“Why would anyone be so ignorant?” These were some of the words I heard from my friends as they called me on Saturday night to narrate what had happened to them. They had returned from a cultural event known as Celebrations of Nations across the street at Minnesota State University-Moorhead, where one of them was performing. Adorned in their beautiful cultural attire, my friends went to celebrate their culture and support our friend’s performance. However, on their way back to their rooms, a few random students who were presumably drunk said, “What are they wearing? Is it Halloween?”
Before anyone tries to defend this person by citing drunkenness as an excuse for such blatant disrespect and ignorance, I want to let you know that we will not accept this as an excuse. This person was sober enough to walk himself home and also sober enough to know that the people around him were dressed up, so he was sober enough to choose not to let his ignorance show. Africans, as well as a lot of other international students, value their cultural attire. These clothes hold a lot of memories and great value to a lot of us. Therefore, whenever we get the chance to wear them, we do it with pride and happiness. We do not have to explain things like this, but then again, we often do not have any other choice because our environment has made it our job to explain any cultural practices we choose to do. Many of us share anger toward situations such as these, and they seem to happen a lot in a town like Moorhead.
The excuse, “I grew up in a small town that was all white” or “had little to no diversity” will no longer be accepted. That excuse has been canceled and should no longer be used by anyone around here to justify their ignorance. As college students, you have phones and laptops, so maybe it is time to start using them to educate yourself. This particular encounter is just one out of many that a lot of us experience on this campus. There are a lot of students who are about to graduate without the slightest idea that there are common words which should not be used. Their excuse is, “I thought everyone used it and it’s also a cool word. I see no problem with it.” First of all, it is not your place to decide what words are cool, especially when the word is not directed at you.There are students on campus who have always had to ask themselves what they are doing wrong, because no one outside their safe circle seems to understand them.
It is a constant battle to combat stereotypes and ignorance. Either way, we always have to paint a different picture of what people already think of us. We have to change our beautiful accents, because people assume we unintelligent when we use them. Every year, many of us try to make Concordia feel like home again, and at the end of the school year, it is back to how it started. In a place you call home, you should not have to always look for a new safe space every year and try to fit in. Everyone went through the process of fitting in to college life as freshmen. Imagine having to do this all over again every year. I am going to say it here: one of the main reasons Concordia does not feel like home is the way issues like these are addressed on campus. After events like MLK Day that touch on the issue of racism, everyone acts fake woke, and after the day is done and everyone turns in their papers, they move on with their normal lives and forget about the issue completely. When incidents like this happen, we get emails asking us to have conversations about it. But what ends up happening is that those who need to hear this conversation do not show up. How about we stop having monthly conversations and start making students engage in daily conversations about cultural issues?
Let’s improve our curriculum so that it engages students deliberately. Then hopefully, the next time a cultural issue arises, no one will pull out their small-midwestern-town card in defense of their ignorance.