I still considered myself independent enough to routinely vote for candidates of both parties, and I agreed with them that it was wrong to label the Republican Party racist. I had voted for President George W. Bush and Senator Lindsey Graham and Governor Mark Sanford, and even told one of my white friends they weren’t irredeemably racist if they had once used the N-word in anger. I believed in redemption then. I believe in it now.
Some of them literally told my wife and me that we weren’t really Black. We weren’t on welfare. We got married before we had kids. We had professional careers and standing in the community. Those were Black markers in their minds. It never occurred to them to reconsider, given that we were living, breathing examples that should have challenged their thinking. Though they were too comfortable with racial stereotypes even then, it felt as though they were reachable.
That changed when Obama won. I was baffled by national pundits declaring a post-racial America because a Black man was in the White House. What I saw was white neighbors, friends and colleagues clinging more passionately to their racial identity. Confederate flags, always in abundance, became even more so. It was then that I was radicalized, years before Trump declared his candidacy in 2015 with a speech in which he called Mexican immigrants criminals and rapists.
Read the entire piece here.